Kolkata: From Thailand to the US, meat-eating communities across the world have had their carcass moments when meat from dead animals has been peddled for human consumption, process or unprocessed.
But never before has Kolkata, where people eat to live, dealt with a more stinky controversy over unsuitable meat from all sorts of dead animals winding up on tables of upscale restaurants.
WhatsApp groups are buzzing with speculations over which restaurants are under the scanner of the civic authorities, and such is the panic and mistrust among people that sales of cooked meat have plummeted by at least half even in the clubs, according to suppliers.
Demand for raw meat is down by up to 70% at some places, said Sheikh Alam, a supplier from Kolkata’s Park Circus market, echoing sellers in New Market. Whereas earlier Chaman’s Pork Shop at Park Circus used to sell 10-15 kg a day for at least five days a week, sales have fallen to 10 kg a week, according to its owner Rahul Sonkar, a third generation meat seller.
Founded by a Hungarian in 1940 and now run by Bengalis, Kalman Cold Storage in New Market, a supplier to Kolkata’s top clubs, is also struggling. Sales during the summer are normally depressed, but this time it’s worse because of the controversy. It’s down by at least a fifth more than normal, said manager Jay Ghosh.
Last week, the police in Kolkata nabbed a group which traded in meat extracted from dead animals left in garbage dumps. At least 20 tonnes of meat wrapped in plastic packets were recovered. Probe revealed that the group treated the meat with chemicals and even supplied it to neighbouring states such as Bihar, Odisha and Assam.
They were initially thought to be extracting the skin from dead cows and buffalos, but it was later found they were extracting meat from all dead animals. The Kolkata municipal corporation has announced this week that it will start several incarcerators in the city to make sure such carcasses are not found lying in dumps.
But for Kolkata’s restaurants and street food vendors, things are still on a slippery slope. Dilshad Ahmed Khan, who runs a celebrated kebab shob on Zakaria Street in north Kolkata, said he cut short a visit to hometown Lucknow to address the crisis here. “We have always had a loyal clientele who never questioned our quality, but even our sales are substantially down," he says.
In West Virginia in the US, an annual cooking competition is held with meat from road-kills, or animals killed in car collision. The people behind the contest, which is entering its 26th edition this year, are of the view that road-kills if preserved properly are suitable for consumption even by vegans opposed to killing animals for food: “manna from minivans", they would say.
In the UK, in September 2017, a controversy was kicked up by a sting operation conducted by the Guardian and ITV News which showed a supplier of chicken tampering the use-by date to extend shelf life. In 2013, in the UK, an investigation had revealed that some suppliers were feeding horse meat as beef. In most of these cases, people were sent to jail.
But most concerning about the trade in Kolkata is the health hazards. It has been claimed by some experts that meat from carcasses could have parasites such as toxoplasmosis, which have serious health implications.
To allay fears, the Hotels Restaurants Association of Eastern India has issued a directive to all its 800 members asking them to procure raw meat only from vendors with licences from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, according to Atikram Gupta, its assistant secretary.
Only a handful of restaurants appear to have weathered the storm. These are ones such as Royal Indian Restaurant and Zeeshan, which have their own facilities to slaughter animals and do not buy raw meat.