The slaughter of cattle will soon be banned in Sri Lanka, the government said Tuesday, in a move widely viewed as a concession to increasingly influential Buddhists in the ruling party.
The government said it would push through the ban after finalising a scheme to care for cattle too old to plough fields.
In neighbouring India, restrictions on cow slaughter imposed by the Hindu-nationalist government led to an increase in old cows wandering the streets and creating a traffic nuisance.
Sri Lanka has experienced a decline in beef consumption in recent years, with Buddhists and Hindus shunning it for religious reasons.
The industry has shrunk in recent years, with just 29,870 tonnes of beef produced last year, compared with 38,700 tonnes a decade earlier.
The sector is dominated by Muslims, who make up 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million population. Some 70 percent of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhists, and 12.5 percent as Hindus.
"As soon as such a scheme is implemented, cattle slaughter will be banned in the country," Media and Information Minister and government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Beef imports, which amounted to just 116 tonnes last year, would be allowed to continue, officials said.
The country's main Muslim political party called on the government to provide financial support for people working in the sector.
"If the ban is due to religious considerations to appease a community, we have no objection," Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem told AFP.
"But this should not be a tactic to divert attention from the more pressing economic problems of the people and political issues facing the country."
Many Hindus believe cows are sacred, while some Buddhists do not eat beef, out of compassion for the animals.