Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) aka ‘Sangini Sui’ is a long-acting female contraceptive designed for use in women for birth control, and is not recommended for use in animals. Nowadays, Nepali farmers have rampantly used this female contraceptive injection as a weight booster in the male goat. This unconventional application of MPA as a growth promoter has brought debates owing to its detrimental effects on animal health, human health, and the environment. Although MPA is used for estrus synchronization in female goat, this practice in male goats could be detrimental. This article aims to explore the harmful consequences of this practice in sectors such as animal health, human health, and the environment arguing that the side effects of ‘Sangini Sui’ far outweigh the potential benefits to the farmers.
The 'Sangini Sui' is a popular injectable contraceptive originally intended for use in women, which contains a synthetic form of human progesterone. A research by Lehloenya and his colleagues in South Africa found an increase in weight after estrus synchronisation of the Boer and Nguni female Goat with MPA injection (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smallrumres.2004.05.004). This change in the weight of male goats motivated farmers to use this injection as a growth promoter. This increased weight is supposed to enhance the market value. This trend of the use of MPA as a growth promoter has gained momentum among Nepali farmers in the absence of stringent scientific and regulatory oversights.
An illusion of prosperity
The proponents of the use of MPA as a growth promoter argue that 'Sangini Sui' provides economic benefits to farmers by enhancing their returns through weight gains. The weight gain should not overshadow the potentially harmful future consequences on animal health, human health, and the environment. One of the most conspicuous issues regarding the rampant use of ‘Sangini Sui' as a growth promoter in male goats is the non-scientific approach to authenticate its efficacy and safety. Similarly, frequent use and long-term effects on animal health and its residual effects in meat have not been studied yet, thereby leaving farmers and consumers in the dark about the potential risks they are undertaking. However, it is highly likely that the hormonal residue from the injected animals can leach into the soil, potentially contaminating groundwater sources and affecting other species in the ecosystem.
Although the practice of using ‘Sangini Sui’ may enhance the temporary weight gain in animals, it is imperative to consider the issues of the welfare of the animals involved. Injecting MPA into male goats not only affects the hormonal imbalance in the goat but also causes potential effects altering their physiological behaviour along with reproductive issues and disruption in the overall health. The use of MPA disrupts the blood hormonal equilibrium in the male goats suppressing male hormones such as testosterone, leading to harmful physiological events. For instance, a decrease in libido, and impaired reproductive function might be noticed. And, in some cases, it might trigger some harmful effects on the whole endocrine system. Apart from the beneficial effects of weight gain, there could be untoward long-term consequences in male goats thereby diminishing the success of breeding. This may adversely affect the sustainability of goat production in Nepal.
The potentially harmful effects of ‘Sangini Sui’ extend beyond animal health to humans particularly, farmers who depend on livestock farming for subsistence. At present, ‘Sangini Sui’ as a weight booster in male goats might create a false sense of success for the farmer. However, long-term consequences with an adverse effect on animal health and productivity might lead to financial losses to the farmers who depend on livestock for their livelihood. In addition, the presence of hormone residues in meat and dairy products poses a risk to human health; however, such potential harmful effects are yet to be fully understood. Research have highlighted the adverse effects on human health such as carcinogenesis, endometrial hyperplasia, mammary hyperplasia, and reproductive toxicity through ingestion of residual hormone through meat and milk.
Thus, in a nutshell, the practice of using MPA in male goats is a problematic and serious issue given its adverse effects on animal and human health. Although it may provide short-term economic benefits, the potential long-term effects on animal health, human health, animal welfare, and the environment should not be ignored. Moreover, the absence of any rigorous scientific validations and regulatory oversights may worsen health hazards with this practice. All relevant stakeholders such as the policymakers, and farmers must aim towards sustainable goat farming rather than imposing any shortcut remedies towards the wrong practices that might impact animal health, human health, and the whole ecosystem.
(Acharya is a Veterinary officer at the Department of Livestock Services and Adhikari is a registered veterinary doctor under the Nepal veterinary council.)