'Pure vegetarian' medicine capsules soon? Health Ministry panel seeks recommendations

Union minister Maneka Gandhi gave a “representation” to the Health Ministry on completely “replacing gelatin capsules” with plant-based ones.

In a few months, you an out-vegan the staunchest vegan with your ‘vegetarian’ capsules. According to media reports, the Union government is looking to replace gelatin capsules with cellulose-based capsules. An expert committee set up by the Health Ministry has now invited comments from all stakeholders. Notably, the committee was formed om “replacing gelatin capsules with plant-based vegetarian capsules”.

Why such move?

The committee was set up in March, a year after Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi gave a “representation” to the Health Ministry on completely “replacing gelatin capsules” with plant-based ones.

In her representation to Nadda in March last year, Maneka said, “In a country where there are millions of vegetarians, this hurts religious sentiments and many people avoid medicines that are in capsule form. Representations received from the Jain community have also requested that since there is an option available in the country, consumers must not be forced to use capsules made from animal tissue.”

Also, Gandhi feels that the plant-based capsules are easier to digest than gelatin capsules. She thinks that “it is absurd that we continue to use the same unstable product (gelatin capsules) for medicinal purposes”.

‘Centre is not concerned about opinions of others’

According to an Indian Express report, Nadda discussed the matter with Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) GN Singh and then health secretary Bhanu Pratap Sharma, and “desired that necessary steps in this regard be taken on priority”.

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However, JP Nadda faced a major hurdle in May last year, when the country’s top drug committee, the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), shot down the Health Ministry’s initial proposal: marking plant-based capsules with a green dot.

Some members also pointed out that Hydroxypropylmethycellulose (HPMC) — a type of cellulose capsules — is basically of synthetic origin and as such cannot be considered as purely of vegetarian origin as in the case of food preparations.

Despite all of this, the Union Health Ministry on May 24, it convened a meeting under the chairmanship of the health secretary on “switching the use of gelatin capsules by vegetarian capsules”.

The Ministry also decided to form an expert committee on March 20, 2017, to “address all technical issues” pertaining to the issue of vegetarian capsules. The Health Minister did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express.

What will be the effect?

Switching over to ‘pure-veg’ capsules will lead to an increase in the cost of associated medicines, according to experts.

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According to the IE report, Surajit Pal, pharma analyst with financial services firm Prabhudas Lilladher, said: “It’s simple… The prices of medicines will go up. First, there has to (be the) manufacturing capacity in the country for such plant-based capsules.”

Quick facts

Currently, over 98 per cent of the Indian pharmaceutical industry uses animal-based gelatin capsules. Plant-based capsules are marketed by just two manufacturers — Indian-based Associated Capsules, and the American Capsugel.

Gelatin is primarily obtained by boiling the connective tissues, bones and skin of animals.


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