They are crammed in trucks, making that one last journey in their life. Cows of all sizes and shapes silently moan as they sense what is yet to happen. As the doors open at the butcher’s, some are with broken limbs, some have died and some have also given birth. This is the sorry plight of the cattle – those beings that have for centuries supported farmers to plough fields, provided milk to nourish us and dung for manure and drawn overloaded carts for man’s benefit.
All animals are sentient beings with a right to life. But today we see the mother cow being killed, sometimes right in front of the baby. Slaughter has become a common practice and the beef trade is in high demand. The laws although are always in
place, have failed to save the lives of these innocent beings as they are always manipulated upon political will. Today, dairy farmers are challenged with debts and cows seem to be a burden for them, thus provoking them to follow alternative ways to find money. However, animal rights activists and welfare groups are fighting to bring about humane slaughter. Hence the Daily Mirror sheds light on the loopholes of the legal process, objectives of the Cattle Protection Trust and the plight of the present day dairy farmers.
- Slaughterhouses often operate as ‘charity farms’
- Cows under 12 years are also found in slaughterhouses
- The government has to pay Rs. 430 billion for dairy farmers
- Rs. 50,000 prescribed for slaughtering pregnant and lactating cows
Laws can legislate for humane slaughter Lalani Perera
Speaking to the , Attorney-at-law and animal welfare activist Lalani Perera said that food animals suffer agonizing deaths not only in slaughterhouses, but even in some home backyards. “While laws cannot prohibit the consumption of animal flesh, they can legislate for humane slaughter. In some countries the laws require pre-slaughter stunning to render the animal insensitive to pain. But we have no such laws. In 2010, fourteen religious and animal welfare organizations sought court intervention to urge the government to introduce humane slaughter methods. A Cabinet Memorandum for this purpose lay on the table of then Local Government Minister A.L.M. Athaullah for many months. His successor Minister Karu Jayasuriya, was willing to pursue the matter, but could not proceed as he was appointed Speaker. Since then, this is pending before the current Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha. Humane slaughter is opposed by a majority of the Muslim community who view it as a threat to their religious practice of Halal slaughter. But humane slaughter does not necessarily contradict Halal slaughter. Our attempts to meet Minister Mustapha have so far failed. The nuanced animal rights campaigner does not fight against any race or religion, but only pleads for the animal’s welfare.”
Speaking further she said that many engaged in the meat industry want food animals excluded from the proposed Animal Welfare Bill which introduces a comprehensive legal regime to protect all animals. Purportedly claiming that animal cruelty laws will affect Sri Lanka’s economy, some in the poultry industry demand such exclusion, complacent that it is quite in order to expose animals to brutality for the industry’s profit. Slaughterhouses often operate also as ‘charity farms’ from where animals can be selected for release. Though our Animals Act prohibits the slaughter of cows under 12 years, capable of breeding or fit for agricultural use, such cows are found in slaughterhouses. If those visiting slaughterhouses to save cattle encounter such cows, reporting it to the nearest police station will save many lives, not just one.
As an alternative selecting a place to release cows is crucial, to prevent the animal being re-exposed to slaughter. “Giving animals to small scale dairy farmers will help them economically and promote the production of organic fertilizer,” Perera added. “But, there must be effective monitoring to ensure that these animals are not sold to the butcher when of no use. Perhaps, there may be animal welfare organizations who are willing to engage in monitoring. Due to space constraints to keep released cattle, the then Livestock Minister in 2009, invited those who save cattle to hand them to the National Livestock Development Board to assure them a productive future, but that initiative has not been sustained. Its revival should be considered.”
Inadequacy in legal process
Section 4 of the Butchers Ordinance states that no person shall carry on the trade of a butcher, except under the authority of an annual licence or a temporary licence in that behalf, issued by a proper authority. Adding her comments on this regard, Perera reiterated the fact that the Butchers Ordinance enacted in 1893 lays down conditions of slaughter - cattle, goats, pigs and sheep can be slaughtered only with a licence from the local authority and only in licensed slaughterhouses (though temporary licences may be issued for any festival such as Haj where animals can be slaughtered in residential premises). “As such, slaughter is prohibited between 6 pm and 6 am; cattle must be exposed for public view for 24 hours prior to slaughter; and 48 hours’ notice of the intention to slaughter must be given to the local authority. Not only is slaughter of animals in the presence of others awaiting slaughter prohibited, but there is a requirement that all signs of previous slaughter be removed before killing the next animal. But, there are instances where even calves awaiting slaughter witness the mother cow being bludgeoned to death alive. Law enforcement being ineffective, these requirements are observed in the breach.
In 2009, a fine of Rs. 50,000 was prescribed for slaughtering pregnant or lactating cows. It was economic considerations and not compassion to animals that led to this amendment
Section 16 of the Butchers Ordinance states that every licensed butcher who commits a breach of any of the provisions of the four preceding sections shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred rupees, and in default of payment to imprisonment, either rigorous or simple, for a term not exceeding six months. “However, in 2009, a fine of Rs. 50,000 was prescribed for slaughtering pregnant or lactating cows. It was economic considerations and not compassion to animals that led to this amendment. The weakness I see in this amendment is that it does not criminalize such slaughter, but merely prescribes a punishment for its commission, without prohibiting it. When such cows are found in slaughterhouses there should be a presumption that they are there for slaughter,” she said.
The enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill, to replace our 1907 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, is totally inadequate to deal with current animal cruelty issues as it has faced severe delays due to lack of political will, bureaucratic apathy and vested interests. “The government must give this priority in a context where animals are no longer considered chattel, but globally receiving the status of non-human persons through laws and judicial determinations. Failure to reform our archaic animal cruelty laws will have a negative impact on the image of this nation, whose Constitution gives Buddhism the foremost place and whose current rulers have pledged a ‘Compassionate Government’.”
Cattle Protection Trust
The Cattle Protection Trust was established in November 2012 by the late attorney general and President’s Counsel C.R de Silva. Currently headed by his wife Kamalini de Silva, the Trust believes that there is no better way to pay tribute to an animal that has so faithfully served mankind, than to give it shelter in its old age and assure its honourable death.
Once they are produced before courts, the Police then couldn’t take them back to their premises. So in most instances we observed the Police are giving them back to the slaughterhouses
The Trust was established under the Public Trustees Ordinance which helps in administration of the Trust. As such a 25-acre block of land was provided by the Mahaweli Authority near the Rambaken Oya scheme at Maha Oya. Speaking to the Daily Mirror Kamalini said that the Trust has formed a sanctuary for cows that are released from slaughter. “Once they are produced before courts, the Police then couldn’t take them back to their premises. So in most instances we observed the Police giving them back to the slaughterhouses. In order to prevent this practice we initiated this sanctuary and requested the courts to hand over the cows accordingly. Currently there are around 80 cows and we mainly run on donations. We would like to invite well-wishers to support us and in the long run we would like to hand them over to dairy farmers in villages but it has to be supervised. Therefore we invite interested parties to contact us.”
Govt. is provoking dairy farmers to find alternatives Namal Karunarathne
In his comments, National Organiser of the All Ceylon Farmers Federation Namal Karunarathne said that in the Buddhist backdrop, animal slaughter is prohibited. “However people have now started to eat meat and this could be anything from rabbits to monitors etc. Similarly to humans, animals too have rights and they need to be respected. We come from a background where we drank cows’ milk, used its dung in our households as manure and also as a building material. After taking such advantage of the animal, it doesn’t seem right to kill and have it for meat. In the recent past there have been several incidents of cattle rustling where the cow’s head and tail were left and the rest of the body was cut off to be sold to the butcher.”
Speaking further he said that the government has to pay a sum of Rs. 430 billion for dairy farmers. “They are not paying it and the government is provoking farmers to find alternatives. As farmers are in debt, they see the cow as a burden and the only option is to sell it for meat. Hence it’s high time that the government starts paying these poor farmers before all cattle are sold for meat.”
We hail from a background where we drank cows’ milk, used its dung in our households
The Daily Mirror on several occasions tried to contact National Livestock Development Board Chairman K. Muthuvinayagam and Ministry of Rural Economic Affairs Secretary D. K Ekanayake but both attempts proved futile.