According to a national sample survey conducted in 2012, among the various types of meat consumed in India, chicken and fish have the highest per capita consumption. According to a study by Preeti Dhillon, a researcher at the International Institute of Population Sciences in Mumbai, a non-vegetarian diet, especially fish and other seafood, is most common in coastal areas of India.

The popularity of chicken in the country is quite high due to its versatility. Chicken is also not associated with religious taboos. But while India is considered one of the fastest growing poultry markets in the world, The Hindu reports that consumption of beef and buffalo meat is increasing.

According to India’s 2014 census, only three out of ten Indians identify as vegetarians. Even among Indian vegetarians, an estimated three-quarters are lacto-vegetarians (i.e. milk and milk products are consumed but not meat or eggs) and about a quarter of Indian vegetarians are lacto-ovo-vegetarians (i.e. eggs and dairy products) . products are consumed but not meat).

Could this mean India is ready for alternative meat? A recent study assessed consumer preferences in Mumbai for four protein sources: conventional meat, plant-based meat, cell-based meat and chickpeas. While participants consistently rated plant-based meat higher than cell-based meat or conventional meat, it is important to note that the same may not be true in second- and third-tier cities, where meat is still considered a luxury item associated with rising social status. People aren’t looking for plant-based alternatives there, at least not yet.

The study also found that the target market for meat alternatives in India is often health-conscious individuals rather than vegans or vegetarians. This helps explain the discrepancy between public and private consumption of meat in India.

Since 2006, India has seen a major shift from vegetarian diets to diets containing more meat. Factors such as urbanization, greater exposure to newer cultures, and rising disposable incomes could be possible reasons for the shift.

Although India’s per capita meat consumption is low, according to research compiled by researchers Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser in 2019, India’s total meat consumption and total number of livestock are among the highest in the world.

According to the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, 2.3 billion broiler chickens, 135 million goats and sheep and 3.3 million cattle are slaughtered every year in India alone. Illegal slaughterhouse licensing and corruption pave the way for less conventional methods of meat production, such as the dog meat trade. Before the recent ban on the sale of dog meat in the state of Nagaland, around 30,000 dogs were slaughtered annually.

In 2012, India’s annual greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to 18 percent of gross national emissions. Animals accounted for more than half of these emissions. In 2017, agriculture contributed 19.6 percent of India’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with animal products such as mutton (goat meat), eggs, milk and poultry accounting for more than 70 percent of these emissions.

Some scientists hypothesize that higher consumption of animal products is the main driver of India’s rising greenhouse gas emissions, worsening water scarcity and intensified land use. With a population of 1.3 billion (that’s four times the population of the US living on one-third of the landmass.), India’s current and future meat consumption patterns will have a serious global impact.

There is no research on the impact that the growing demand for animal-based foods in developing countries like India may have on the global environmental fabric. What does rising meat consumption in India mean for future generations with increasing disease and what impact will this have on public health, the planet and animals? Only time will tell.

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