Q-hour: The government has no plans to set up slaughterhouses in the country, the prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, clarified yesterday at the question hour session of the Parliament.

“What the members need to understand is that, unlike what was reported in the media, there are no such plans,” lyonchoen said.

An intense debate started, after this paper carried an article on the government’s plans to start a meat-processing unit at Serbithang.  While most misunderstood the meat processing unit for slaughterhouse, others linked it to slaughtering of animals within the country, as meat would have to be supplied to the unit to be processed.

Slaughtering of animals was also mentioned when a livestock official said that “animals will be slaughtered in a professional way, like stunning down, making the animal unconscious.”

The prime minister was responding to a question from North Thimphu representative Kinga Tshering on people’s concerns about the government’s plan of setting up many mega livestock processing plants in the country by this December that will include butchering of pigs and cattle.

Kinga Tshering asked the home minister on whether the government would continue with the plans, or take into consideration the traditional values and cultural aspects, and that many people were also against it.

“Such projects are important to reduce import, but is it acceptable as a religious country and in line with the concept of Gross National Happiness?” Kinga Tshering said.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji, who was asked to clarify, said that the livestock department has initiated 10 projects as part of the 11th Plan activities to boost livestock and agriculture.  The activities, lyonpo said, were endorsed with support from all members of Parliament in an effort towards self-sufficiency and to reduce imports.

Lyonpo gave an update on the status of the 10 projects, ranging from jersey farms, piggery to fisheries across the country, of which most were development of the existing farms. “Among these projects, the meat processing unit at Serbithang is a new project,” lyonpo said. “But a slaughterhouse was never planned.”

Lyonpo said that imported meat would be processed hygienically and packaged to suit people’s needs. “The meat we import isn’t hygienic and people don’t have a choice but to buy in bulk, as meat vendors don’t sell in small quantities.”

The meat processing unit is expected to provide people more choices of hygienically processed and packaged quality meat, and thereby help gradually reduce import of meat.  Besides, lyonpo said, with such hygienic technique in place, the government also planned to train and educate local meat vendors.

Lyonpo said he expected that it would be meat vendors, who would oppose the meat processing unit. “But I’m surprised that it’s the people who are against it, and if people don’t support it, we might have to stop the unit.”

Home minister Damcho Dorji also said that it wasn’t a slaughterhouse that had been planned.  On the traditional and cultural aspects, lyonpo said that, as a Buddhist country, slaughtering of animals was sinful, although many people consumed meat slaughtered by others.

“Killing is against our religion, but consuming meat has always been a part of culture and tradition,” lyonpo said. “Tradition and culture should evolve with the changing time.”

The home minister said people consumed meat even before the country opened up to the rest of the world although against the religion.  Back then, lyonpo said, people reared cattle, pigs and poultry mainly for special occasions like annual rituals, festivals and celebrations in the absence of meat vendors. “Right now we’re trying to promote livestock products that will be sold within the country and export the excess to other countries,” lyonpo said.

With regard to the petition submitted to the prime minister by the dratshang, lyonpo Damcho Dorji said it must have been done in good faith. “The reality is that people are against slaughterhouses, but they love meat and this is where the problem lies,” lyonpo said, urging the dratshang to discourage people from consuming meat.

Despite lyonchoen and the ministers’ clarifications on the slaughterhouse, it is still not clear how the meat processing unit would reduce import.  They said the unit at Serbithang would process and package imported meat.

Last year, Bhutan imported 10,336MT (metric tonnes) of meat products worth Nu 1.37 billion from India and Thailand.  Bhutan is the highest per capita meat consumer in South Asia, with about 13.5kg of meat per capita annually, records with the livestock department show.

Meanwhile, the meat processing unit at Serbithang is almost complete.  Construction of the Nu 15M plant started about a year ago, with technical assistance from department of livestock development of Thailand.  The equipment is expected to cost about Nu 13.5M.

By Kinga Dema