THE US Department of Agriculture estimates India’s cattle and water buffalo population in 2017 at around 303 million head, more than 12 times the size of Australia’s cattle population.
Indian carabeef and beef production is forecast to increase by around 2.3 percent this year to 4.4 million tonnes, carcase weight. Compare that with Australian beef production this year, most recently estimated by MLA at 2.032 million tonnes.
The expansion in India is due mostly to herd population growth and moderate export demand.
India’s cattle and water buffalo population is likely to remain strong over the next decade driven by strong growth in the Indian dairy sector, USDA says.
The animals are raised primarily for dairying purposes and mostly by small and medium sized farmers. Since most Indian states restrict or prohibit cattle slaughter due to religious sensitivities, India’s carabeef sector mainly depends on productive water buffalo and water buffalo bulls from the dairy sector.
In 2016 several Indian states enacted stringent cattle slaughter legislation to completely prohibit cattle slaughter, however industry sources indicate that these regulations have only had a minor impact on the carabeef trade.
All Indian states except Kerala prohibit the slaughter of cattle of any age. Water buffalo contribute more than 56pc of India’s total milk production, according to the USDA. Water buffalo are preferred by some farmers due to the price premium for high fat milk, and because culled water buffalo can be sold for slaughter.
Reoccurrence of Foot and Mouth Disease remains a major challenge for India’s carabeef sector, an issue that continues to be a significant risk with the new trade in Indian carabeef into Indonesia.
Due to its affordability, carabeef is the second most consumed animal protein in India after chicken, but consumption levels remain low due to limited consumption amongst the majority of the Hindu community, which represents around 80pc of the total population.
The carabeef is mainly consumed by the Muslim community and certain sections of the Hindu population. India’s top five carabeef export destinations remain Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In 2015 Vietnam was the largest destination for Indian carabeef accounting for 44pc of total Indian exports. Given the large exports of Australian live cattle and other suppliers to Vietnam, it clearly suggests that some of this product is being re-exported into China, Russia and other third-country markets, some analysts suggest.