Meat Sale Ban: MP needs a more nuanced policy to ensure food hygiene and safety

The sale of meat, fish and eggs in the open is banned in MP. (Source: Reuters/File)

The newly formed government of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, in its inaugural cabinet meeting, has decided to ban the sale of meat, fish and eggs in the open.

Addressing a press conference in Bhopal, Chief Minister Mohan Yadav emphasised the strict adherence to the guidelines issued by the Government of India concerning the sale of these food items. The supporters of the government’s move would want to argue that it is aimed at addressing public health concerns and ensuring food safety.

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Nevertheless, the move is not well-thought through and may have unintended consequences for which the government may not be prepared for.

Precarious Livelihoods, Industry

As of now it’s not clear what exactly the open sale will mean. However, assuming the ban also includes roadside vendors who grill chicken or meat products in the open like butchers and hawkers who don’t sell from proper shops, the ban will aggravate the problem of unemployment.

The MP government recently informed the state’s legislature that there were as many as 39 lakh registered unemployed youths in Madhya Pradesh. In the last three years, only 21 youths were able to get government jobs in this industrially and economically laggard state wherein 60 percent (against the national average of 45 percent) of the workforce depend upon agriculture and allied sector which accounts for 44 percent of the state’s GDP (against the national average of 18 percent or so).

Except for a few large players such as SKM Egg products, the Indian poultry industry remains largely unorganised and is dominated by smaller players with localised presence. From the supply side, the poultry industry is already troubled by the surge in poultry feeds prices. That in turn is prompted by a surge in the prices of raw material prices. For instance, in the last 12-14 months, the price of corn has shot up from Rs 12 a kilogram to Rs 23 a kilogram.

With FCI (Food Corporation of India) stopping the sale of broken rice to grain-based distilleries for ethanol production, they are looking at using corn as a feedstock. If that happens, corn prices will further rise. Soybean’s prices too have gone up substantially in this period. With China likely to import 25 percent more soymeal in 2023/24, according to the latest USDA report (Dec 2023)  its prices are likely to go up further in the near future.

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Economic Impact Of The Ban

The ban on the open sale of meat and eggs is going to hit poultry firms from the demand side thereby adversely affecting their sales revenues and may lead to job cuts in the sector.

Similarly, for livestock farmers, the ban on the open sale of meat could reduce demand for livestock, impacting the income of farmers. Street vendors involved in selling meat, eggs, and fish in the open may face an immediate loss of income. This can lead to financial hardships for these small-scale entrepreneurs who depend on daily sales of their produce for their livelihoods.

Improving food safety and hygiene is a desirable goal and should be  pursued.  However, it shouldn’t be limited to non-vegetarian food items only. Making and selling pakoras and samosas in the open is equally unhygienic and unsafe to eat. Besides, given the worsening employment situation in the state of MP and the country in general, the implications of a ban on the sale of meat and poultry products for jobs can’t and shouldn’t be wished away.

With no alternative source of livelihood to fall back for poultry producers and unorganised sellers, such bans will only increase harassment of roadside vendors and hawkers by police and   enforcement agencies for extracting bribes.

The government should instead focus on larger organised players who are selling nicely packed but sugar, salt and fat heavy junks in the form of breakfast cereals, sweets and snacks. Besides those who are selling food items in shops may not be as hygienic as  one  tends to believe.

Unless the intent is to influence dietary habits of the citizens, the government’s move to ban the open sale of meat and poultry products doesn’t make sense. What’s really needed is a holistic approach to food safety and not a populist knee jerk reaction.

Prerna Sharma Singh is a director on the board of Indonomics Consulting Private Limited, a policy research and advisory startup, and heads its agriculture, food and retail practice. She tweets at @AgriFoodRetail. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.