India’s beef on entry of US dairy products: The cow ingredient
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US President Barack Obama had identified market access for US agricultural and dairy products as a major deliverable and even mentioned it to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his recent communique.
At first, the problem was with the use of calf rennet in American cheese. US was told that it would have to disclose this prominently in a label on the product, but the Americans argued that this would reduce their competitiveness in the market. Finally, sources said, it relented on Friday after explanations on how other countries followed the same practice.
The problem now is that cattle in the US are given animal feed, which is fortified with certain meat products. India requires any country sending dairy produce here to certify that the source was "never fed feeds produced from internal organs, blood meal and tissues of ruminant origin". The US has conveyed that it cannot provide such a certificate because its cattle is regularly fed such animal feed. Australia, New Zealand and some European nations, sources said, give such a certificate because their cattle are mostly reared on grazing.
India has told the US that the cow is a revered animal here and the notion that it is fed feed containing meat products will hurt religious sensitivities. The US side proposed it could ensure that the cattle is not given this feed 30 days prior to sourcing dairy produce to India. This way, the US could certify that it has "not" fed its cattle such feed rather than using the word "never". But this has not got a positive response from India.
There is also stiff opposition from Indian companies. "The US wants full access to our market while it denies market access to our dairy exports. They impose high tariff and non-tariff barriers. Indian cheese is made using vegetarian microbial rennet as against calf rennet and other animal rennets used in the US for cheese production," says R S Sodhi, Managing Director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which markets its products under the Amul brand.
Indian officials have said that they would discuss these issues with the political leadership and revert.
The other issue on which there is disagreement relates to US demand for exporting barley to India. Here again, New Delhi has turned down the US request at the official level. US barley contains some strains of ergot and even though these are within internationally prescribed limits, Agriculture Ministry officials argue that quarantining would be required because if these are kept with Indian barley, the strain would spread here. At present, the strain present in US barley is not found in India.
Even the Indian side has its share of complaints, in particular over the export of litchis to the US. American officials insisted that it be labelled "not fresh produce", given that it is preserved with sulphur dioxide. The Indian side felt that was simply raising the bar too high.