“Where’s the beef?”
by Krishen Kak on 02 Jul 2012 29 Comments

Circulating over the web are many nauseatingly gruesome videos of cows in India being trucked to slaughter, and many revolting grisly videos of their slaughter for their meat. Their meat is commonly called “beef” and this essay raises questions of the ‘what’ and ‘where’ in India is “beef”. The opening focus is on official aspects at the national and international level; we look at official aspects at the level of some States, and conclude with the reality of the Indian beef industry and some questions that must concern all patriotic Indians.


The Directorate-General of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry prescribes the “Indian Trade Classification (Harmonised System) Classification for Export & Import Items”. The following points are relevant:

§ in Ch. 1, “cattle” is only the cow species (s.no.8 in the table there enters “buffaloes” separately).

§ in Ch. 2, Note 1 says “beef” is....and this is only the cow species.  Note 3 refers to buffalo offal, and Note 5 again has “cattle” and “buffaloes”.  Serial nos. 18 and 19, and serial nos. 22 and 23, have “beef” referring to the cow species only.  Buffalo is “buffalo meat”.  


The 2002 report of the National Commission on Cattle in its Preface refers to “Sub-Group VII (on Cattle and Buffaloes) of the Working Group on Animal Husbandry and Dairying, which was set up by the Planning Commission for the Tenth Five Year Plan proposals”, thus repeating the officially-drawn distinction between “cattle” and “buffaloes”. 


This distinction is found in other official records too. So it is clear that while “cattle” and “beef” colloquially and in the claims of our so-called “secular” activists  may or may not include the buffalo and its meat, legally and officially in India “cattle” is only the cow species, and “beef” is the meat of the cow species.


The legality of cow slaughter (and therefore the sale of beef) varies from State to State. The export of beef is banned (though the NCC report and media reports refer to efforts to sneak this back in, and there are web advertisements openly for the export of beef. There can be no doubt that beef is being exported from India, with the full knowledge and connivance of the Indian State).


The slaughter of other domesticated species such as the buffalo and the sale and export of their meat is legal, though conditions generally apply.


However, the ITC-HS classification also has “bovine animals”, which is cattle + buffaloes. Therefore, in this essay, “cattle” is used only for the cow species and “beef” for cattle meat, and “bovine” is used for cattle + buffaloes collectively. Official data of bovine meat export is only of buffalo meat and there is official data in regard to buffalo slaughter and meat. There is no official data of the export of beef, and there is little, if any, official data in the public domain of cattle slaughter for beef, that too presumably for domestic consumption.


The NCC report cites official figures for the increase in beef production from 70,000 tonnes in 1976 to 12,16,000 tonnes in 1992 to 13,78,000 tonnes in 1997. It also quotes a press report of official sources in 1996 saying that 70% of the beef was exported to the Middle East. The Export Import Data Bank of the Department of Commerce shows statistics from 1996-97 which year has the export of “meat and edible meat offal” but there is no entry for “beef” in that year or thereafter.


The FAO website has a report titled “Indian Meat Industry Perspective” by Dr SK Ranjhan (he features too in the opening para of the Preface of the NCC report). The report gives data from 1975 to 2001-2002 in which latter year India’s meat export was 243,560 MT of which 98% was buffalo meat, the remaining 2% being of sheep, goat and poultry. Within India, the “meat production is estimated at 4.9 million tons (sic)… Buffalo in India contributes about 30% of total meat production. The contribution by cattle…30%”. In other words, “the share of bovine meat in the total meat production in India is about 60%”. The growth rate of beef production is 2% in 1975-1985, 3.8% in 1985-2000. The report gives buffalo meat export figures from 1997 to 2002, but shows no export of beef. This report with an FAO url gives a clarion call for a Pink Revolution:


If India had the “Green” Revolution, the “White” Revolution, and the “Blue” Revolution, can the “Pink Revolution” be far behind? The Green Revolution had led to self-sufficiency in food grains, the White Revolution saw India occupy the Number One Position in milk production in the world, and the Blue Revolution brought about increase in fish production. This proves that the Indian farmer is Progressive. What he needs is the lead in the right direction. Contribution of buffalo in bringing about the White Revolution in India is well known. India is now poised to achieve the Pink Revolution through buffalo. If this could be done, India can also achieve the Number one position in meat production……


These views are echoed on the official website of the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, which too calls for a Pink Revolution to succeed the Green, White, and Blue ones. It is clear that, while there was official awareness of beef export, primarily to the Middle East, till 1996, after that – officially – there has been no export of beef from India.


Curiously, the US Government presents a very different picture for India. The Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture in its April 2012 report on “Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade” opens with the headline “World Beef Exports: India Takes Lead in 2012” and a chart “India Fuels Growth in World Beef Trade”. One reason identified for this “growth” is “increased slaughter”, and the forecast for India is an increase to 3.5 million tons, currently at 1.5 million tons “making it the world’s leader”. India’s exports rose from 672,000 tons in 2008 to 1,525,000 tons by April 2012. Our main markets are Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.[8]


The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agricultural Information Network for 2011 reports that “according to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, the state of Uttar Pradesh in India is the largest producer and exporter of buffalo meat, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the production. South India produces around 17 percent of the total buffalo meat with the state of Andhra Pradesh accounting for the largest share”. There is aggressive government intervention to promote buffalo meat production in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and West Bengal.


“Indian consumption of buffalo meat averages approximately two kilograms per person per year” and, “while Indian buffalo meat competes on a cost basis, there are several other factors which impact trade. Specifically, all Indian buffalo meat is produced according to halal standards”. Not surprisingly, “the vast majority of export growth in 2010 was to Middle Eastern and North African Countries (Only 2 of the top 10 growth markets were outside of this region). This was led (sic) by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, UAE, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Syria”. Of the 55 countries listed as “partner countries” in the table “India: Beef Exports”, Pakistan is there, registering a dramatic decline in its “beef” import from India, and Bangladesh does not feature at all.


The US Department of Agriculture defines “beef” as cattle meat. The American buffalo, which is not a true buffalo, is the “bison”, to be distinguished from the Asian water buffalo, which has no entry in the USDA glossary. The USDA further recognizes that the American buffalo (bison) and the water buffalo are not the same, and that bison (i.e., American buffalo) meat is not the same as “beef”. The buffalo that is exported from India is definitely not “beef”, and this is said so in the texts of the USDA’s FAS reports but where it is cleverly assimilated to “beef” by being called “carabeef” (though there is no entry for this either in the USDA glossary).


American officialese then proclaims Indian water buffalo meat as “beef” all over the world, and media headlines mockingly trumpet “Holy Cow! India is the World’s Top Beef Exporter” and “Growing Beef Trade Hits India’s Sacred Cow”. Ask yourself why the US Government portrays India as a beef-culture, even as it distinguishes between the meat of its own buffaloes and cattle, and it knows our water buffalo meat is not beef.


The USDA’s April 2012 report on “Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade” also tells us that India’s broiler meat production rose from 2,490,000 tons in 2008 to 3,200,000 tons by April 2012, our domestic consumption rising from 2,489,000 tons in 2008 to 3,190,000 tons by April 2012. We do not feature in the broiler meat exports list and we do not feature at all in the swine/pork data.


Interestingly, the Indian government itself recognizes in the National Research Centre on Pigs’ “Vision 2030” document the very favourable economics and considerable significance of pork production in poverty alleviation, especially of tribal communities in the country. It is relevant that, in global meat production in 2012, beef is estimated at 57 million tons, pork at 104.4 million tons, and broiler meat at 82.2 million tons. In other words, the global demand for pig meat is almost double the demand for bovine meat.


It makes “secular” economic sense that the Indian State promote and market pig meat rather than bovine meat. But the State won’t, and the Integrated Sustainable Energy and Ecological Development Association suggests why in its Booklet No.190: “Pig Introduction: Breeds and Characteristics”, where it informs us of the comparative cheapness of good quality pork and of the contribution of swine farming in India to 6 to 7% of the total meat production in the country. It notes that “the importance of pigs for raising the low nutritional standard of our country cannot be over-emphasized”. It lists as the first “constraint” in pig rearing the fact that “consumption of pork is forbidden by certain religions and pig production is not encouraged. Thus it is not an universally accepted food”.  


Please note that beef is also “not an universally accepted food”, but the Indian State does not find itself “constrained” from extending to the cow-sensitive religions the same “secular” sensitivity that it extends to the pig-sensitive religions. “Around one hundred worshipers of the cow laid down their lives in 1966, during the agitation seeking for total ban on cow slaughter in Parliament Street, Delhi, when they were shot down for raising slogans like ‘Gomata ki Jai’” – s.103, Ch.1 of the NCC report. 


The Constitution of India in Article 48 directs that:

The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.


This would appear to exclude buffaloes.


The Constitution of India in Article 51A(g) requires that:

It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.


“Living creatures” will include buffaloes.


Bovine slaughter is governed by State laws, and the report of the National Commission on Cattle has a convenient summary in its Annexure II(8), discussed in its report in s.17, Ch.2. The NCC is specific about certain State governments, notably West Bengal and Kerala, flouting laws, judgments and sentiments against cow slaughter. “The State of Kerala can be termed as the ‘Cow Slaughter State’, where the main business in the market is slaughter of cattle and sale of beef” - s.138, Ch.1.


The following in regard to legislation of bovine slaughter is taken from the NCC summary after checking the concerned State Government’s website: 


Andhra Pradesh - The A.P. Prohibition of Cow Slaughter and Animal Preservation Act, 1977 bans the slaughter of cattle females and allows it conditionally of the males. It should be obvious that there could be ways of getting around these conditions. The “main activities” of the State Department of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries do not include the meat industry. There is an A.P. Meat and Poultry Development Corporation Ltd but it has no website of its own. There is no numerical data given of bovine slaughter within the State.


Kerala – no legislation – only local rules banning bovine slaughter “unless the animal is over 10 years of age and is unfit for work or breeding or the animal has become permanently incapacitated for work or breeding due to injury or deformity”. It should be obvious that there could be ways of getting around these conditions. The Department for Animal Husbandry has no reference to the bovine meat industry. The Kerala State Planning Board in its economic review 2011 for “Agriculture and Allied Sectors” notes:


6.69   Cattle population in Kerala which was 33.96 lakh in 1996 declined to 21.22 lakh in 2003 and further to 17.40 lakh by 2007. The crossbred cattle population which stood at 22.87 lakhs (67%) as per 1996 Census decreased to 17.35 lakh numbers and in percentage terms increased to 82% by 2003. It further declined to 16.21 lakh numbers and in percentage terms increased to 93% in 2007. This increase in proportion of crossbred population was made possible by expanded health care facilities and artificial insemination services available in the State.


6.71……Though meat production is increasing over the years, it cannot cater to the demand fully…..meat other than poultry meat [increased] from 102026 tonnes in 2009-10 to 108398 tonnes in 2010-11 registering an increase of…6.24 percent…over the previous year.


There is no data specific to bovine meat. The chapter on “Trade Flows” has no data specific to the bovine meat trade. The State Plans too do not refer to the bovine meat industry. The State Animal Husbandry Department “is committed to provide MILK, MEAT and EGG for ALL...” but there is no reference specifically to bovine meat.


Presumably, towards this carnivorous public objective, the government-supported Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University runs a meat plant and the government-owned Meat Products of India Ltd markets Mattupetty Premium Beef with “the meat…obtained from superior quality animals reared at KLD Board farm”. KLD Board is the Kerala Livestock Development Board, and some of the beef animals are statedly younger than 10 years. Whether the KLDB connects with the National Research Centre on Meat is unclear since the NRCM’s Annual Report 2009-2010 does not mention beef at all. 


Apart from some gory pictures of beef carcasses, the official Kerala website is quite sanitary about its beef industry. This is the State that the NCC labeled The Cow Slaughter State. It is non-official sources that reveal the reality of cattle slaughter in Kerala, for example:


The meat trade in Kerala evokes images of a savage cattle trail: cows and bulls jammed into trucks and box cars coming from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh, or tied horn-to-horn in small groups, trudging across the inter-State border. The crossover is often done surreptitiously, the animals going without food, water or rest and with broken tails and bones, dislocated necks, chilly-peppered eyes and horn-gouged body parts… In 1998, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, engaged locally in livestock development, estimated that a total of 11 lakh head of cattle “migrate” thus to Kerala every year. The figure could be higher today. Only 4.16 lakh head of cattle pass through government checkposts, the rest are smuggled in. Eventually, all of them end up in slaughterhouses lining the State's towns and villages. There are 774 authorised abattoirs and, according to government officials, over three times that number of unauthorised meat stalls……State Animal Husbandry Department statistics indicate that nearly 4.83 lakh head of ‘white’ cattle (excluding buffaloes) are slaughtered legally in the State, producing 24,278 tonnes of beef every year. The Department estimates that three times the number are actually killed every year, the rest in the unauthorised sector, the total beef production thus being 72,834 tonnes……According to the State Animal Husbandry Department, of the 4.83 lakh head of ‘white’ cattle slaughtered in the authorised centres, 4.16 lakh are cattle imported from neighbouring States. Such legal trade is a mere one-third of the total beef business in Kerala and there are no reliable statistics on the unauthorised trade……On a small scale at least, beef is now regularly exported from Kerala to West Asia and countries like Malaysia… The State government also has plans to promote the export of beef, and is currently working on a Rs.30-crore project with the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to create “disease free zones” for cattle, aimed at the export market”

(“Beef without borders” by R Krishnakumar, Frontline, Aug 30 – Sept 12, 2003).  


Tamil Nadu - The Tamil Nadu Animal Preservation Act, 1958 is not listed at in the list of State Acts available at the Government Publication Depot. However, the NCC summary says that from Aug 30, 1976 “slaughter of cows and heifers (cow) is banned in all slaughterhouses in Tamil Nadu”. It is not clear whether this affects the import of beef into Tamil Nadu, since the consumption and sale of beef is openly advertised there. The Animal Husbandry Policy Note 2012-2013 opens with a quote of MK Gandhi - “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated”. Some bovine livestock figures are given, and there is a remark on the “decrease in unproductive animals in the State”. There are references to “meat” but it is not clear whether this includes bovine meat. Section 10.2 is titled “Meat Inspection” and there is mention of taeniasis, trichinosis and hydatidosis. Of these, taeniasis at least can be an infection of beef. Section 11 is informative about the legislation on the prevention of cruelty to animals, but not at all about its implementation. As with other States, the official website is quite sanitary about its beef trade.


West Bengal the NCC has The West Bengal Animal Slaughter Act, 1950; an official WB site has The West Bengal Animal Slaughter Control Act, 1950 which allows bovine slaughter under certain conditions. It should be obvious that there could be ways of getting around these conditions. The State Government’s website lists a Department of Animal Resources Development but there is no mention of “meat” in the Annual Administrative Report 2011–2012, and the page for the Livestock Census in West Bengal says This Account Has Been Suspended”. The West Bengal Food Processing Industry Policy 2011 has just a passing reference to “meat”.


The West Bengal government website is even more sanitary about any bovine meat industry within its borders than the Kerala one. However, the non-official website Love4cow in “Why Delhi-Dhaka ties ride on the cow” is more forthcoming. Excerpts: 


Discussing the issue with journalists in New Delhi on September 17 last year, BJP Member of Parliament and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi accused Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav of being bribed by the cattle smugglers to lift the ban on transport of cattle. As many as 300 animals are stuffed into each railway wagon, violating the law which allows only 10, she said. All these trains are bound for Howrah, the main station for Kolkata. Most of the animals die due to the cramped conditions, and are sold to leather and meat dealers in Kolkata. 


“The Howrah Cattle Dealer Association in Howrah runs the illegal trade by bringing lakhs of cows, buffaloes, bullocks and bulls from northern states like Punjab, Haryana to West Bengal where these animals are slaughtered or smuggled to Bangladesh,” she said. “Bangladesh has thin cattle population of its own, but its exports of beef runs into lakhs of tonnes.”


……every third head of cattle in Bangladesh is smuggled in from India. Many come from as far away as Haryana and Punjab. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 animals enter Bangladesh almost everyday through West Bengal alone. While the trade is illegal on the Indian side, it becomes legal the moment the livestock enters Bangladesh. Some estimates put the annual turnover from leather, meat and meat exports from smuggled Indian cattle in Bangladesh at over Rs 25 billion (more than half a billion dollars)…… There is a massive cattle mafia which stretches all the way across to Haryana and other places, where cow slaughter is illegal. Most of the cattle are sent to West Bengal by train, where buffalo slaughter is legal, but the numbers far exceed the demand in that state. 


West Bengal’s official and illegal pandering to beef-eating cultures, notwithstanding even Supreme Court judgments, is recorded by the NCC for as far back as 1958 - ss.82, 83, Ch.1, NCC report. See also s. 61 – “The ghost of secularism and concern for the Vote Bank of Bengali Muslims seems to over-rule even the judgments of the Supreme Court in the Writers’ Building in Kolkata even now. The tragedy is that even Mamata loses ‘mamta’ for the cow, as is evidenced by her interruption and, subsequent walk-out from Parliament on 25.5.96, when President Shankar Dayal Sharma, during his customary address to both Houses in Central Hall of Parliament, declared the resolve of the BJP Government, led by Atalji, to take up suitable measure ‘in order to ensure cow protection, and to impose a total ban on the slaughter of cows and cow progeny’”.


Assam - The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1951 (1950 in the NCC summary) – bare act not on site. According to the NCC, the slaughter of all cattle is allowed with certain conditions. It should be obvious that there could be ways of getting around these conditions. The government’s website says nothing about any bovine meat industry.


According to the NCC, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland have no legislation. Their official sites and those of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram have pages that do not open. There appears to be no information on their sites of their bovine meat industry. Tripura has aRevised Perspective Plan for Attaining Self Sufficiency in Animal Origin Food” - but there is no specific reference to bovine meat.


Finally, we come to mainstream media and other reports on the reality of Indian cow slaughter and the beef trade. The following are typical: Growing beef trade hits India's sacred cow” by Arezou Rezvani, Benjamin Gottlieb and Elise Hennigan, for CNN, April 19, 2012. Excerpts: 


While the bulk of Indian exports is buffalo meat bound for Middle East and Southeast Asian markets, the growing middle class in Arab countries has sparked a new craving for cow beef…… there is concern that Hindu-mandated bans on beef could hamper the industry's future growth, particularly in states like Kerala and West Bengal where the practice is legal. …… “Cow beef could be a very lucrative business in India,” said Dr. S.K. Ranjhan, the director of Hind Agro Industries Limited, who believes that religious attitudes may stand to change once the extent of business opportunities are realized. “I think five-to-10 years from now, people won't be so scandalized by the sale of cow beef.”…… The strict laws against cow slaughter in the majority of India's provinces have forced the lucrative cow beef trade underground. An estimated 1.5 million cows, valued at up to $500 million, are smuggled out of India annually, which some analysts say provide more than 50% of beef consumed in neighboring Bangladesh.




Where's the beef? Indians don't want to know by Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, May 02, 2010. Excerpts:

Estimates suggest 1.5 million cows, valued at up to $500 million, are smuggled annually, providing more than half the beef consumed in Bangladesh.


The cows come from as far as Rajasthan, about 1,000 miles away. Many trade hands several times en route.


At the Panso market in Jharkhand state, an interim stop about 300 miles from the border, the 15,000 or so cows passing through each week fetch about $100 apiece, local vendors say.


Animals that arrive exhausted are injected with Diclofenac sodium, a banned anti-inflammatory drug, to energize them. Most of the traders are Muslims. Many of the drivers and handlers are Hindus. At the border, crossings are usually done at night.


Most cows pass through West Bengal state, which shares a 1,300-mile border with Bangladesh. The state's communist government maintains a neutral line on religion, allowing cows to be openly slaughtered and traded.


The profits can be significant. A $100 medium-size cow in Jharkhand is worth nearly double that in West Bengal and about $350 in Bangladesh. Indian residents along the border complain that the markup also attracts illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who steal cows at night and dart back home.




Blood On The Border” by Tusha Mittal, Tehelka, 15 Oct 2011. Excerpts:


…….illegal cattle trade, valued by insiders at Rs 5,000 crore……While the cattle trade is illegal in India, the sale of Indian cows in Bangladesh is legal and taxable. Cows are herded into Murshidabad from Punjab, Bihar and Haryana and sold at weekly markets dotting the border. With an average sale of about 1,000 cows in 20 such goru haats in Murshidabad, nearly 20,000 cows gather at India’s eastern tip every month. With the price of beef nearly double in Bangladesh, it is unlikely that the cows are going anywhere else…….



The NCC report, Preface (see also ch.3, vol.2):

We are constrained and deeply hurt to note that even in the State Capitals, under the very noses of the Chief Ministers, Secretaries and the Director Generals of Police, slaughter and massacre of even cow and calf, which is prohibited in almost all the States, except Kerala, takes place almost every day in suburbs, busy localities and townships, not to talk of villages. In Bhuvaneshwar, daily slaughter of cow and its progeny is taking place for providing beef to the zoo animals, as the Commission found, after rushing to the spot and catching the culprits red-handed.

But whether it is Cuttack or Patna, Ranchi or Kolkata, Mumbai or Bangalore or Jaipur, Government’s inability to stop the cow slaughter with iron hands continues, and the excuse given is that it is a social problem to be abetted and tolerated shamelessly for years together. The various State Governments have admitted their inability to stop the coming up of large numbers of illegal slaughter houses and their similar inability to stop the mass smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh and Kerala, from the States of U.P., Haryana, Rajasthan and M.P. in the North and A.P., Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the South. This admission should put the present Central Government on red alert. In Mewat, daily slaughter of thousands of cows are going on with the Governments of Rajasthan, Haryana and U.P., all turning a blind eye to it, presumably due to being soft towards Mews[Meos, who are Muslim].


“I cannot understand why in a Hindu-majority country like India, where rightly or wrongly there is such strong feeling about cow slaughter, there cannot be a legal ban. In all the Muslim countries, even those who are considered to be most modern, I doubt if pork would be allowed to be sold, or served in public places. I think the same would be true for Israel. Likewise, in some Christian countries on certain days of the year no meat is eaten or sold”
– Jayaprakash Narayan.


When our “Government looks the other way”, it is legitimate for Indians to ask “where’s the beef?” because the Indian State refuses to see it.


It is legitimate to ask why the Government of India and so many State governments connive in the illegal slaughtering of cattle and the illegal trade in beef.


It is legitimate to ask why the Indian State has so conspicuously failed to implement Article 48 of the Constitution.


It is legitimate to ask why the Government of India and so many State governments turn a Nelsonian eye to the stomach-churningly cruel and generally clandestine domestic beef industry and the stomach-churningly cruel and totally illegal beef export from India.


It is legitimate to ask why the Indian State so conspicuously fails to implement Article 51A(g) of the Constitution.


It is legitimate to note that the major domestic and export markets for Indian beef are the beef-eating cultures to the politico-religious sensibilities of which the Indian State displays a craven and pseudo-secular sensitivity.


Finally, it is legitimate to ask why the Indian State restrains itself from the aggressive promotion of swine husbandry and pork marketing because beef-eating religions consider the pig profane, but does not restrain itself from the aggressive promotion of the bovine meat industry even though a much larger number of Indians consider the cow sacred.


The author is a retired civil servant and co-editor of “NGOs, Activists & Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry” (Chennai: Vigil Public Opinion Forum, 2007)

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