VEG OR NON-VEG? INDIA AT THE CROSSROADS
Is the majority of India veg or non-veg? Well, contrary to impression, the land of Gandhi and Buddha is predominantly non-veg. It may well have been majority vegetarian country at some point of time but the new trend is that more and more people are taking to non-vegetarian diets. A new policy paper, “Veg or Non-Veg? India at the Crossroads,” published by Brighter Green, a New York-based public policy action tank, testifies to this. The paper looks at the changes in the way it produces and consumes food and suggests vegetarianism as the way to ensure food security, sustainable resource use and equity.
It notes that only about 40 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people identify themselves as vegetarian, according to a 2006 survey. It is India’s fast-expanding middle class that is driving growing demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products like ice cream and cheese, as well as milk encouraging a movement to large scale farm and factory production in this sector.
At the same time, a substantial population that remains deprived of basic needs, including nutritious food, health and education: 37.2 per cent of its people – 410 million – live in poverty. The top 10 percent of Indian households consume 31 per cent of all goods and services; consumption by households with the lowest 10 per cent of income does not even reach 4 percent of the total. Although more Indians are eating higher up the food chain, 44 per cent of Indian children under 5 are malnourished. One of every three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India.
With this backdrop, Brighter Green documents the effects of the expansion and intensification of the livestock sector for India's food security, resource utilization, and issues of equity and sustainability.(See also World Livestock Report) Building its case on environmental grounds and climate change, Brighter Green proposes that India should “support public education to encourage healthy eating among adults and children based on traditional, plant-based regional cuisines”.
It points out that while India is “an increasingly large player in the global economy and geopolitics”, development needs – education, health care, clean water, housing, nutrition – remain immense.
In many developing and developed nations alike, industrialization of animal agriculture is seen as an attractive and necessary method of achieving food security and increased standards of living.
However, this process has considerable costs and risks, many of which are externalized or postponed to a later date. These include the very real impacts on the global climate, intensive use of resources like water and land, pollution, concentration of the means of production, marginalization of small- and medium-sized farmers, risks to equitable access to food for all, and negative consequences for animal welfare.
As the effects of global warming become more evident in erratic weather, changing rainfall patterns, and rising temperatures and the need for sustainable, equitable food systems becomes more pressing with population growth, intensifying pressures on ecosystems, and widespread hunger, the inevitability of intensive animal agriculture is being assessed more stringently. The question of whether the Western model can or should be replicated in the global South is asked with growing urgency.
The Pew Commission observed that: “U.S. agricultural production will need to transition to much more biologically diverse systems, organized into biological synergies that exchange energy, improve soil quality, and conserve water and other resources.” The same could be said for India, or any country. India stands at a crossroads. With about 500 million cows, buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, pigs, and billions of chickens produced each year; 600 million farmers; and 1.2 billion people, the competition in India is on for fresh water, land, and food.
India has a chance to forge a new path toward sustainability and equity, and not just follow in the direction the industrialized world has pointed, the paper says.
The paper makes the following recommendations for food and nutrition security:
The paper recommends that “The government should make food security for all Indians a national priority, through access to a varied, nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, with a particular focus on addressing alarmingly high rates of child malnutrition. It should provide incentives to promote production of food crops that provide key nutrients, use less water than soybeans or feed grains, and are climate-change resilient.”
The government, with civil society participation, ought to establish a national task force with regional input to assess the current state of the livestock sector and anticipated climate, resource, and population trends, and then develop a plan for a low-carbon food system. It should also support public education to encourage healthy eating among adults and children based on traditional, plant-based regional cuisines, with a view to avoiding more incidence of chronic disease and advancing food security.
The government should put a priority on development of less resource-intensive industries than livestock and feed grains. It should also adopt law(s) on animal welfare that would end the abuses and cruelty inherent in factory-style production facilities. This would put India in the global vanguard and reflect its ethical and cultural heritage.
The government ought to ensure that water pollution and land degradation, other natural resource impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions are no longer “external” to the livestock industry’s balance sheet, but rather priced fairly and fully paid for.
The government should put a priority on development of less resource-intensive industries than livestock and feed-grain production and their export. Incentives should be provided to target both foreign and domestic investment to these sectors in a sustainable manner. In addition, government policies and financial incentives for industrial production of meat, eggs, or dairy products, and factory farming systems, ought to be ended for domestic and international entities. The government needs to reconsider its commitment to further industrialization of the livestock sector and accelerated production of animal-based products, along with grains and oil meals for use in feed domestically and for export markets.
Civil society organizations working on environmental, food security, rural development, gender, agricultural, or animal welfare issues should seek opportunities to work more effectively together to counter the growth of intensive animal agriculture in India, offer alternatives to it, and seek opportunities to exchange information and strategies with NGOs in other parts of the world; similarly, such NGOs in industrialized and developing nations should forge closer ties with their counterparts in India.
Veg orNon-Veg: India at the Crossroads, Brighter Green, http://www.brightergreen.org/files/india_bg_pp_2011.pdf
A two page summary policy brief, http://www.brightergreen.org/files/india_brief_bg_4.pdf
Brighter Green has also produced three short videos to accompanythe policy paper:
To watch a short documentary video onclimate change and India's poultry sector, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClpXIzSzNoM&feature=pla