Will banning beef lead to economic problems?

by Chaitanya CharanMarch 3, 2015

The Maharashtra government’s decision to ban beef is being criticized in the media as unfavorable for the economy. How do we counter such propaganda?

Answer Podcast

Transcribed and edited by: Bhakta Ambuj Gupta and Keshavgopal Das

Question: The Maharashtra government has banned beef but the banning of the beef has been criticized in the media because it is going to cause unemployment among those who are involved in beef industry and it is going to lead to increase in other forms of meat such as mutton, which is much expensive than beef. Overall it has been widely criticized on economic and employment grounds. How do we respond to such issues?


  • Certainly banning of beef is a welcome step not only because cows are spiritually very much veneered in Indian society but also they are valuable economic asset. Their slaughter affects ecology and economy adversely in many ways.
  • Banning of beef will need addressing mainly at three levels – (1) For Hindu right wing hardliners who strongly support it (2) For general people who are into meat or beef eating (3) For vocal minorities who strongly oppose it.
  • To hardliners supporting ban, the issue should not be seen as victory of one group over the other. Rather, one need to focus on the broader principle that we all are ultimately part of one family of God and we need to learn to see the imperishable spirit in all living beings.
  • For meat/beef eaters, we should try educate them based on acronym HELP (Health, Environment, Livestock, Poverty). Meat eating is not healthy, it is polluting to environment, it is cruel against animals, and it is much less economical than the vegetarian option.
  • For vocal minorities, we need to address the issue on a case by case basis in a way it is intelligible to them.

Answer (long): Certainly the banning of beef is a welcome step because cows are not just spiritually veneered by Indian society but along with that they are also very valuable economic assets and their slaughter for beef affects the ecology and the economy adversely in many ways. The problem here is that we need to recognize that principles cannot be applied in isolation from the social context and from the participation of society in general.  Banning beef is a good valuable, cultural, and spiritual principle but unless people’s attitudes do not change prohibition at a legal level does not work. Just like in the past the attempts to ban liquor have not always been successful because people simply smuggle liquor from other places.

We need look at this from three perspective. (1) Those whom the media labels  as the Hindu right wing  who are aggressively advocating ban on beef, (2) there are general people many of them are meat eaters who want basically to get on to their lives, and  (3) there are vocal religious minority which is strongly against ban on beef eating. Let us look at each of these one by one-

First of all, a lot in today’s world depends on perceptions. Rather than making beef eating seem to be like a cultural victory of one group’s ideas over others, we need to focus on understanding the broader principle that we all ultimately are parts of one family of God and at present we are part of one society. In the society rather than thinking in terms of winners and losers we have to think all of us as brothers. “I vs. You” is a tribal mentality. Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 18.20 that sattva-guna mentality is to see the imperishable spirit in all living beings.

sarva-bhūteṣu yenaikaṁ
bhāvam avyayam īkṣate
avibhaktaṁ vibhakteṣu
taj jñānaṁ viddhi sāttvikam

That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all living entities, though they are divided into innumerable forms, you should understand to be in the mode of goodness.

We shouldn’t see this as a victory of my group over your group rather we should see that we are all souls, part of one family, and presently we are part of one nation. We all are striving to do good for the nation. If we had the superiority complex and we blow our own trumpet then we alienate people and we make them more and more hostile even if something is actually good for them.

Attitude is very important. The issue of beef eating should not be made into an issue for scoring political brownie points for one group over another. It should be treated as an issue of national, economic, and ecological interest.

Now with respect to the broad majority of people many of whom are meat eaters. There is an increasing awareness of how meat eating is harmful for health. Specially if somebody get cancer,  or heart problem, one of the first thing doctors recommend is – switch to vegetarian diet. Certainly its well known now that meat is harmful. I have written an article on my web site where I talk about four principles – “HELP the world” by becoming vegetarian. HELP, an acronym, expands into- Health, Environment, Livestock and Poverty. All these four can be minimized if people turns towards vegetarian diet. There is a book Divine Nature written by Dr. Michael Cremo and Mukunda Goswami, in which they describe number of sociological surveys which demonstrates how among all the various things that cause a drag on the environment harming it, beef industry is among the most polluting.  I will not go into the reasons now but the point is many surveys has indicated that, if people want to eat meat, if they choose to eat beef that is among the worst. Eating beef pollute the environment the most. It may be that in a particular situation beef may be cheaper form of meat but that is simply because of supply and demand dynamics. From the point of health and ecology, there are strong reasons for people to switch towards the vegetarian diet, at the very least towards a less non vegetarian diet, and avoid beef altogether. If people are educated about these economic, health, and ecological benefits then they will be much more open to adopt ban on beef rather than if such a ban is imposed on them as a cultural or a religious dogma. That sort of education and encouragement of intelligent choice is the ethos of the Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita 18.63 mentions:

vimṛśyaitad aśeṣeṇa
yathecchasi tathā kuru

Deliberate on this and then decide what you will do.

In this verse, Krishna is giving a choice to Arjuna. Similarly, Krishna gives us the choice. Like Krishna, we also need to give choice to others by providing education to them. Rather than trumping this as a victory of one culture or religion over others, we need to give systematic education to people in a way that is intelligible to them. Unless people accept the Vedic world view, the sanctity of a cow will not be intelligible to them. Till that point, rather than imposing something which seem like a cultural dogma to them, we need to focus on explaining things in a way that is appealing to them in economic, ecological, and health terms, and thus they feel comfortable to take steps towards accepting and embracing the principle of less meat eating specially beef.

As far as this particular issue is concerned this a matter of education and not just legislation. Legislation cannot achieve something for which people have no inclination. People can develop inclination primarily through education and along with this education there also has to be reallocation of resources. Often the religious right wing which is comprised of say Hindu hardliners who may have some good intentions and want to avoid cow slaughter but often they don’t have any blueprint of how things will be implemented. Preparing a blueprint and implementing it is not just the job of the government. Often the is the idea is that all the problems belong to the government and if the government does something right then all the problems will be solved. This attitude is not correct. Ultimately we live in a democracy and more importantly we all are part of the state. John F Kennedy once famously said – Ask not what the nation has done for you, ask what you have done for the nation.

There are many activist groups which in spite of absence of any government’s legislation have been working towards the welfare of the cows.  There are many ISKCON devotees also who have actively participated in such initiatives and even initiated some initiatives like this. To the extent we can provide economic models that work where people can sustain themselves financially even when they don’t eat meat to that extent such a model will become acceptable to the mainstream society.

Certainly a legislation is good. It’s a welcome step but it has to be accompanied by education and reallocation of resources. That reallocation is not just government’s problem, there has to be a broad social change that has to take place. When sympathetic activist groups having an open mind they embrace such a cause, things move onwards and gradually one learns. This is the way we should move on.

Going further, if we want to look at the vocal minority which considers that, say killing animals on for example festivals like Eid, is our fundamental right, we have to understand that a much of the antipathy among religions has its history not so much in particular scriptural statements but in particular socio-political spins given to those scriptural statements. Politicians have often misused religion for their own ulterior motives. In general, if things can be made to make economic sense, those who belong to minority religion may not accept the culture or religious sentiments but ultimately we should know that everyone whatever be their religion have two characteristics. There are people just like us and they want to get on to their lives just as we want to get on to our lives. Rather than branding certain people as fanatical, we need to deal with the problems in a way that is intelligible for them. There will be certain hostile people who will always create trouble no matter what happens but there are other people who will have practical issues which are created because of a certain legislation. Government and social welfare organizations, and activist groups can come together in a way by which these issues can be dealt with. So not just by legislation but by education, avoiding one’s up man ship, and proper reallocation of resources, this can become a very important step onwards in the establishment of a more ecologically, economically, and hygienically harmonious way of diet and living.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan