Saturday Features

The belly of the beast

- Lucia de Vries
Each day, according to Kathmandu Metropolitan City, around 500 buffaloes, 1,500 goats, 7,000 chicken, 150 pigs and 7,000 kg of fish are reportedly transported to Kathmandu for human consumption

Jul 9, 2016-

On June 23, when a male buffalo created havoc in the heart of the city, we were reminded of the grim realities behind our beloved buff momos. The animal reportedly escaped from a slaughter place in Teku, attacking motorbikes and pedestrians, injuring 10.

After several attempts, the police managed to restrain the animal. It must have been a great relief to the injured, but one can’t help feeling deeply saddened by the image of the exhausted animal, restrained and hobbled, its nose touching the electricity pole it was tied to.

By now the buffalo, who was later auctioned off, is most probably dead. You might have even eaten part of it when having a plate of momos.

The suffering of this particular buffalo did not start when it was loaded onto a truck destined for Kathmandu. When I showed a photo of the buffalo to veterinarian Dr Krishna Yadav, he noted the following: “The white markings on the back and thigh region appear to be wound scars. It seems the buffalo was beaten in the past with much force, either with a wooden stick or metal rod. The injuries in the neck region appear to be the result of carrying heavy yokes while ploughing or pulling carts.”

You don’t have to be an animal lover to imagine the suffering a buffalo undergoes after being sold to a trader. Allow me to paint you a picture.

Let’s assume the buffalo lives in Saptari. For years the animal has loyally served a family or community, ploughing the fields and pulling carts. The buffalo must feel bewildered when it is walked down to the road, leaving the village, and continuing for hours until they reach the road head. Here, it is rounded up with some 50 other buffaloes, among them mothers with their young, and is forced into a truck.

Once pushed till it is wedged between fellow buffaloes, its nose is tied to the roof, and it is now forced to keep its head up and to remain standing. The truck starts driving and with each break or bump the buffalo experiences excruciating pain. The journey to Kathmandu normally takes up to 12 hours—if a landslide doesn’t leave the transport stranded. The heat inside the truck is overwhelming and the buffalos soon get dehydrated.

After 18 or so traumatising hours. the truck reaches the Capital. Here, bewildered, the buffaloes are kicked until they jump off the truck onto the road. But still, there is no time to water or rest. The animals are forced to walk along the highway until they reach a place that reeks of death.

Kathmandu has an estimated 4000 open-air slaughter areas where butchers kill buffaloes by hitting them first with a sledgehammer on the back of the head, before slitting their throats with a knife. It takes time for the animal to die, and not always is the first attempt successful.

And all this is done in full view of the other animals, who from the smells, sights and sounds know exactly what is in store.

In 2003, in a state of excitement, I wrote an article about the then recently introduced Meat Act that moved to regulate the treatment of animals killed for human consumption. “In six months’ time, the unbearable suffering of buffaloes slaughtered in Kathmandu Valley will partly come to an end,” the piece read, “New slaughterhouses in Thankot and Khokana, presently under construction, are expected to be up and running by June or July 2003.”

I had high expectations from the authorities and wrote: “The people behind the Meat Act are presently drafting a model by redesigning the container of the famous Tata truck. The vehicle will feature a loading/unloading system, separate compartments for each animal (making tying unnecessary) and watering facilities. The buffaloes can be on the road for six hours maximum, after which they must be fed and rested for half an hour.”

Thirteen years later I find myself perhaps a little less naïve but equally concerned about the plight of Nepal’s farm animals destined for slaughter. Each day, according to Kathmandu Metropolitan City, around 500 buffaloes, 1,500 goats, 7,000 chicken, 150 pigs and 7,000 kg of fish are reportedly transported to Kathmandu for human consumption.

And once more there is a great window for change. KMC recently announced its decision to phase out slaughter places and enforcing instead the import of meat packaged outside the valley.

Though a commendable move, as in 2003, the authorities face many challenges. There will be intense opposition from traders and retailers, who will claim packaged meat is not fresh and hygienic, and that their customers demand unfrozen, large chunks of meat.

Yet even if the cruel transportation of animals to the capital were to come to an end, another issue remains. Among the 13 slaughterhouses established in the country, not a single one kills animals in a humane manner. Even when stun guns or pistols are available, butchers continue to prefer traditional methods.

Even the Bara-based slaughterhouses, established with Chinese investment, which export buff meat to China via Thailand or Vietnam, use the ‘hammering method’ to kill the animals. This is against the Animal Slaughterhouse and Meat Inspection Act 1999 as well as the standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), partner of the World Trade Organization. But, as Dr BN Adhikari at the Veterinary Public Health Office points out, ‘If China does not complain, who will?’

The killing of pigs is possibly even crueler. Butchers use either a sharp object to pierce the heart, or use hammers to render the animal unconscious. According to government monitors, some pigs are still alive when butchers remove the hair by scorching the skin. So far only one small butcher, based in Patan, uses a pistol to kill pigs.

In order to introduce hygienic, humane ways of slaughter, it is crucial for the industry, authorities and civil society to work closely together. Because of the nature of the Nepali meat industry, with little or nothing being hidden from the public view, and strong legal regulations already in place for years, Nepal offers great opportunities for public-private partnership to end animal cruelty.

Around the world the meat industry is not exactly a source for happy reading or watching. Killing an animal in a humane manner is simply not an easy thing. In the USA alone over nine billion animals are killed for food each year. Try to imagine that each of these are sentient beings, with their own personalities and quirky habits.

The raising and killing of animals has become the greatest exploitative industry in the world. Nepal is a tiny player and should be congratulated for the fact that animals are still mostly reared at the household level, almost as family members.

That is why Nepal still has a chance to get it right. Before the foreign investors come in and before the walls go up. Before we, the public, feel overwhelmed and decide to close our eyes and ears for good.

For the sake of that sad creature, that bewildered buffalo that terrorised the streets of Teku, let’s hope it happens.

Lucia is a freelance journalist and founder of Animal Nepal

Published: 09-07-2016 08:52

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