In China, especially amidst the ongoing crises, there is no guarantee that animals are slaughtered in government-controlled abattoirs under ‘veterinary hygiene.’
Domination of global finance may yet be a distant dream for China but it is definitely the ‘superpower’ of ‘pork’ industry the world over. Eating ‘pig’ meat is followed like a religion in the country. So much so, that the government has even built state reserves of lakhs of kilograms of pig meat to be released in case of emergency or a scarcity crisis. And the country is currently staring at such an emergency to draw from its reserves.
Tapping into reserves is not the only way China is dealing with the worsening pork crisis. Media reports suggest the government has handed out subsidies worth about 3.2 billion yuan ($452 million) to low-income families who may struggle to afford pork at current prices. From 2013 till date, week over week, hundreds and thousands of dead ‘pigs’ are found in various cities of China. It is the worst ever epidemic of ‘incurable pig virus’ that has hit the communist country and is close to being called a ‘national emergency’ as carcasses just keep piling up. But that is not the story, these details only reveal the state of affairs in China with regard to the ‘pig’ industry. PGurus has learned that these infected pigs are linked to the manufacturing of ingredients for ‘life-saving drugs’ that India imports from China and therein lies a tale.
Pharmaceutical drugs manufactured from the bile of Chinese pigs are making its way into India unabated. Every year, India imports more than 2.54 lakh kilograms of Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA), over 50 percent of which comes from China. Publicly available data shows that Bombay Air Cargo, Chennai Air Cargo, and Mumbai linked Nhava Sheva seaport are the chief landing places for Chinese manufactured active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) UDCA.
The fact that pig physiology is very close to human physiology, and they suffer illness in almost the same way as we do, there is a reason to believe that in the next round of mutation the virus can become dangerous to humans.
API is nothing but the raw material in tablets, injection, and capsules that produces its effect. UDCA is among the largest selling API exported by China. It is an important clinical drug in the treatment of liver disease, reduction in gallstone formation in newborn infants with impaired bile flow and is classified as “Life-Saving Drug” in India. UDCA’s market share stood at around 70 percent in the several billion-dollar global pharma and health care products industry.
How infected Chinese pigs are linked to India’s pharma industry
UDCA is commonly produced by transformation of Cholic Acid (CA), or Chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA), which is derived from processing bovine origin bile (Ox Bile), porcine origin bile (Pig Bile) and avian bile (Bird Bile). Porcine derived UDCA was principally developed in China, in large part due to the colossal pig breeding and slaughtering industry within the country.
Porcine slaughter is controlled in many countries but its collection from bile hardly follows any strict checks or is practically regulated. Simply to say, there is little traceability of the pigs from which the bile is collected. In China, especially amidst the ongoing crises, there is no guarantee that animals are slaughtered in government-controlled abattoirs under ‘veterinary hygiene.’ There are no such records, which Chinese slaughterhouses can show or boost about with regard to inspection of animals for disease.
China is dumping sub-standard API UDCA where the key starting raw material is bile of pigs, which are not checked for infection given the current crisis. UDCA can also be developed in a synthetic manner but the pig bile origin UDCA coming from China, having a high certainty of a deadly virus, is way cheaper, experts told PGurus.
“The pig virus, a derivative mainly of the African swine flu, causes hemorrhagic disease and is highly virulent, tenacious and spreads in multiple ways. There’s no safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection, nor anything to treat it. The widespread presence of the disease in China means, it’s now being amplified across a country with 440 million pigs—half the planet’s total—with vast trading networks, permeable land borders and farms with little or no ability to stop animal diseases,” said a highly researched pharma expert and former government official.
Prices of the pig meat have shot up globally due to its shortage on account of mass culling of pigs in China. But in sharp contrast to this demand-supply mismatch, the prices of UDCA API and its intermediates coming from China has crashed in the recent months. This clearly indicates that the merciless pharma industry was sourcing a key ingredient of the ‘life-saving drugs’ from China without caring about the fact that it could have been derived from the chest of an ‘infected pig.’
Porcine origin products in the UDCA chain are imported as UDCA API and UDCA intermediates.
Then there are unscrupulous importers who bring in UDCA API in a totally different name to hoodwink customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in India. Sources say that between January and June 2019, more than Rs 100 crores worth (both legal and illegal means) of UDCA API and intermediates has been imported by India, majority of which comes from China. This API, when sold as medicines, is worth several thousands of crore, sources say.
The African swine fever (ASF) virus is not yet not known to have harmful effects on humans but some experts have expressed concerns that not enough research has been done to study its effects on the human body. Not necessary that the virus shows its effect instantly those depended on medicines based on UDCA API but it is highly likely that virus could become active in a human body even after years have passed.
ASF virus, may in the future become dangerous for humans, as almost all viruses from time to time go through mutation processes which can give them some additional functions. The fact that pig physiology is very close to human physiology, and they suffer illness in almost the same way as we do, there is a reason to believe that in the next round of mutation the virus can become dangerous to humans. Despite 50 years of research, scientists haven’t managed to develop a vaccine that’s safe and effective against ASF, and it could be years before an effective shot becomes commercially available.
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