More than a hundred farmers and meat traders again rallied outside the prime minister’s office in Yerevan on Monday to protest against a ban on home slaughter of livestock imposed by an Armenian government agency.
The ban effective from January 15 means that cattle and other farm animals can be slaughtered only at 24 abattoirs currently operating in Armenia. Shops and market stalls are now obliged to have documents certifying that meat sold by them is supplied from those slaughterhouses.
The State Food Safety Inspectorate says that this will help to prevent the sale of unhealthy or contaminated meat and thus protect consumers.
Some of the affected farmers, who have traditionally slaughtered their livestock on their farms and courtyards, strongly oppose the new requirement, saying that it places a heavy financial burden on them.
They say they are already struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford the extra costs of transporting their animals to the abattoirs and paying for their slaughter. Disaffected meat vendors in Yerevan make similar arguments.
“Forcing a villager who has two or three animals to take them to an abattoir is the same thing as telling him to stop raising cattle because the villager will have to pay 20,000 to 30,000 drams ($42-$62) to take each animal to the abattoir,” said one of the farmers protesting outside Armenia’s main government building.
“We can’t give the abattoir 10,000 drams and pay another 12,000 drams for the medical paper,” said another protester.
The angry crowd demanded a meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. It briefly blocked an adjacent street after none of the officials from Pashinian’s staff emerged from the building to talk to them.
The protesters said they will step up the pressure on the government by blocking highways leading to Yerevan.
The State Food Safety Inspectorate strongly defended the ban on home butchery after the first protest staged by the farmers and vendors late last week.
“There will be no step backwards because I don’t want our country to be stuck in the Middle Ages,” a senior official from the government agency, Artur Shatvorian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service at the weekend.
Shatvorian claimed that there are no farmers among the demonstrators and that Yerevan-based meat traders are strongly opposed to the ban because it will put an end to tax evasion among them.
“We are all farmers, we are all from the Ararat province,” countered one of the participants of Monday’s rally. He and other protesters also denied the inspectorate’s assertion that the private abattoirs have agreed to provide free livestock transportation to farmers living in nearby communities and selling at least three animals at a time.