Bhutan: Meatless months no more

By Tenzin Namgyel, Kuensel Online, Jan 12, 2009

Timphu, Bhutan -- Almost eight years after the government banned the sale of meat on auspicious months (1st and 4th months of the Bhutanese calendar), the National Assembly on January 8 lifted the ban.

But the house agreed to prohibit the sale of meat on the auspicious days of 8th, 15th and 30th day of every Bhutanese month, and on the 4th day of the 6th month. Sale of meat would also be banned on the descending day of Lord Buddha.

The agriculture minister, Pema Gyamtsho, told the house that the ban was ineffective. He said that the rule was there but nobody actually followed it. “The ban was in fact risky for consumers, because thousands of people rushed to the meat stalls around the country to stock up for weeks ahead of the ban,” he said. “People stocked meat in refrigerators and some used unhygienic ways with risks of food poisoning and other diseases.”

The minister said that many tourists and guests faced inconvenience during the ban. He also said that, in these two auspicious months, many Bhutanese conduct a series of religious rituals, of which meat was an important part.

Gasa MP Damchoe Dorji also argued that the ban should not be lifted. He said that the ban in the two most auspicious months would not only save the lives of many animals, but stop the slaughterhouses and farms, which would come up in the country in future.

While some MPs said that most people still consume meat during the auspicious months, some said that the two-month ban would only work if Bhutanese people consciously stop eating meat. But many members of parliament agreed with the agriculture minister that, with the ban, lives of animals were shortened by months because of the demand of the people, who stored meat in advance.

The owner of Capital meat shop in Thimphu told Kuensel that his sales escalated by more than double just before the ban. Records from the Bhutan agriculture and food regulatory authority in Thimphu showed that Bhutan imports about 6000 kg of beef, 3000 kg of pork and some 2500 kg of fish daily.

Bhutan imported around 3,000 metric tonnes of beef, 2,000 metric tonnes of pork and around 1,500 metric tonnes of fish in 2008.