Bhutanese have never debated so well on anything than on the ongoing issue of the government’s plan to start a meat-processing unit, and therefore slaughterhouses.

Most are against it, with religious sentiment gaining momentum being the reason.  The dratshang’s plea to the government has added firepower.  Buddhist country, GNH country, and some even linking the recent earthquakes to the slaughter of animals, seem to be convincing many.

Before the government calls it quits by taking a populist decision, or people file a petition to stop it outright, it might be worth pausing for a while and look at the issue from a broader perspective.  The livestock department, we are hearing, is happy to stop the project.  The idea is not to start slaughterhouses, but to encourage farmers to start rearing animals and supply meat to the processing unit.

Animals will still have to be slaughtered, whether the department commissions someone to do it or leaves it to farmers.  If the plan goes ahead, the ball will be in the farmers’ court.  The meat-processing unit will provide a market for the poultry farms, fisheries and livestock farmers rear.

There is no imposition.  There are services like loans provided, and it is up to the people to start an animal farm or vegetable business.  The voices on social media are not those of farmers or the unemployed, who think of this as a good business opportunity.  What would they say?

A quick look at figures with the livestock department shows that we have been slaughtering animals.  In 2013 (as per latest figures available), Bhutan produced 900MT (metric tonnes) of chicken, 65MT of fish, 317MT of pork and 513MT of beef.  These were supplied from our poultries, piggeries, fisheries and abattoirs within the country.

From experience we know that there is a preference for local produce, whether it is green chilli or meat.  Meat vendors will even dare to lie that the sikam at the centenary market is from Wangchutaba farm, which was closed many years ago.  Local beef and pork are rare and more expensive.  It is a specialty and sells like hot cakes.

To most, the image of a slaughterhouse has a bull or a cow being knifed to death, with tears rolling down from their eyes.  In reality, there were fewer bovine killed, going by the record.  It would take several hundreds of fish to weigh a tonne, and so too with chicken.  We have “slaughtered” more chickens and fish.

If people are willing to take up animal farms to supply meat, we cannot stop them.  They will decide if it is sinful or not.  There is a choice or an opportunity created by economics.  In fact, the government’s role is to create an environment, where Bhutanese, if they cannot turn vegetarians, consume clean and hygienic meat.

Bhutanese are beef lovers, whether it is served as shakam or maru.  The beef we get today is not the healthiest.  There are old and useless cattle slaughtered, usually by smugglers after bribing police to bypass the “fit for slaughter” ticket.

Bhutanese don’t consume the meat of a bullock that has served them for years.