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BW Businessworld

Bacterial Disease Cause Multi-Billion Dollar Loss To Livestock Industry

Bhushan Bhavsar, MD of Vetphage Pharmaceuticals talks to BW Businessworld on the Issues leading to huge losses in poultry as well aquaculture trade.

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The Vetphage Pharmaceutical is working on precision biology and handling Judicial use of antibiotics for livestock industry which otherwise leads to Multi-Billion dollar losses from the bacterial infections. Bhushan Bhavsar, MD of Vetphage Pharmaceuticals talks to Prabodh Krishna of BW Businessworld on the Issues leading to huge losses in poultry as well aquaculture trade.

It is believed that one out of four farmers lose its aquaculture crop due to diseases, what is your take on that? 
Yes. We do believe that diseases are one of the major reasons for crop loss in aquaculture. With increasing consumption of seafood globally, aquaculture has grown dramatically over the years. Today, almost half of the seafood consumed globally is reared in farms, rather than taken from their natural habitats in the wild. Diseases continue to cause a significant loss to farmers. An estimate suggests that infectious microbial diseases cost the sector around USD 6 billion loss each year. Such diseases are therefore a major limiting factor that constrains the expansion of the aquaculture industry.

How much intervention is required to save the crop loss for fishermen?
Intervention is required on a major scale to enable healthy growth of fishery. Unfortunately, the bulk of farming happens in the unorganized sector where awareness of healthy and hygienic rearing practices might not be sufficiently adequate. We need to raise awareness about healthy farming and also make new natural and healthy products available for farmers to accomplish the same.

How do you go for training to farmers for both poultry and fishery?
We conduct regular workshops among both product distributors and consumers to educate them about the need and potential benefits of our products. We also partner industry bodies that have wider influence on farmers. We believe that sustainability is the most important factors that is often not taken too seriously. We share our thoughts to farmers by conducting various workshops and help them identify the need and importance of such desired changes that need to be implemented in livestock farming.

Disease outbreak creates havoc among customers and poultry industry do face this issue on regular basis, what is a tentative revenue loss from the same?
While it is difficult to arrive at a reliable figure for the same, poultry diseases cause major economic losses. These losses occur due to loss of diseases poultry birds, the cost incurred in medication. Bacterial diseases cause multi-billion-dollar economic losses for the livestock industry and environmental waste. It is estimated that Campylobacter and Salmonella infections that are rampant in poultry together account for 9 in 10 reported cases of bacteria-related food poisoning globally. Coliform infections or diseases resulting from Escherichia coli bacteria are another significant health concern recognized as a major cause of morbidity and mortality in chickens. Often, mass cullings are necessitated to get rid of infected birds. Coccidiosis, an old parasitic disease also has a significant impact on poultry production. Economic loss to the commercial broiler industry due to coccidiosis was estimated at Rs 1.14 billion (approx) in the year 2003-04. A study in European Union concluded that total economic losses from uncontrolled keel bone damage averaged around €4 over the life of a laying hen, while losses from uncontrolled Infectious bronchitis reach €3.2 per laying hen. Similarly, uncontrolled clostridiosis caused losses at around €1 per broiler bird while losses from uncontrolled coccidiosis amounted to €0.21 per broiler.

How do you look at the upcoming budget any special expectations from the government for the same?
As an organization working in the field of sustainable poultry farming, we expect the government to lay down a clear policy for sustainable farming and animal rearing. These include healthy diets for poultry, medication free rearing, safe disposal and safe processing. The government must incentivize farmers to adopt the use of safe and healthy rearing practices that lead to a more sustainable approach to poultry production. The government must also encourage organizations working to devise sustainable farming solutions to animal farmers. Falling consumption on a national level has emerged as a serious concern for different sectors as well as the economy as a whole. Poultry industry is no different. In fact, reports have shown that poultry farmers are struggling to cope with rising feed costs and falling consumer demand. Some poultry farmers have also been demanding duty free imports of maize (an important poultry feed) to help them tide over the high feed costs. We hope the government will pay due attention to the sector in the upcoming budget.  

How will the customers approach towards higher use of antibiotics be changed that hampers sales of both poultry and fishery products? 
Awareness is the key. We need to educate famers and industry at large about how high antibiotic usage has been hampering health and sustainability. The government must also take active steps to restrict non therapeutic usage of antibiotics in animal farming. Many countries have moved ahead in this regard taking note of the global threat of antibiotic resistance. Sweden was the first country to ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic uses in the late 1980s. Denmark, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and other European Union countries have also followed suit. Recently, the Indian government has also banned the manufacture, sale and distribution of antibiotic Colistin (often considered a ‘last hope’ antibiotic) for poultry and animal feed supplements to preserve its efficacy in humans.  

However, banning usage is not sufficient. We also need to provide viable alternatives to farmers to ensure healthy growth of animals in a way that disease incidence is also reduced. Our bacteriophage based products serve this purpose. Bacteriophages are microorganisms of our environment and exist everywhere around us including in the gut. They eliminate selected bacteria in a natural way without interacting with animal or human cells. This makes them absolutely safe for poultry and human beings. By promoting healthy growth of birds, this significantly reduces the need for use of antibiotics.