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Days after Indonesia suspended import of Indian buffalo meat due to widespread prevalence of coronavirus pandemic in the country, commerce ministry on Thursday clarified that it is following all quality, food safety and environmental standards and that frozen boneless buffalo meat sourced from the country is safe to consume.

India exported $2.8 billion worth buffalo meat in 2020 mostly to Asian countries. Hong Kong topped the chart with $629 million worth imports of bovine meat while Indonesia stood at fifth position with $276 million imports. Other major importers are Vietnam ($401 million), Malaysia ($380 million), Egypt ($295 million) and Iraq ($142 million).

Budi Waseso, chief executive of Indonesia’s food procurement agency Bulog told parliament on Tuesday that a surge of coronavirus cases in India has prompted Indonesia to temporarily halt imports of Indian water buffalo meat, according to a Reuters report.

“International organizations such as World Organisation for Animal Health, World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation have issued guidelines which categorically mention that it is highly unlikely that people can contact Covid -19 from food or food packaging. Covid -19 is a respiratory disease and the primary transmission route is through person-to-person contact. As per the guidelines of these international organizations, Indian meat processing establishments are following physical distancing, stringent hygiene and sanitation measures. Regular training is given to staff and workers on food safety practices," the Indian commerce ministry said in a statement.

Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said that all importing countries can safely procure Indian origin frozen boneless Buffalo meat. “The Buffalo meat is prepared and exported in accordance with OIE (Office International des Epizooties or World Organisation for Animal Health) guidelines for any risk mitigation. Only boneless buffalo meat is allowed for export from India which is safe and risk free. The Buffalo meat exports from India are going on smoothly and there are no hurdles in supply chain. The affordably priced buffalo meat is contributing towards food security and food price inflation control in the importing countries," the statement said.

India had started exporting buffalo meat to Indonesia in July 2016 following the formal release of import permits to Indian export abattoirs by Indonesia. Till then Indonesia was chiefly dependent on meat from Australia. India quickly garnered sizeable market share in buffalo meat in Indonesia beating Australia on competitive price. The Indonesian government introduced new regulations to allow import of livestock products from zones rather than countries, free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) which allowed import of bovine meats from India, where FMD is still prevalent.

The commerce ministry said there have been several interventions by the government to control and eradicate various livestock diseases. “The launching of National Animal Disease Control Programme (NADCP) in June, 2019 to control FMD and Brucellosis by 2025 with vaccination and eradication of disease by 2030 is one of the flagship scheme of government. In order to fully contain and eradicate the diseases, 100% cost of vaccine is borne by the central government for which an outlay of Rs. 13,343 crore has been made. Under this programme all vaccinated animals are ear tagged and a complete traceability is maintained. India’s official FMD Control Programme received OIE’s endorsement, as per the provisions of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code," it added.

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