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Himalayan Yak Gets FSSAI Approval as 'Food Animal'

The Food Safety Standard Authority of India has designated the yak, a multipurpose bovine found in high-altitude areas of the Himalayan region, as a food animal. Any mammalian, poultry, fowl, fish, or other animal raised primarily for human consumption is considered a food animal.

Shivam Dwivedi
FSSAI's recognition of the Yak as a food-producing animal will help farmers benefit economically
FSSAI's recognition of the Yak as a food-producing animal will help farmers benefit economically

The Himalayan Yak has been approved as a 'food animal' by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI). The move is expected to help slow the decline of the high-altitude bovine animal population by incorporating it into the conventional milk and meat industries, according to an official at the National Research Centre (NRC) on Yak in Dirang, West Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh. The ‘food animal’ tag will become official once it is notified in the gazette following approval by a competent authority.

The NRC-Yak submitted a proposal to the FSSAI in 2021 to consider the yak as a food animal. However, according to NRC-Yak Director Dr. Mihir Sarkar, the FSSAI recently responded with an official approval following a recommendation from the department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying.

The animal serves a multifaceted socio-cultural-economic role for pastoral nomads who raise yaks primarily for nutritional and livelihood security due to the virtual absence of other agricultural activity in the Himalayan region's high reaches. Traditionally, yaks are reared through a primitive, unorganized, complex transhumance system.

"The FSSAI's recognition of the Yak as a food-producing animal will help farmers benefit economically from rearing the animal and will open up several vistas of economic benefits for both farmers and food processors," Dr. Sarkar told Krishi Jagran. He explained that the Centre had developed a semi-intensive yak-rearing model in which yaks are kept in open areas and paddocks all year.

It is widely assumed that the FSSAI's declaration of the yak as a food animal will pave the way for its commercial rearing and consumption through the use of the yak-rearing model developed by NRC-Yak. According to Dr. Sarkar, the country's Yak population has been declining at an alarming rate over the years. According to the most recent livestock census in 2019, India has 58,000 yaks, a 25% decrease from the previous livestock census in 2012.

"This drastic decline in yak population in India has become a source of concern for local users, government officials, and those who promote animal genetic diversity conservation," said Dr. Sarkar. Yak milk is highly nutritious, high in fat, contains essential minerals, and has medicinal properties.

Yak farmers raise a variety of traditional meat products. The director stated that these products are limited to the local community, produced and sold locally, and that yak meat is known to be lean and superior to beef. The decline in yak population could be attributed to lower yak remuneration, as younger generations are hesitant to continue nomadic yak rearing.

"This is primarily because yak milk and meat are not part of the conventional dairy and meat industries; their sale is limited to local consumers," he explained. However, the commercialization of these milk and meat products will foster entrepreneurship. However, Dr. Sarkar stated that it must first enter the conventional meat industry.

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