The government of Sri Lanka has approved a controversial order banning the slaughter of cows in the Buddhist-majority country.
The decision, which was implemented with immediate effect, said that as part of the ban the country would amend the Animal Act, the cattle slaughter ordinance and other norms related to the killing of the animal.
"Various parties have pointed out that the livestock resource that is required for traditional farming purposes is insufficient due to the rise of cattle slaughter," the cabinet said in its proposal.
The text also highlighted cow slaughter as a reason behind the lagging local dairy industry, which in turn increased the import of milk powder from overseas.
However, beef will be imported at a subsidised price for consumption and programs would be introduced to use ageing cattle for agricultural work, the government said.
The decision is being seen by critics as a way of reinforcing a Buddhist identity for the country, ignoring the rights and preferences of other religious minorities.
"Why is the government pushing for this ban now," Ash Sheik Muneer Mulaffer, the chief advisor of the Ibrahimiya Thihariya mosque, told EFE.
He alleged that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government had used xenophobic ideas to grab power, and was "continuing to use the tool".
However, the vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Hilmy Ahamed, rejected the notion that local Muslims would be affected by the measure.
"Most of the cattle farms in Sri Lanka are owned by the Buddhists and 70 per cent of beef consumers are non-Muslims," he said.
Animal rights activists have welcomed the decision but criticised the fact that beef imports were being allowed.
"This way an animal will be slaughtered somewhere. We did not want a ban. We wanted the government to introduce a way to kill these animals in a humane way," animal welfare activist Gihan Dinushka told EFE.