Dr Umer Farooq, Dr Tariq Abbas, Dr Musadiq Idris
ACCORDING to estimates of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, in 50 years, the world food needs will increase by 100 percent, and 70 percent of that increase will have to come from improved agricultural efficiencies and advances. Water, land and other natural resources of the world will not be enough to cater the needs of explosive demand until and unless certain directional innovations in farming and agriculture are adopted. Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) also known as Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is considered as one such example of efficient food production practices that will help to feed the world in the future. At present, this hormone is being used globally for enhancement of milk/meat production in dairy animals.
The rBST being used to enhance milk production in dairy buffaloes and cows of Pakistan has recently been banned in terms of its import, sales and use. The plausible reason put forth behind this ban is a massive research/literature showing results of serious health effects on the animals as well as on the consumers of milk obtained through injection of this hormone. However, on the contrary, the research which reveals the results of its advantages/enhanced economy for livestock farmers has not been considered to its full, while imposing this ban. In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of rBST for increasing milk production in lactating dairy cows, and its commercial use began in 1994. The following years, subsequently, have witnessed a global controversy in its use. The ‘scientific validity’ of FDA’s 1993 safety decision is being challenged by government scientists of Canada, EU countries and others. Elevated risk both for animal and human health are the mainstay of this challenge.
At present, regulatory agencies of more than 20 countries other than USA have also approved the use of rBST, a few of them being Algeria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Panama, Peru, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, South Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Interestingly, most of these countries have a soaring buffalo population just as in Pakistan- a similarity undeniable. A detailed outlook of the history of agricultural technology clearly reveals that there are plenty of examples of agri-innovations which have been disadopted for one reason or the other; without assessing its utility at an optimal point. Furthermore, the choice of adoption or disadoption of a technology seems to be implemented without a mass-scaled economic survey or a Knowledge, Attitude and Participation Analysis (KAP Analysis).
It is undeniable that in Pakistan, the rBST has been used irrationally both in cattle and buffalo for milk/meat enhancement. However, following is recommended in order to achieve a final conclusion on this controversial issue: 1. The milkmen (Gawalas) particularly from Karachi purchase buffaloes from Punjab. These animals are heavily stressed through continued injections of rBST for attaining elevated milk yield without caring for their nutritional demands. They are culled and slaughtered after single lactation (milking cycle). This marketing chain has a drastic effect as it is decreasing the population of high yielding buffaloes. We recommend that this devastating Marketing Channel may be incorporated in the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) report as it might be a strengthening fact for the current issue. Furthermore, no work has been reported from Pakistan on effect of rBST on physiological, productive and reproductive attributes of buffaloes under various production systems. A detailed study on this aspect is recommended. 2. An extra-label use of rBST is quite common at fattening farms (private) in Pakistan as well as in certain other countries. The rBST is being co-injected during the fattening period along with Vitamins A and D as a growth promoter. The withdrawal period for meat is not being followed. We recommend a risk assessment study to be carried out in order to assess the effects of rBST-treated meat on human health. Lack of a separate Risk Assessment Centre in Pakistan enhances this need. Similar study needs to be carried out for its use as milk-yield-booster. 3. A Knowledge, Attitude and Participation Analysis (KAP-Analysis) regarding withdrawal time, farmer attitude, its irrational use and effect can be carried out in Pakistan for further proof. 4. We recommend the constitution of a panel of researchers, scientists and clinicians to formulate a plausible conclusion regarding the subject issue after a thorough review of literature and discussion. It is noteworthy that 19 other countries have also got rBST approved for usage. And out of these 19 countries, about 11 have buffalo population. The perplexing usage of this drug in certain countries and ban in others is a vital issue to be navigated. Establishment of a Directorate of Risk Assessments in Livestock & Dairy Development could lead to better perspectives. 5. A thorough and detailed review needs to be carried out as to why certain countries have banned its use whereas other continues to use it. In a nutshell, in order to come up with a final conclusion regarding subjective controversy, above mentioned broad-scaled interventions need to be implied.
— The writers are Faculty Members of University College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan.