On 1 November, India’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), which was set up by the government’s Department of Biotechnology, put out a call for researchers to develop modern, animal-free antivenins to counteract the effects of venomous snake bites, which are currently treated in India with drugs made from horses’ blood. BIRAC’s announcement comes after Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI)–authorised inspections conducted by experts – including a veterinarian and scientist from PETA – revealed rampant abuse of thousands of sick and malnourished equines on squalid Indian blood-harvesting farms. It also follows appeals by over 2,29,000 supporters of PETA and our global affiliates for authorities to help the horses as well as a series of meetings with committees consisting of members from various government departments and PETA representatives. At the meetings, PETA – the only participating animal rights organisation – pushed for the production of recombinant antivenom, which can be made in a laboratory without using horses.
Antivenoms made from animal-free recombinant technology would offer a uniform, higher-quality product with fewer side effects for the patient – and they would have a longer shelf life than those made using animals. Currently, the PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is funding the development of a non-animal antitoxin that can be used to treat diphtheria.
Many equines at blood-extracting facilities suffer from anaemia as well as untreated wounds, diseased hooves, malnourishment, infections, parasites, swollen limbs, lameness, and eye abnormalities. At most of the facilities inspected by the AWBI, records indicated that many animals were bled several times a month and that more blood was drawn than is permissible under the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) guidelines. This year, CPCSEA temporarily suspended the experimentation licence of Chennai-based Mediclone Biotech Pvt Ltd – one of the facilities implicated in the damning AWBI inspection reports – pointing out that the institution has repeatedly failed to improve its animal-housing facility.
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