FMD threat chops off a major chunk of their festival profits

The large butcher knife of Ajayan (name changed) looks rather clean on Tuesday afternoon. Beside him, skinned cattle flesh hangs from a hook. He calls out incessantly to every passing customer, but none turns.

“Every year, the day before Christmas I sell meat of around 10 cattle. Today I bought only one as I was sure of low sales due to all this noise over the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). I have not even sold a quarter of that,” says Mr. Ajayan, the lone beef seller at Nanthancode.

Though the FMD outbreak was confirmed a few months ago, meat merchants started feeling the pinch only during the festival season. At Palayam market, out of the seven beef stalls, three closed down on Tuesday morning itself due to low sales. “The sales go on late into the night on the days before Christmas and Easter. But this time there is no point in keeping the shop open,” says a shop owner.

‘Chicken sellers’ blamed

Since cattle supply from outside is banned, the sellers procured stock from within the city and the suburbs, from individual sellers or from farms. The price per cattle went up considerably to anything ranging between Rs.25,000 and Rs.45,000. Beef is being sold at Rs.220 a kilogram. A common sentiment among all the sellers is that there has been a lot of ‘negative propaganda’ through the visual media. Some blame goes to the ‘chicken sellers’ too.

‘Only local’

“People are being made to believe that we are selling afflicted cattle from Tamil Nadu. But we are spending more to procure fresh cattle from within the city. Why would our family eat the same beef if it is unsafe? The chicken merchants, who are making a profit at our expense, seem to be involved in this. We do not have a union to raise our issues,” says one of them.

The closure of the Corporation’s slaughterhouse at Kunnukuzhy earlier this year due to lack of a waste treatment mechanism was a jolt to them. Measures to modernise and reopen it have remained on paper.

“We submitted a Rs.2.45 crore proposal to the State government around one-and-a-half years ago, before it was closed down. But no action has been taken on it,” says A.S. Bijulal, Corporation Veterinarian.

Another plan was to decentralise by setting up mini abattoirs in three places – Karakkamandapam, Attakulangara and Kunjalammoodu – where most number of cattle are slaughtered.

“The engineering section has to identify the plots at these three places. Only then can we submit a proposal,” says Mr. Bijulal.

Corporation Health officials say that the lack of the local body’s own slaughter mechanism makes it difficult for them to clamp down on illegal slaughtering. “How can we confront them when we are not providing them facilities? In the southern regions, cattle are being slaughtered in a relatively humane way by cutting the jugular vein. FMD is under control here. But people are scared,” says an official.

Training in butchering

The Corporation in association with the Veterinary University is planning to give scientific ‘butchering training’ to all the meat traders in the city. A list of all traders has been prepared and training will start early next year, says the official.