Fake animal medicines are ‘a growing problem’

The black market for counterfeit, falsified and unregistered veterinary medicines is worth up to $2bn a year, sparking concerns for animal and human health, a new report claims.

According to the global animal medicines association HealthforAnimals, which published the report, the distribution of illegal veterinary medicines is through illicit channels, including dodgy websites, social media, e-commerce sites such as Alibaba and street vendors. But it also notes that the fake animal drugs have also been found entering legitimate distribution channels in various regions around the world, largely driven by the lower cost of the drugs.  

The illicit market includes counterfeit, falsified, and unregistered products, as well as unapproved parallel imports, compounded pharmaceuticals and illegal autogenous vaccines when these products are not manufactured or used appropriately and according to regulations.

The group gives the “conservative estimate” that the growing black market is creating an annual global loss to legitimate drug manufacturers of between $1bn to $2bn, amounting to between 3 per cent and 7 per cent of revenues, though this was likely higher in developing countries, the report said and did not take into account potential domestic losses od domestically produced illicit drugs.

“For the animal health industry as a whole, illegal veterinary medicines are a significant and growing problem”, the report said, noting that the illicit activity was present in both developing and developed countries, including major markets in the US and EU.

“The risks of illegal veterinary medicines are principally issues of safety with secondary effects on business reputation and costs, and on trust in veterinary medicines,” HealthforAnimals said. “The risks of illegal veterinary medicines are not only lack of efficacy and safety for animals given the products, but also risks to human safety through food from animals treated with illegal veterinary medicines, less effective control of zoonotic infections and risks of increasing antimicrobial and antiparasitic resistance.”

The association laid much of the blame for the growth in the illicit activity on the rise of e-commerce, international trade and small parcel shipments, which HealthforAnimals said had “created new opportunities for trade in illegal veterinary medicines”, including a surge in illegal internet pharmacies for veterinary medicines.

“The e-commerce or internet supply of illegal veterinary medicines for companion animals [cats and dogs] is growing rapidly and is affecting all regions including developed markets such as the EU and the US,” the report said. “The situation with farmers is more variable between countries and regions with few problems regarding illegal veterinary medicines in developed countries (a consequence of effective regulatory testing and supermarket purchasing requirements). However, there is widespread and large use of illegal veterinary medicines in the developing countries of SE Asia, India, Africa and Latin America.”

The report noted that the major provenance region for illegal veterinary medicines was Asia, particularly China and India as sources of both active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) and finished products. However, the Middle East and Africa were also source hotbeds.

Similar to the illicit trade in other sectors, the report also noted that there was an increasing trend for API, primary and secondary packaging, and labels to be supplied separately for assembly into finished products in the destination country, making detection more difficult for enforcement agencies.

The report also listed a number of recommendations for animal health companies, enforcement agencies, customers and other stakeholders, which would help develop an effective strategy for the control of illegal veterinary medicines.

The recommendations, which draw on the extensive experiences in the human pharmaceuticals and crop protection industries, include: increase awareness of the illicit activity; strengthen national and international enforcement programmes; improve utilisation of data collection and analysis; and facilitate identification of authentic products, such as identification of regulator-approved websites and increased adoption of fraud prevention strategies and technologies.

“The fight against illegal medicines requires approaches that rely not only on their interception and prosecution of the perpetrators, which are inevitably limited in their scope, but also on prevention to reduce and contain the size of the counterfeit/falsified market. The overall objective is to lower the risks to animals and the public, and to increase the risks to traffickers,” the report said.

It added: “It is important to recognise that it will take five to seven years and appropriate resources to affect the recommendations and to see the full impact on illegal veterinary medicines.”

Photo by Sam Loyd on Unsplash

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