WHEN is an ostrich not a bird? Apparently, when you add Pakistani legislators into the mix. On Wednesday, in its (in)finite wisdom, the Punjab Assembly once again declared by a majority vote that an ostrich was not a bird but an animal, at least for the purposes of officialdom. The issue came up because of the re-tabling of the Punjab Animal Slaughter Control (Amendment) Bill 2012. Although the bill had been passed by the PA earlier, the opposition and the provincial governor had objected to the inclusion of the ostrich in the animal category in the amendment act. The Punjab government’s aim seems to be to facilitate the import, farming and slaughter of ostriches for their meat. As a non-native exotic bird, ostriches were treated under the law — until the latest amendment was passed — in a way that limited their use for commercial purposes. Of course, rather than update the laws that would allow ostrich farming to be regulated and ostrich meat to be consumed, the Punjab Assembly saw fit to declare ostriches as animals and skip the more cumbersome approach.
Puerile as the Punjab government’s approach to legislating the farming of ostrich meat may be, the more important questions are, at whose behest was this done and what are the risks involved for consumers? Special interests lobbying for the change in rules are surely hoping to earn windfall profits and it has yet to be explained what loss the state exchequer may suffer from this. More importantly, by classifying ostriches as animals, are necessary health precautions that specialised ostrich farming may require — as opposed to more conventional animal meat — being overlooked? If the denizens of Punjab want ostrich meat, they are entitled to it — but it must be purveyed in a manner that is safe, healthy and without circumventing the rules.