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Dangerous hormones

January 12, 2018

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LAST week, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan directed the provincial health authorities to immediately remove recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, a synthetic growth hormone injected by dairy farmers into cows and buffaloes to spur milk production, from the shelves. The action came on the heels of an order by the chief justice of Pakistan, who also vacated a stay by the Sindh High Court against a ban imposed by Drap two years ago on rBST, also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. Drap had prohibited the import and local manufacture of the hormone — and deregistered injections containing this substance — because of complaints of serious health risks to rBGH-treated animals and those consuming their milk. The Drap decision, of course, had not gone down well with the importing firms because it would directly hit their profits, and they chose to stall its implementation by moving the Sindh High Court. It is still a mystery as to how the country’s drug registration authority had approved a growth hormone, without any therapeutic indication, in 1998 — almost at the same time Europe, Canada, Australia and several other nations were prohibiting the substance’s use in dairy animals because of concerns of risks to animal and human health. Globally, less than 20 nations, including the US, allow its use, and in several countries, products from hormone-treated animals have to be labelled.

Studies show that the use of genetically modified synthetic hormones causes severe pain and suffering associated with foot and mouth disorders and reproductive problems in cows and buffaloes. The substance can also cause lameness in rBGH-treated animals, infect them with mastitis, a potentially fatal mammary gland infection, and increase the mortality rate. Such things happen when we deviate from nature. The residue of this hormone as well as antibiotics injected into the animals to treat mastitis carried in milk that is consumed by people is suspected to be linked to heightened risks of breast, prostate and other cancers, hair loss, early puberty, flu, obesity and so on. Though dairy farmers in Karachi are warning of milk shortage in the city because of reduced production on account of the prohibition on the use of rBST, the court and Drap should ignore their demand to delay action against the drug’s usage. Nobody should be allowed to make profits at the expense of animal and human health.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018