Amidst the controversy over banning beef, consumption across rural and urban India has risen marginally, according to data released by National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), a division of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
Rural households consuming beef increased from 3.9% to 4% between 2010 and 2012 and urban households from 4.3% to 5%. As many as 80 million Indians consume beef, which includes buffalo meat, according to the latest NSSO data.
The rise is in line with other data over 19 years that show a clear shift towards protein-based food, even as the money every Indian spends on food as a percentage of income has declined. Apart from beef, Indians are consuming more milk, eggs and chicken. Of these, chicken is most in demand.
The percentage of households consuming milk has gone up from 66.3% to 78% in rural areas while it went up from 80% to 84.9% in urban areas.
Egg consumption, too, has seen an increase in rural areas from 22% to 29.2% and in urban areas from 34.9% to 37.6%.
“Change in income distribution and income levels that has taken place in India in recent years has led the demand for protein-based food items such as pulses, eggs, milk and milk products and meat products,” according to a 2013 study by the Ministry of Agriculture.
As demand rises, so do prices of fish and mutton, cutting consumption. Chicken rules
Chicken has emerged as India’s third highest source of protein, with consumption almost tripling, rising from 7.5% to 21.7% in rural areas and from 9% to 27% in urban areas.
However, with rising demand pushing up prices, the consumption of costlier protein sources has fallen.
The prices of protein-rich food, such as milk, fish, meat, eggs and chicken, and fruits and vegetables, have increased at higher rates than that of cereal products, since the supply of these products has not been able to meet the rapid increase in demand, said the agriculture ministry study.
The consumption of fish, prawn and meat has been hit by high prices with consumption declining over the years. Fish and prawn consumption declined from 30.7% to 26.5% in rural areas and 27.1% to 21% in urban areas.
The NSSO clubbed goat meat/mutton with beef/buffalo meat until 2004-05. The percentage of households consuming meat came down from 20.3% to 17.9% in rural areas and from 28.3% to 25.2% in urban areas between 1993 and 2005.
After the NSSO started collecting information on goat meat and beef, consumption of mutton has declined from 7.2% to 6.4% in rural areas and 12.3% to 10% in urban areas.
The expenditure pattern of households tells us what Indians are spending on food.
Expenditure on food has fallen
The table above shows the percentage of Marginal Per Capita Expenditure (MPCE) spent on different food items.
Over 13 years, the expenditure on food has fallen, from 59.4% to 52.9% in rural areas and from 48.1% to 42.6% in urban, between 1999 and 2012.
Indians are spending, as a percentage of income, less money on cereals and milk – urban Indians are spending less on vegetables, as well – but more money on eggs, fish, meat, processed food and beverages and vegetables (rural India).
“As per capita income has increased, the demand for food has shifted towards protein, fruits and vegetables,” said Deepak Mohanty, Executive Director, Reserve Bank of India.
The expenditure on cereal and cereal substitutes has declined in rural areas from 22.2% to 10.8% and in urban areas from 12.4% to 6.7%.
The expenditure on vegetables in rural areas has increased from 6.2% to 6.6%, but spending has fallen in urban areas, from 5.1% to 4.6%.
Less money is being spent on milk and milk products, with spending falling from 8.8% to 8% in rural areas and 8.7% to 7% in urban areas.
The expenditure on beverages and processed foods has increased in rural and urban India; in rural areas, from 4.2% to 7.9% and in urban areas, from 6.4% to 9%.
A similar trend is obvious in fruits as well; rural areas saw an increase in spending from 1.7% to 2.8% and in urban areas, from 2.4% to 3.4%.
Spending on eggs, meat and fish increased from 3.3 %to 4.8% in rural areas and from 3.1% to 3.7% in urban areas.
(Salve is a policy analyst with IndiaSpend.)
This story was originally published in IndiaSpend.