India shuts cruel horse serum plants

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:

CHENNAI, India–“We are now, with the help of e Supreme
Court of India, closing down the wretched serum institutes,” Indian
minister of state for animal protection Maneka Gandhi e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE on January 16, a year and six weeks after ANIMAL
PEOPLE visited and photographed one of the oldest, the King
Institute, at Guindy, Chennai.
A maker of snakebite antivenin, the King Institute injects
snake venom into a resident herd of 140 to 150 retired Indian Army
horses and mules, waits until the horses form antibodies to the
venom, and then draws blood serum from which the antivenin will be
extracted.


If properly done, the procedure should not harm the horses,
whose capacity for withstanding the effects of snake venom is many
times that of a human. But 77 horses–half the King Institute
herd–died during 2000, allegedly from overbleeding, underfeeding,
and general neglect.
Touring the King Institute with Shiranee Pereira and Prema
Veeraghavan of the Chennai chapter of People for Animals, who won
access via court order, ANIMAL PEOPLE documented underfeeding,
underwatering, overgrown hooves, lack of exercise opportunities,
and untreated wounds. The alleged veterinarian on duty told us that
horses could safely eat moldy hay because, according to him, they
have four stomachs, like a cow.
ANIMAL PEOPLE also inspected mules newly arrived from the
military. All were in much better condition, despite having just
come in trucks from the Himalayas.
The King Institute subsequently released 46 mules and horses
to PfA for retirement in custody of the Blue Cross of India. The
late Blue Cross cofounder S.V. Sundaram and his son and successor
Chinny Krishna had sought since 1964 to bring the King Institute
under humane regulation and inspection.
Instituting other improvements during 2001, the King
Institute is among four Indian serum production facilities which
conditionally passed review late in 2001 by a six-member expert
committee headed by Chinny Krishna in his capacity as deputy director
general of the Indian Council for Animal Research.
Acting in response to a lawsuit brought by plaintifff O.P.
Tehlan, the Supreme Court of India on January 18 ordered four other
serum producers to show cause why they should not be immediately
closed.
These four are Haffkine Bio-Pharma-ceuticals, of Pune,
where at least 84 horses died in 2000, 26 of them from alleged
overbleeding; Vin Bioproducts, of Hyderabad; the Central Research
Institute, of Kasauli; and Bengal Chemicals, of Kolkata.
Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceuticals and the Central Research
Institute are also makers of the anti-rabies vaccine cultivated in
the brains of live sheep, invented by Louis Pasteur in 1875. Use of
the Pasteur vaccine, instead of newer vaccines cultivated in egg
yolks, has been discouraged by the World Health Organization for
about 30 years. Not as effective or safe to handle as the newer
vaccines, the Pasteur vaccine can have paralytic side effects, and
was already considered obsolete when the Haffkine plant was built in
1975.
Continued reliance on less effective locally made vaccines is
widely believed to be among the major reasons why India still has as
many as 10,000 human rabies deaths per year, even though India has
almost the same number of reported dog bites as the U.S. (about three
million per year), and offers free post-exposure vaccination at
government clinics.
The per capita rate of dogbites requiring medical treatment
in India is only about 25% of the U.S. rate for a variety of reasons,
including that the ratio of dogs to humans is 1-to-10 in India,
compared to 1-5 in the U.S.; Indian dogs tend to be smaller and less
aggressive; and Indian dogs tend to be free-roaming, which allows
dogs to escape perceived threats.
The number of U.S. dogbite cases per year requiring medical
treatment has tripled during the past 15 years. This has coincided
with the advent of keeping dogs confined, contributing to
territorial defensiveness, and has also coincided with the growing
popularity of pit bull terriers and Rottweilers, which together
account for about 75% of all dog attacks on humans resulting in
serious injury or death.

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