If you’re a stickler for dietary discipline and insist on that warm glass of milk every morning, here’s news that could make you look at the glass half empty. Prolonged investigations conducted by MiD DAY have revealed that a banned drug called oxytocin is being administered to buffalos in many tabelas across the city. Oxytocin, while it helps cattle produce more milk, has severely harmful effects on not just the health of the animals it is injected into, but humans who consume milk that comes from them.
Doctors have confirmed that the drug decreases the reproductive ability of cows over time, eventually making them barren. It also reduces the lifespan of cattle. Studies have linked the consumption of milk contaminated with oxytocin to the early onset of puberty in children, which is on an alarming rise these days. Despite a ban on artificially injecting the hormone into cattle, this drug is being supplied secretly to different tabelas, as we discovered in the course of our two-month-long investigations.
Dr V L Deopurkar, director of research, Veterinary University, Nagpur explained, “Oxytocin or Pitocin is an injection used on pregnant women to induce labour. Commercial tabelas are using oxytocin injections almost twice a day on cattle. Upon injecting the drug, the milk, which is otherwise stored in the udder of the cattle for its calves, is also released, giving a few additional litres of milk.”
However, the action of the hormone causes the uterus of the cattle to contract, causing immense pain. Extracting the milk in this manner also deprives the calves of nutrition. Maternal antibodies present in the milk are responsible for making the calves immune to several diseases. Being denied the milk weakens their chances of survival.
Section 12 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the Food and Consumable Substances Adulteration Act and the Drug Control Laws ban the sale of the drug without a prescription from a registered medical practititioner. A chemist selling it over the counter without a prescription can lose his licence. Shopkeepers caught selling the hormone and dairy owners using it on cattle can be imprisoned for upto 5 years. But these laws exist only on paper. Dairies, are using the drug with impunity, and without prescriptions, having obtained it from private suppliers.
Speaking to MiD DAY, FDA Joint Commissioner (Vigilance) Sanjay Kale said, “It is true that the Government of India has acknowledged the negative effects of oxytocin and has declared it as a schedule substance, which means this drug can only be supplied against prescription from a registered medical practitioner.
Illegal stocking and sale of oxytocin is banned and can also lead to penal actions against those offenders as per the provisions laid under the Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940.” Asked if any action would be taken against tabela workers violating the law every day, he answered in the affirmative, pointing out that the matter of cruelty to animals would have to be dealt with by the Animal Husbandry department.
Oxytocin can cause breast, prostate cancer: Maneka Gandhi
Speaking on the matter, Maneka Gandhi, the champion of animal rights in the country, said, “The Drug Controller General of India has recently sent a letter to every state drug controller saying that before any animal gives meat or milk or egg it should be completely free of hormones or antibiotics. If the practice of administering injections twice every day continues, the drug stays in the milk and the meat, and causes serious ailments like breast cancer and prostate cancer, also impotency in men. Cattle become barren within three years of continuous ministration of the drug. Since the 1990s, I have been raising the issue and asking the government to take strict action, but my pleas have gone unheard.”
Malpadongri, near WEH, Andheri (East)
Our first stop was a tabela adjacent to the south-bound carriageway of the Western Express Highway in Andheri (East), in Malpadongri. Approaching an elderly man stationed there, we narrated a fabricated tale about a buffalo in our native village that was producing sparse milk as its calf had died soon after its birth. We requested for a medicine that could help the buffalo give more milk.
To make our story more credible, we said that the drug they’d give us would be dispatched through a relative who was leaving for our native place that very evening. Thoroughly convinced, the man instructed his son to give us a bottle of ‘medicine’, without taking its name. Soon, the man returned from a small shanty holding a sealed plastic bottle, without a label or brand name pasted on it. The bottle was sealed. He instructed us that a single dose of 5 ml was sufficient at a time, and that the drug in the bottle contained 20 doses. We paid a mere Rs 30 for the bottle.
Gundawali, near WEH, Andheri (East)
Here, we retold the concocted tale to the men. The seniormost among them told us that they have stopped using the medicine as the government has banned it. When we insisted, he pointed towards a man in his late 20s, identifying him as the delivery boy for the drug to tabelas across the western suburbs. The youth immediately gave us a bottle of the drug, and also his phone number for future deliveries. We were asked to pay Rs 20. The bottle was identical to the one we were given in Malpadongri.
Tryst with the supplier
The young man, introducing himself as Sohail, said he was a resident of Kalyan, and admitted to supplying the drug in plastic containers to tabelas across the western suburbs, as per their needs. He referred to the drug as doodh ka dawa or bulb, as it comes in white plastic containers of 100 ml. All the samples we procured from the tabelas seemed to have been delivered by this one youth, as the bottles they came in were identical. He added he had an associate who caters to the needs of tabelas in the eastern suburbs. The tabela workers usually ring Sohail when they run out of their stocks, and then the delivery is made. As a matter of caution, the drugs are given to tabelas that are part of an established chain of supply.
Dr Parminder Singh, Endocrinologist, Ludhiana
In the 1990s, menarche occurred among girls at age 16. This age has come down drastically, and nowadays anxious parents come to us when their daughters show signs of premature puberty at age 9 or 10. Cases of male children being diagnosed with gynaecomastia (breast enlargement) are on the rise. This is due to hormonal imbalances created by exogenous source of hormones like oxytocin in milk and dairy products. The Health Ministry and Drug Controller General of India should carry out rigorous checks to curb the misuse of hormones on cattle. Laboratories should be established to check the level of hormones and insecticides in food and dairy products.
Dr Shashank Joshi, endocrinologist, Lilavati Hospital
Oxytocin or growth hormones can lead to disruption of the endocrine system, which would lead to cases of gynaecomastia in male and weight gain and pubertal disturbance in girls.
Dr Usha Sriram, Chennai-based endocrinologist
Parents these days understand the problems faced by their children and seek timely medical intervention, which helps to curtail the problem, which can cause physical and psychological unrest.
Effects of Oxytocin
Causes the cattle’s uterus to contract, leading to excruciating pain when they are milked
Reduces reproductive ability of cows, making them barren
Cuts short their lifespan
Releases the milk stored for calves, depriving them of nutrition
Early puberty in girls, weight gain
Gynaecomastia, or development of breasts, in male children
The moment of truth: Lab reports
Dairy near Aarey Milk Colony Unit II
We had been told that the drug was used commonly in tabelas under the purview of Aarey Milk Colony. We found no evidence of this till we reached Unit 2 of the Colony. Here, a certain Chulbul was convinced by our story and agreed to give us a small quantity of the drug. He took us along to a storeroom in the premises, removed a bottle from the small cupboard. With the help of a syringe, he removed 25-30 ml of the drug from the bottle, poured into another bottle and handed it to us in exchange for Rs 30. He also helpfully explained to us how we were to inject it into the neck of our buffalo.
Sanjay Nagar Pathan Wadi, Malad (East)
The clandestine manner in which this drug is circulated around tabelas became clear to us at this stop. One of the workers, who was ready to hand us a bottle, was stopped by another employee, who warned against giving the drug to a stranger. We coaxed and cajoled, but were asked to leave at once.
Ghaswala Dairy, Jogeshwari (West)
Here, a worker admitted to using oxytocin, but wouldn’t provide us a bottle, saying he was running short on the stocks.
We returned to each of the tabelas to get milk samples that would establish if the drug was indeed being administered to the cattle.
The worker refused to hand over any milk, saying that it was supplied only to dairies. We churned out yet another concocted tale about desperately needing milk for a religious ceremony, and the worker acquiesced grudgingly. We managed to get a litre of milk by paying Rs 55. The fluids were stored in sterilised containers and placed in an icebox. Milk was obtained from the tabela in Gundawali in a similar manner.
Aarey Milk Colony Unit 2
We faced stiff resistance at the outset. The owner refused to sell us milk directly, saying he only delivered to different Aarey centres. We followed a tempo that was transporting the morning’s collection to the tabela to the dairy. We urged the driver to give us some milk, and he obliged. Getting another sample from Sanjay Nagar Pathan Wadi was easy.
The owner refused to sell milk to us, telling us to go and buy it from the Ghaswala Dairy shop. We went there and purchased the milk.
Laboratory test results
The collected samples were handed over to Therapeutic Drug Monitoring Laboratory in Sion, to be examined for the presence of oxytocin. Dr Sasikumar Menon, assistant director at the lab, and senior analyst Shreenath Nair tested the samples. They detected oxytocin in the bottles we had collected from different tabelas, as well as in the milk we had purchased from each of them.