Low-cost ethnoveterinary medicines can help curb the use of antibiotics in Indian dairy sector and combat the overlooked pandemic of antimicrobial resistance
Some lifesaving solutions are so simple and obvious that they remain hidden in plain sight. This is particularly true for livestock disease treatments that have evolved over generations through experiences of communities, withstood the test of time, are embodied in local culture and practices and yet, the knowledge remains untapped in the absence of standardisation and scientific validation. More often than not, dairy farmers, and some field veterinarians, indiscriminately use antibiotics for treating even common infections in animals.
Researchers with Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found evidence of such rampant misuse and overuse of antibiotics in 2020 and 2021, during consultations with dairy farmers and experts from various sectors such as animal husbandry, food safety, human health.
They had observed that most dairy farmers skip the critical withdrawal period—a prescribed number of days during which the treated animal should be excluded from the milk supply chain to allow antibiotic residues to be excreted out of its body. In 2018, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had also found antibiotic residues in milk samples.
Such abuse of antibiotics not only adds to the treatment costs, but also increases the burden of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Interaction between antibiotic residues and pathogens in various environmental matrices (soil and water) and in living organisms can lead to formation and spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
A comprehensive global study published in peer-reviewed journal The Lancet in January 2022, estimates that infections caused by these antibiotic-resistant bacteria played a part in the deaths of 4.95 million people in 2019 alone.
“Antibiotic residues in milk also interfere with the manufacture of several dairy products such as buttermilk, shrikhand (a dessert made with yoghurt) and curd by delaying starter culture activity, crucial for production of fermented milk products,” says Anilkumar Bayati, managing director of Sabarkantha District Co-operative Milk Producers' Union Ltd, also known as Sabar Dairy, in Gujarat.
One common infection among dairy animals that prompts farmers to depend on antibiotics is mastitis, which is caused by over 100 types of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungus and virus.
The infection, triggered by rough milking, injury to the udder tissue or due to unhygienic farm conditions, causes inflammation of mammary glands and blockage of milk ducts. It thus affects milk production and manifests in change of milk colour, consistency or even presence blood in milk.
A review of studies in 2021 by the National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics, the only institute that conducts surveillance and monitors animal diseases, states that 18 per cent dairy animals in the country suffer from clinical mastitis, while 45 per cent display subclinical mastitis, with no specific symptom except a slight decrease in milk yield.
Now call it an effect of a lack of enough field veterinarians and extension services in the country, or easy over-the-counter access to antibiotics or the fear of losing milk, and therefore income, most dairy farmers rush to administer high doses of antibiotics to the cattle even at the slightest sign of mastitis.
Reviving lost wisdom
Source: Centre for Science and Environment
To manage such common ailments and rationalise drug usage, especially antibiotics, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in 2014 launched a project, Mastitis Control Popularisation Programme (MCPP).
The programme, piloted at Sabar Dairy, initially focused on early detection of mastitis so that the animal can be treated using simple methods. Milk brought to the society by the farmer was checked using a test-kit called the California Mastitis Test (CMT).
If the milk tested positive for mastitis, the farm was identified, the animal found and given an oral regimen trisodium citrate (sodium salt of citric acid that has antimicrobial properties and can maintain normal pH of milk). After 10 days, the animal was tested again. A trial on 218 animals showed that two consecutive trisodium citrate treatments led to 89 per cent recovery.
Around the same time, NDDB was exploring other low-cost alternatives to allopathic drugs. In 2016, it joined hands with the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology (TDU), in Bengaluru, which was researching on traditional herbal medicines for animals, also known as ethno-veterinary medicines.
At Sabar Dairy, they conducted another trial on 30 cows affected with clinical mastitis. A reddish paste, prepared by mixing aloe vera, turmeric powder and lime, was applied onthe mastitis-infected area thrice daily for four to five days and the cattle were fed whole lemons. The medicine cured 29 cattle, with one farmer dropping out of the trial.
“We found that ethnoveterinary practices can be both preventive and curative. It can be used by farmers themselves as a first response to any condition,” says M Balakrishnan Nair, Emeritus Professor, School of Health Sciences, TDU.
Following the successful trial, Sabar Dairy used its network of technicians, who conduct artificial insemination, to make farmers aware of its benefits. “We gave them an incentive of Rs 22 lakh to implement the approach on the ground,” says Bayati.
Since then, MCPP has expanded to 25 milk unions and producer companies across nine states—Kerala, Assam, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The expenditure of MCPP in 2021 was estimated to be Rs 2,605 lakh, with NDDB paying Rs 356 lakh and the rest borne by respective dairy cooperatives. Eight years later, CSE researchers visited various milk unions and producer companies. Interaction with dairy farmers and veterinarians showed an encouraging impact of MCPP.
|What makes it special
Simple ingredients of ethnoveterinary medicines that can work against several bovine ailments
|Mastitis (all types)* (Water based preparation)||Aloe vera, turmeric, calcium hydroxide, lemon|
|Mastitis (all types)* (Oil based preparation)||Aloe vera, turmeric, calcium hydroxide, lemon, mustard or gingelly oil|
|Teat obstruction*||Neem leafstalk, turmeric, butter or ghee|
|Udder oedema*||Sesame or mustard oil, turmeric, garlic|
|Retention of placenta#||White radish, lady’s finger, jaggery, salt|
|Repeat breeding#||Jaggery, salt, white radish , aloe vera, moringa, cissus stem, curry leaves, turmeric|
|Prolapse*||Aloe vera, turmeric, Mimosa pudica (shameplant)|
|Foot and mouth disease- mouth lesions*||Cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, black pepper, turmeric, garlic, coconut, jaggery|
|Foot and mouth disease-foot lesions/wound*||Acalyphaindica (indian copperleaf), garlic, neem, coconut or sesame oil, turmeric, mehndi, tulsi (holy basil)|
|Fever#||Garlic, coriander, cumin, tulsi (holy basil), dry cinnamon, black pepper, betel leaves, shallots, turmeric, chirata leaf powder, sweet basil, neem, jaggery|
|Diarrhoea#||Fenugreek seeds, onion, garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric, curry leaves, poppy seeds, pepper, jaggery, asafoetida|
|Bloat and Indigestion#||Onion, garlic, dry chilly, cumin seeds, turmeric, jaggery, pepper, betel leaves, ginger|
|Worms#||Onion, garlic, mustard seeds, neem, cumin, bitter gourd, turmeric, pepper, banana stem, common leucas, jaggery|
|Tick/Ectoparasites*||Garlic, neem leaves and fruit, acorus rhizome (sweet flag), turmeric, lantana leaves, tulsi (holy basil)|
|Pox/wart/cracks*||Garlic, turmeric, cumin, sweet basil, neem, butter or ghee|
|Allergy / poisoning / venomous sting/bite#||Betel leaves, black pepper, salt, jaggery|
|Hygroma (Swelling of joints) *||Aloe vera, lime, Cissusquadrangularis(veldt grape), turmeric, garlic, gingelly oil|
|Cough#||Adhathoda (adusa), tulsi (holy basil), garlic, turmeric, pepper, jaggery|
|Downer (not able to get up)#||Desi chicken eggs, moringa, Cissus quadrangularis (veldt grape), jaggery|
|Toxicity (Pesticide /HCN / Mycotoxin) #||Betel leaves, black pepper, salt, jaggery, tamarind, water, moringa extract|
|Blood in milk#||Curry leaves, moringa leaves, jaggery, lemon|
|Anoestrus#||Betel, pepper, moringa, tamarind, salt, jaggery|
|Note:* Topical application; # Oral administration;
Source: National Dairy Development Board and University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Bengaluru
The success of ethnoveterinary medicines on mastitis prompted a greater demand from farmers and veterinarians on their use for other bovine ailments.
NDDB thus expanded the scope of MCPP to 29 other diseases, which includes common diseases like diarrhoea, deworming, fever, wounds, indigestion, and critical diseases such as foot and mouth disease.
Effects of the medicines were recorded on NDDB’s Animal Health Management Information System. CSE researchers have analysed the data collected till October 2022.
CSE researchers found a very high cure rate—80.4 per cent of the 780,000 cases analysed—across the ailments with ethnoveterinary medicines. Almost 80 per cent of the animals treated were suffering from ailments like mastitis, fever, diarrhoea, indigestion, wound, retention of placenta, bloat, lumpy skin disease and prolapse.
Farmers usually depend on antibiotics for treating these diseases. Those suffering from mastitis, fever and diarrhoea and indigestion accounted for 77 per cent of the total cases with an average cure rate of 81.2 per cent. This means four out of every five animals were cured using ethnoveterinary medicines for these four common ailments.
Of the 255,000 cases of mastitis, reported across all the 25 milk unions and producer companies, 78.4 per cent could be cured with ethnoveterinary medicines.
Baani milk producer company in Punjab and Pune Zillha Sahakari Dudh Utpadak Sangh in Maharashtra showed the highest cure rates of 96.8 and 96.6 per cent, with Kolar milk union in Karnataka showing the lowest 56.9 per cent cure rate.
Similarly, 163,000 cases were treated for fever, with 82.2 per cent cure rate. Sabarkantha milk union in Gujarat and Malabar milk union in Kerala showed the highest cure rates of 82.4 and 85.2.
In case of diarrhoea, 84.4 per cent of the 151,000 cases were cured. Sabarkantha milk union in Gujarat and Bengaluru milk union in Karnataka showed the highest cure rates of 85.5 and 84.2 per cent. Cure rate for indigestion was 83.4 per cent.
The efficacy of ethnoveterinary medicines has also been reported in the treatment of lumpy skin disease (LSD), a viral disease of cattle for which no cure or vaccine is available and is causing major outbreaks across the country since July 2022.
Under MCPP, 3,000 cases have been treated, with a cure rate of 66.2 per cent. The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying now includes ethnoveterinary medicines in its treatment guidelines for LSD, released in August 2022. NDDB is also considering renaming MCPP “Disease Control through Alternative Methods”.
A high cure rate not only indicates that the use of antibiotics could be reduced, it also ensures higher income for dairy farmers.
Harish Patel, a small dairy farmer in Bhuvel village of Sabarkantha, sells his milk to Sabar Dairy. Patel also procures ethnoveterinary medicines from the village dairy cooperative society under Sabar Dairy.
“Since we began using these, the incidence of mastitis on the farm has drastically reduced,” says Patel. “This medicine is extremely useful. We use it two to three times a year to treat mastitis and also after calving to improve milk output,” says Kiritbhai Patel, another farmer in the village, who sells 30 litres of his daily milk produce to Sabar Dairy. “Use of these preparations have reduced treatment cost. We spend only Rs 100-200 on medicines instead of Rs 2,000-3,000 earlier,” Patel adds.
“To scale up the use of ethnoveterinary medicines and to take it to the last mile, to the farmer, NDDB has prepared extension materials for various common ailments and is propagating those in the forms of videos, brochures, posters and mobile apps in all major vernacular languages,” says Meenesh Shah, chairperson of NDDB.
Such trainings and videos have helped Gurwinder Singh, a dairy farmer from Patiala, Punjab, who sells his milk to Baani milk producer company. Singh says he is able to prepare and administer ethnoveterinary medicines without waiting for the veterinarian. “Once the plant ingredients are available, these preparations are simple to make, and require no special expertise or logistics,” he adds.
Milk unions are also benefitting from the switchover. Sabar Dairy claims a notable reduction in antibiotics purchased over the past five years—from Rs 2.1 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 63 lakh in 2021-22.
“Before rolling out ethnoveterinary medicines we were purchasing 12,000 to 15,000 vials of 30 ml sulfadimidine and sulfamet-hoxazole-trimethoprim antibiotic injections. We no longer purchase even a single vial of it. This antibiotic has a very long withdrawal period and its residues are harmful for humans,” says Samir B Patel, assistant manager, Sabar Dairy. This has helped the milk union save Rs 1.91 crore on medicines, including antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and other supplements.
Bayati says there has also been a significant reduction of veterinary calls since the milk union has started promoting ethnoveterinary medicines, indicating increased use of these preparations by farmers.
Data with Sabar Dairy also shows a reduction of about 229,000 veterinary calls between 2017-18 and December 2020.
NDDB’s latest annual report of 2020-21 highlights an average savings of 30 per cent in drug costs by milk unions that have seriously embarked on the use of ethnoveterinary medicines.
They have reduced their medicine purchases, especially antibiotics, to the tune of Rs 10 lakh per month.
“Ethnoveterinary preparations provide a simple, cost effective and efficient option to milk producers for health care management of animals. It also provides an instant management option to households, devoid of the veterinary delivery system,” says R S Sodhi, managing director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd.
To cater to the growing demand for ethnoveterinary medicines, some milk unions and private players have also started preparing packaged formulations.
“It is not possible for farmers to have access to all the raw materials all the time,” explains Hargovindbhai Patel, who works at the Banaskantha district co-opertaive milk producers union in Palanpur, Gujarat (Banas Dairy).
“Farmers mostly tend to opt for ready-made preparations. If we tell them to make preparations themselves from raw material, they are less likely to make such effort. This is one of the reasons people choose allopathic medicine as it is ready to use,” says a staff member at the Kaira feed plant of Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producer’s Union Ltd (Amul Dairy) in Anand, Gujarat, on the condition of anonymity.
As of now, ready-made formulations are sold as feed supplements by milk unions and as licensed drugs by both milk unions and private players.
Both Amul Dairy and Sabar Dairy have set up dedicated plants, with support of NDDB, for manufacturing and selling packaged ethnoveterinary medicines in the districts they cover.
Sabar Dairy manufactures different ethnoveterinary medicines for management of mastitis, fever, uterine health, improved digestion, better immunity and retention of placenta.
Amul Dairy also manufactures and sells packaged ethnoveterinary medicine pouches for prevention of mastistis, improved digestion, immunity, retention of placenta, abortion and agalactia (the absence of milk production in an animal that should be producing milk).
Banas Dairy has also started packaging its products. However, packaged medicines prepared by milk unions are only available at their co-operative societies and are sold at low prices for registered farmers. These are not available with local pharmacists.
Taking a step forward, the Malabar regional co-operative milk producers union in Kerala has obtained a licence from the state’s Drug Control Department for ethnoveterinary medicines products it manufactures under a startup, called Ethnovet MLMA.
In June 2022, the start-up launched eight types of ethnoveterinary medicines products to prevent mastitis (Masticure), diarrhoea (Diar end), healing of wound (Heal all), improve digestion and bloating (Rumatore), reduce fever (Pyrexcure), improve milk production in cattle (Milk let), treatment of warts or cracks in teats (Crack heal) and keeping away of ticks or ectoparasiyes (Fly repel). Owing to the licensing, these products can be marketed like any other medicine. They are priced between Rs 80 and Rs 200.
There is also a newfound interest among private players to sell licensed ethnoveterinary medicines. For example, several unions under Punjab State Co-operative Milk Producers’ Federation have been using Mastitis Malam and Must free manufactured by Trieto Biotech, which has been supplying their products to several dairy cooperatives in Gujarat since 2016.
Ayurvet Limited in Delhi is another company that manufactures ethnoveterinary medicines for cattle. In 2021, a medicine called Mastirak Gel, developed by National Innovation Foundation, an autonomous body of the Department of Science & Technology, has been commercialised through the industry partner Rakesh Pharmaceuticals.
It is a poly-herbal and cost-effective medicine to treat mastitis. All these medicines can be purchased at stores supplying veterinary medicines in various parts of the country.
By now, there are ample studies to establish that the use of ethnoveterinary medicines present a way to reduce and conserve the use of antimicrobials critical for human healthcare and also provide safe milk to consumer.
Ambika Prasad, Sundarban Co-operative Milk and Livestock Producers’ Union, says, “We train our farmers for organic milk production, and ethnoveterinary medicines are part of the training programme.”
Reduced use of antibiotics in dairy farm also means lesser amount of unmetabolised antibiotics will find their way in to the dairy farm waste. Use of such antibiotic-free dung as manure for other agricultural farms will also prevent the inter-sectoral transfer of residues or resistant bacteria. This will add to the organic movement by being AMR safe.
A study by TDU and Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Chennai, published in the Research & Reviews: Journal of Veterinary Sciences in 2017 shows that use of ethnoveterinary medicines led to a reduction of antibiotic residues in milk.
Twenty seven animals infected with clinical mastitis were treated by applying ethnoveterinary formulation externally over the udder 10 times per day for seven days.
Affected cows were also fed with two lemons twice daily. Post-intervention impact analysis after one year showed up to 18-49 per cent reduction in antibiotic residues.
“Due to the problem of resistance, there is only 20-25 per cent cure rate of mastitis cases with allopathic therapy, but we have seen above 80 per cent cure rates for mastitis and several other ailments with herbal preparations,” says Arvind Yadav, manager, Saahaj Milk Producer Company, Agra.
There is also some momentum around integrating Ayurveda and its allied disciplines into veterinary science. TDU has initiated a PG Diploma course in EthnoVeterinary Practices jointly with Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. Some 61 veterinarians have already enrolled for the course.
“We have signed an MoU with the Ministry of AYUSH where we are not only talking about research and development on the herbal products but also bringing this education into the formal system of education in the veterinary curriculum,” said Praveen Malik, former animal husbandry commissioner of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying at a CSE meeting in February 2022.
The use of ethnoveterinary medicines as an alternative to antimicrobials seems promising as the country is the largest producer of milk, contributing 23 per cent of global production.
For this, the Union and state governments should promote ethnoveterinary medicines among milk federations and big and small milk producers and procurement agencies through suitable policies and programmes. CSE researchers recommend a few measures to achieve this:
This was first published in the 1-15 December, 2022 print edition of Down To Earth
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