Guwahati: Yak, a multipurpose bovid living in highlands in Himalayan region, has been declared as a food animal by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) recently in response to an application submitted by National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY) in 2021.

NRC-Yak Director Dr. Mihir Sarkar said, “FSSAI’s recognition of yak as food-producing animal will open up several vistas of economic benefits for both farmers and food processors.” 

Officials, however, said before awarding the approval, the agency sought inputs from the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying (DAHD). In response, DAHD recommended that Yak may be considered a food animal under FSSAI.

“This animal plays a multidimensional socio-cultural-economic role for the pastoral nomads who rear yaks mainly for earning their nutritional and livelihood security due to virtual inexistence of other agricultural activity in the high reaches of Himalayan region, where other bovines except yak won’t survive or at least not without difficulty. Traditionally, yaks are reared under transhumance system, which is primitive, unorganized, and full of hardship,” the statement from NRCY said.

However, the yak population in the country is decreasing at an alarming rate year on year basis. As per the latest census carried out in 2019, India has 58,000 yaks, which is around 25% drop from the last livestock census carried out in 2012. 

“This drastic decline in yak population in India has become a cause of concern to the local users, concerned govt officials, and those who promote conservation for animal genetic diversity,” the statement said.

Yak milk is highly nutritious, rich in fat, contains essential minerals, and has medicinal value. As per the nutritional analysis, Yak milk contains 78-82% water, 7.5-8.5% fat, 4.9-5.3% protein, 4.5-5.0% lactose, and 12.3-13.4% SNF. The products that are traditionally produced from yak milk are churkum, churpi, ghee, and paneer, among others.

Traditional yak milk products are central to the cuisine of the highlanders but they have limitations to appeal to a wider palate. 

Yak farmers produce various traditional meat products. These products are confined to local community level, produced and sold locally. Yak meat is known to be very lean and it is better than the beef. As per the nutritional analysis, yak meat contains the following nutritional elements: Moisture: 74.8%, Protein: 21.7%; Crude fat: 1.5% and  Ash: 1.2%. The local yak farmers produces the meat products like sun dried meat, meat pickle, minced  meat pickle, khyopeh, salami etc. 

“The drastic decline in yak population could be attributed to less remuneration from yak and so the younger generations are reluctant to continue with nomadic yak rearing. It is mainly because yak milk and meat are not a part of the conventional dairy and meat industry; their sale is limited to local consumers. However, commercialization of these milk and meat products will lead to entrepreneurship development,” it said.

But for that, it has to enter into the conventional meat industry. 

To conserve and propagate this unique germplasm and to attract the younger generation to continue this age-old farming tradition, yak husbandry needs to be more remunerative. One of the ways to achieve this goal could be through product diversification of yak milk and meat. For that yak should be included as food-producing animal (meat and milk) in the Food Safety and Standards Regulation, 2011.  

Sarkar said, “NRC on yak has developed a semi-intensive model of yak rearing in which yaks are maintained in an open area as well as in paddock round the year.”

“It is widely believed that declaration of yak as a food animal by FSSAI will pave the way for its commercial rearing and consumption by adopting the yak rearing model developed by NRC-Yak,” he said.

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