Monday, June 08, 2015

Sperm To Slaughter: The Shocking Abuse Of Bulls In India

In March 2015, two Indian states criminalized the sale of beef and the slaughter of all bulls, cows and calves, ostensibly guided by the ethic of cattle protectionism enshrined in Hinduism. 

Typically, religious and political cattle protectionism tends to focus on slaughter prohibition and the last stages of the cattle's lifecycle, ignoring the enormous scale of abuse and exploitation that cattle endure from birth for their labour, and products drawn from their bodies. The object of protectionism is also usually the cow, given her iconic status as Mother Cow and her visible role in dairy production.

There is, however, urgent need for a realistic expansion of the scope of cattle protectionism in India in the current millennium. In this article, I draw attention to the extraordinary abuse bulls endure for dairy farming, a sadly ignored facet of milk production.

I shift the focus from the last act of cruelty to cattle --slaughter -- to what has become in effect, the very first one - sperm extraction from bulls for artificial insemination. Cattle protection, to have any meaning and integrity, must start at the stage of the spermatozoa, from where every stage of the animal's life cycle is charted out with chilling precision, all the way to the slaughterhouse.

Artificial insemination (AI) and bovine frozen semen technologies, both calculated human interventions into the reproductive systems of male and female cattle, have rarely received a rigorous critique from an animal welfare standpoint. These invasive cattle reproductive technologies helped assure the success of Operation Flood in the 1970s, the project that cemented India's status as a leading dairy producer globally.

Frozen semen technologies involve human-assisted extraction of semen from stud bulls, and deep-freezing it in liquid nitrogen for insemination in cows to genetically "improve" cattle breeds for the sole purpose of increased dairy production. AI refers to the insertion of the selected bovine semen into the uterus of a carefully matched receptor cow. A Cornell University study shows that the "working life" of frozen semen is virtually timeless as long as it is correctly stored in liquid nitrogen, thus stretching the impregnation capacity of a single bull well beyond imagination.

Right here begin the terrible slaughter stories of unwanted male calves in dairy farming, and the mass-scale killing of "useless" male and female cattle.

Bull abuse for dairy
The cruelty that bulls experience to support the dairy industry is almost entirely unknown. Indeed, my visits to frozen semen farms were shocking. I was utterly unprepared to witness the palpable suffering and distress of adult male cattle for dairy. The bulls in a frozen semen farm are magnificent creatures, deemed genetically the most superior of their species for their capacity to sire high-milk yielding daughters. At about 18 months of age, healthy young bulls are inducted into dairy slavery. In a single holding stall of a bovine frozen semen factory, 40 to 60 bulls at a minimum, across species and breeds are tethered tightly, with barely two or three feet of space separating one bull from another.

Bulls are highly territorial creatures, and cannot tolerate the tension of being herded together. These agitated animals are secured strongly by face harnesses with short taut ropes attached to the ground on either side, such that the bull cannot even turn his face to the right or left and see his neighbour. The only movements allowed are rising, sitting, and leaning forwards into the feeding troughs. Burned into my memory is a wide-eyed stud buffalo, straining fruitlessly but forcefully at his short nose leash, almost out of his mind from boredom and agitation, and unable to move an inch except for the repeated, raving bobs of his head.

Twice a day, four days a week, the bulls have a 10- minute walk to the semen extraction centre, before being lead back to their cramped and bound lives. In India, semen is mostly extracted through the "traditional" method of a bull mounting a dummy cow and ejaculating into an artificial temperature-controlled vagina. Forebodingly in the West, electroejaculation methods where "mild" electric shocks of 12 to 24 volts are administered via the rectum to force ejaculation are becoming increasingly common. This is an extremely painful method of semen extraction requiring in fact, general anaesthesia, though this is never administered to cattle.

The bulls are thus abused for about 10 years when their semen quality starts to decline with age. At that point, animal husbandry officials across different states told me that the bulls will join the "spent" dairy cows and "inferior" male calves in the slaughterhouse, where they will be "culled". Animal husbandry departments in India in fact prefer to send their bulls to slaughter rather than to goshalas as each animal can fetch anything between Rs 25,000-50,000 for their meat.

Beyond the long arm of law?
The continuous imprisonment of healthy bulls is an act of state-sanctioned cruelty. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960 and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 however do not offer sufficiently stringent penalties for such abuse. Section 11 of the PCA Act, 1960, deems it a punishable offence if any person

(e) keeps or confines any animal in any cage or other receptacle which does not measure sufficiently in height, length and breadth to permit the animal a reasonable opportunity for movement; or 
(f) keeps for an unreasonable time any animal chained or tethered upon an unreasonably short or unreasonably heavy chain or cord

Section 429 of the IPC 1860 penalises the "killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless" of all cattle but does not contain clauses to include the cruelties inherent in current animal husbandry practices. Combined with top-heavy bureaucratic practices, the latent corruption at all levels of governance and public administration, and the general disregard for animal welfare, the traumas of animals used by the State and the industries remain resolutely unacknowledged.

Consequences for cattle breeds
Frozen semen and artificial insemination technologies epitomise speciesism, a socio-ecological phenomenon akin to racism or sexism, where humans assign greater value to certain species (favouring above all, of course, their own) and devalue others. The entire purpose of AI is the selective genetic "upgrading" of certain breeds of cattle for greater dairy output. The speciesism inherent in selective cattle breeding has had certain uniquely brutal consequences in India. "Exotic" cattle breeds imported from Holland, the USA and Australia are generally believed to yield higher milk, and have hence been crossbred almost unchecked with native Indian breeds. As a result, the zebu or native Indian cattle breeds like the magnificent ongole from Andhra Pradesh, the jallikatus from Tamil Nadu, the red sindhis from Gujarat, the sahiwal from Punjab, or the kapila from Karnataka are almost extinct in India.

The crossbreds, commonly referred to as Jerseys, fare no better. Unable to withstand fierce Indian summers and born without the fatty hump, the Jersey bulls struggle to serve as drought animals. Millions of them die as "waste products" of the dairy industry, or live brutal lives as load-carriers/pullers, despite their physical limitations.

Most appallingly, the Jersey crossbreds often do not qualify for the flimsy protection afforded to native Indian cattle by their sacred status. Several goshalas attached to Hindu temples across India that I visited refuse to receive Jersey cattle as their qualities or products are simply not regarded as having the same divine or medicinal properties as Indian breeds. One goshala manager at a Krishna temple in Andhra Pradesh summed up a common view of Jersey cattle when he contemptuously told me, "They are not even cows!"

At the cattle mandis (livestock markets) in the North and chanthais in the South that I visited, these common beliefs resonated across the truckers and butchers -- these cattle do not deserve better; they are not worthy; this is their fate. Such cold-blooded projections and fatalism is acutely reminiscent of the casteism in Indian human societies. By birth, some of us are doomed. In this case, ironically, human-manipulated and not "divinely-fated" birth.

At the far end of the cattle lifecycle from sperm farming is slaughter. Prohibitions on cattle slaughter, the risks to life and limb taken by heroic cattle rescue groups, and increasingly, the real concerns from methane emissions for global warming are rendered almost meaningless, even a mockery, unless India and other countries reconsider bovine artificial insemination and the propaganda of "need" created by dairy industries, with total transparency.

Where AI in India may be selectively applied is to preserve native Indian breeds which have been almost pushed to extinction because of spectacular State mismanagement. For the rest, India will be better off redirecting these funds towards the welfare of living cattle to genuinely adhere to cattle protectionism in the current millennium.

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