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Published on: June 3, 2020, 8:55 p.m.
Need for a right prescription
  • Chicken consumption has been severly impacted. Picture credit: Sanjay Borade

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

The ongoing Coronavirus crisis has taken a massive toll on the Rs1.40 lakh crore domestic poultry sector. Unlike any other sectors where supply chain disruptions have been the key impact to the overall business, in the poultry sector, the rumours that the novel Coronavirus could be transmitted through consumption of chickens, have severely impacted chicken consumption in the last few months.

While the government’s notification to quell the rumours has not yielded any positive results, industry leaders’ vehement appeal about chicken promotion only multiplied negative sentiment. Being a perishable product, the restrictions on logistics aggravated the pain of the industry. In March, prices fell more than 50 per cent, even as there has been a process of a recovery in the last few weeks. But the sentiment is weak, and lately, production and the supply chain have been impacted in a sector that faces multiple challenges.

“The domestic poultry industry is passing through one of its worst phases in this Covid-19 crisis. Small businesses in particular are faced with irreparable damage if some concrete measures are not taken to bail this sector out of the ongoing challenges. We need comprehensive policy intervention to manage and protect our agriculture and livestock sectors in this trying time,” says Vijay Sardana, an agricultural economist and adviser to the Poultry Federation of India.

Apart from the current crisis, one of the challenges has traditionally been the indiscriminate usage of antibiotics. According to a recently concluded study, it is established that most of the antibiotics used in the poultry industry are increasingly losing their efficacy against pathogenic microorganisms. Similarly, the use of anti-microbial agents in animal husbandry for therapeutic, has been linked to the development of resistant bacteria.

Experts believe that if the usage of antibiotics is not restricted in poultry, it could further lead to an increase in antibiotic resistance. This is because all microorganisms have an inherent capacity to resist some antibiotics and which is why excessive use of anti-microbial agents has caused rapid surge and development of antibacterial resistance (AR). AR is the ability developed in bacteria to combat against antibacterial agents.

“Rising demand coupled with the need for greater generation of meat products, increasing awareness about the need for better hygiene and the rise of a more conscious consumer is gradually ushering in a series of changes in poultry rearing practices. While on one hand, we have to deal with the AR problem severely impacting the livestock sector, on the other, discerning consumers are becoming health conscious and looking for products that are sourced from healthy and safe sources. Bacteriophages are the way forward to resolve this complex issue. Bacteriophages are natural micro-organisms that also do not damage the beneficial microbiome balance in the animal. These bacteriophages are fast emerging as a viable alternative to reduce antibiotic usage in poultry rearing,” says Nipun Gupta, chief commercial officer of Polish biotech company, Proteon Pharmaceuticals SA, a global leader in the development and commercialisation of bacteriophages for industrial use in livestock farming in poultry, dairy, and aquaculture.

Proteon Pharmaceuticals, founded by a group of scientists in 2007, has two commercially-available bacteriophages/products: Bafasal, a feed additive used in poultry farming which prevents Salmonella infections; and Bafador, which is used in aquaculture to fight against some of the most common pathogens impacting fish health and growth. The company, with a global presence including the EU and US, is also developing products in dairy and other applications and offers diagnostics services and veterinary auto vaccines.

Recognising the potential of the Indian market, the Polish biotechnology company entered India in 2018, creating a subsidiary Vetphage Pharmaceuticals. The Indian subsidiary, headquartered in Mumbai, is responsible for handling operations for the entire APAC region. While the company is currently in the process of creating awareness in the industry, joining hands with multiple stakeholders, it is also looking to set up a manufacturing base for the production of these bacteriophages as feed additives in India.

The company is currently in the process of identifying a location near Mumbai with a capacity to produce 10,000 litres every month of bacteriophages. This will only be the second production facility for the Polish company outside Poland where it has a 10,000-litre production facility. Moreover, the company will also put up an R&D facility in India.

“India is one of the largest markets, and looking at the opportunities emerging, we have decided to make India our global hub to cater to global needs. Apart from domestic consumption, India is also blessed with a talent pool which is vital for our business. In a short span of time, we have generated an encouraging response from the industry and are all geared up,” says Gupta.

“The word bacteriophage actually means ‘bacteria eater’. These phages destroy their host cells through a natural process without interacting with human or animal cells. Neither do they contaminate the soil or the waters, nor do they leave residue in the meat. This makes them environmentally sustainable and healthy as well. Because they do not damage the microbiome, they help support growing naturally more healthy animals, which require fewer artificial and/or damaging solutions to prevent bacterial contamination,” states Bhushan Bhavsar, managing director, Vetphage Pharmaceuticals.

The Polish biotechnology company is a leader in the field of precise microbiome modulation to improve human and animal health. The company has created an advanced bacteriophage technology platform that uses molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence (AI) to create precise and safe bacteriophage-based antibacterial solutions. Bacteriophages are the smallest, most numerous, and oldest organisms on the planet. They can be used to fight pathogenic bacteria improving animal and human health. They occur naturally in nature, are present everywhere: on our hands and skin as well as in the intestines of people and animals, and in soil and water. Phages naturally protect animals and humans from bacteria.

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