The old media and the social media alike are up in arms since news broke out that the government is fiddling with the idea of giving each cow a unique ID like Aadhaar. This was what Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar on 24 April.
The proposal was recommended by a committee last year. It suggested that cattle should be tagged with polyurethane IDs carrying details of their age, breed, sex, body colour, horn type and milk yielding status.
While the secular-liberal outrage brigade (SLOBs) may smirk or poke fun at all this fuss over a cow, the reality is that livestock wearables are the future and a unique identification number for cows is a great step forward.
While this concept is new to India (hence the smirky response from the utterly ignorant chatterati), this is a fairly common practice in developed countries. Even poor countries like Kenya are now enthusiastically implementing it. Officially called as Livestock Identification and Traceability System (Lits), Kenya has started the programme to keep track of cattle. Dr Joseph Mugachia explains, “It assigns each cow a unique identification number that the animal carries through its whole life…. When a cow changes hands, the identity remains but ownership is transferred, just like in a car log book.” This means that every change in the ownership of the cow (or its progeny) will have a paper trail.
How is it beneficial? Because there would be a proper track record of the ownership of the cow, any owner would not dare let cows roam on streets after their udders run dry because they can be easily tracked and made accountable. For this, of course, some form of electronic tagging would be needed (for instance, RFID). The owners will be forced to go through proper channels and hand over old cows to gaushalas. It will also act as a deterrent to those who sell cows to butchers. The implementation of cow slaughter laws will become easier. The life for cow smugglers will become difficult because they cannot lie that they bought the cows from the owner as such information would be readily available on the cow’s tag.
For example, to check the menace of stray cattle, the Haryana government has already started the process of tagging around three lakh cattle in all cowsheds of the state. According to this The India Express report, tagging of around 75 per cent of the cattle is complete and in the second phase, tagging of domestic cattle will be covered.
Currently the proposal for India is to not use an electronic tag or RFID but simply tags made from thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer. It won’t get damaged due to sunlight or cold temperature. Tampering would be impossible once sealed, Inderjeet Singh, director at the Central Institute for Research on Buffaloes in Hisar, told Mint. He says that this form of identification is currently the most effective one.
“Tags are placed in both ears of the animal and a unique number is given to each based on its bodily features. It usually costs Rs 10-25 per tag and is very accurate,” Singh told the financial daily.
Tags are already used by the National Dairy Development Board for cattle farms and for insuring animals. So providing a universal tagging system is only logical.
Such tags greatly help owners in better management of their livestock. Every new relevant information about the cattle, be it health related or ownership, can be added constantly. Such information comes in handy at the time of selling it to someone else and to fetch better prices. Dr Mugachia says, because of the fact that history of cattle is recorded and retrievable, “at any one point, the animal and its products can be traced back to the origin for enhanced cattle breeding, disease control, trade and food safety”.
How so? Dr Mugachia gives an example of how the US tackled the deadly disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which originated at a slaughterhouse in Washington State on 23 December, 2003. Thanks to an efficient system in place, the Americans were able to identify where the cattle, which transported the disease, came from and destroyed all the cattle that had come into contact with it along with all the products that were manufactured from their produce. All this was done in four days and a major disaster was averted.
Proper identification and tracking system for cattle is a major issue in trade too. Many countries mandate that the countries they import beef from have such system in place. For example, as this article tells us, “China requires that each animal has a unique identity, so that the farm of origin (place of birth) can be traced and it can be ensured the cattle is slaughtered when they are less than 30 months of age.” According to a report, Australia, Brazil, Uruguay, and New Zealand have mandatory traceability systems for their cattle and 87 per cent of China’s 2016 beef imports were from these countries. Having an identification and traceability system in place is not just a good practice but can also help us in increasing trade with countries like China. India is one of the largest exporters of beef, majority of which comes from buffaloes.
Another product that is coming into market is the GPS cow bell. These help owners track cattle on a real time basis. They also emit light and ring an alarm when a predator approaches.
Identification helps in better management of livestock, theft deterrence and convenience at the time of selling. Traceability system helps in quick containment of any deadly disease that may arise. It also provides assurance and more transparency to consumers of cattle meat.
Luddites may scoff at the idea of giving so much importance to cattle, but for the owners in the countryside, they are no less valuable to them as cars are to our urban citizens.
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