The lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly storing and consuming beef a few weeks ago has sparked a heated debate about banning the meat. Predictably, battle lines have also been drawn around religious groups.
But data from the latest National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) round shows that around 80 million people—around 1 of every 13 Indians—eat beef or buffalo meat. That number is almost the same as Germany’s population and is spread across religions and states.
The biggest chunk of beef eating population is Muslim by faith, according to NSSO data. Around 63.4 million Muslims consume beef/buffalo. That adds upto 40% of the total Muslim population. For Christians, this figure is around 26.5%. Although, less than 2% Hindus eat beef/buffalo, they are ranked second in absolute terms. More than 12.5 million Hindus consume it.
How did we arrive at these numbers?
The last consumer expenditure survey by NSSO was conducted in 2011-12. For beef/buffalo category, the data was collected in two schedules, type I (based on a 30-day recall period), and type II (based on a 7-day recall period).
We have taken the type I schedule to ensure better capture of actual consumption given the longevity of the recall period. On the flip side, it might lead to under-reporting of actual quantity consumed.
Among the 101,000 surveyed households, 9,711 reported having consumed beef/buff. Using population weights given by NSSO to arrive at total population estimates, it can be said that out of 1.1 billion people, 83.5 million consumed this meat variety, which is around 7.35% of the total population.
Among religious groups, there are considerable variations across caste groups. Apart from Muslims, schedule castes and schedule tribes (SC/ST) comprise the majority of beef-eating population. Among Hindus, more than 70% of the beef-eating population is SC/ST, 21% is other backward castes and only 7% is upper caste (others category).
Consumption patterns vary across states as well. The largest beef/buff consuming state is not the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir but Meghalaya, where more than 80% of the population consumes this meat. Among larger states, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal show a relatively higher share of beef/buffalo-consuming population.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the NSSO data might be under reporting actual consumption. Adding total beef/buffalo consumption for reporting households and then using NSSO weights to arrive at a total monthly consumption gives an all-India figure of 36,800 tonnes. A rough annual consumption estimate would yield a figure of 441,000 tonnes.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides time series data on beef/veal production, consumption and exports for India. USDA statistics for 2011 show domestic production of beef and veal to be 3.3 million tonnes, out of which around 2 million tonnes was consumed domestically. By 2015, production has increased to 4.2 million tonnes, whereas domestic consumption increased to merely 2.2 million tonnes. Hence, the export boom.
In any case, it is clear from the NSSO data that beef eating cannot be attributed solely to any one particular religious group in the country. In many regions of the country, a large number of non-Muslims eat beef.
Roshan Kishore is a data journalist at Mint and Ishan Anand a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University.