Certainly, the majority of our readers know that Mongolia is rich in livestock. As of last year, Mongolia was estimated to have more than 60 million head of livestock. Many think that we consume the most organic and healthy meat. Unfortunately, food safety is a major concern in Mongolia, in addition to air pollution. But unlike air pollution, which is visible to everyone, food safety isn’t touched upon often, because its affects are not immediately visible.
Recently, I had the chance to talk to a herder about the quality of Mongolian meat. He said that all herders use a medication they call “white injection”, which is commercially known as Ivomec. Previously, herders gave this injection to their cattle under the regulation of veterinarians, but now they can buy it from a pharmacy and inject it on their own, without any control. Herders believe that this injection helps their livestock get fat, but this medication is used to control parasites. Doctors all over the world talk about the side effects of needless medication in the human body, such as antibiotics, and suggest avoiding unnecessary medication as much as possible. After a cow is injected with Ivomec, its meat and milk can’t be consumed for 30 days due to its harmful side effects for humans. Doctors say that when people eat meat with Ivomec, it can cause damage to their central nervous system, blood, liver, and kidneys. But Mongolian herders slaughter their cattle whenever they want, not following any instructions on the use of Ivomec.
As for a regular consumer of meat, and for all Mongolians who love eating meat, this is a serious issue that should be addressed immediately. Not long ago, after meat emitting a strong chemical odor was found at Khuchit Shonkhor Market, the market’s health inspector took a sample and sent it to a laboratory for analysis. The analysis showed that the meat contained 15 times more antibiotics and other medications than permissible levels. Most Ulaanbaatarians purchase their meat from open markets, because the meat sold there is cheaper than what can be found at grocery stores. Unfortunately, the majority of consumers don’t know about the meat they consume, and it’s not a subject made transparent to the public. Even the media avoids touching this issue.
In an interview with Udriin Sonin, President of the National Veterinary Association of Mongolia Ts.Ulziitogtokh spoke about issues concerning the quality of Mongolian meat and the inappropriate use of Ivomec in Mongolia.
He said, “It is true that there isn’t any control of medication for livestock in Mongolia. First, its import is not being regulated. Second, the regulation of information, quality, and registration of drugs for livestock is very poor. The capabilities of inspection laboratories are insufficient. In other words, veterinarians and herders are using drugs for livestock arbitrarily, not in accordance with its prescribed use.
“For instance, there’s the use of Ivomec, which herders believe is useful for getting their livestock fat. But this medication doesn’t have any fattening qualities. It only prevents the contraction of certain parasites. Even if it is given to cattle according to proper dosages, meat and milk can’t be directly consumed. But both herders and veterinarians ignore this, and even three days after an Ivomec injection, they sell the milk and eat the meat. This could be one of the major causes of cases of liver cancer, which are very high in number in Mongolia. It’s related to food safety, especially to animal products, but it’s also due to the inappropriate use of medication.”
Dr. Ulziitogtokh said that there are only a few organizations that control the consumption of veterinary medication in Mongolia. One organization is the Central Laboratory of National Veterinary Sanitation. “They are trying to control the drugs and medicine from remaining in meat and dairy products. However, meat and dairy products being supplied to markets by herders and traders are not being controlled. Even though markets have a small laboratory, their capacity is too poor.”
Mongolian livestock is known for being organic and healthy, but due to a lack of control it is actually unhealthy and non-organic. Dr. Ulziitogtokh claims that Mongolian veterinarians, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the government are complicit in poisoning Mongolian meat and milk, distributing unhealthy products to Mongolian consumers.
There are over 400 types of drugs for livestock that are registered for use in Mongolia. Dr. Ulziitogtokh said that Ivomec is one of the most dangerous to humans. Also, not much work is done to provide herders and the public with proper information about the dangers of these medications.
Last summer, a friend of mine visited the countryside and heard how the head of the family told his son to slaughter a sheep that wasn’t injected. Now, it seems that the only way to consume healthy meat, until the government takes any effective measures toward addressing the quality of Mongolian meat, is to purchase meat directly from a friendly herder.
The Mongolian government keeps talking about how it is looking for opportunities to increase the export of Mongolian meat, but is this possible when the country is not even providing its citizens with healthy meat? The ministry should focus on placing strict controls on the quality of meat and dairy products, and make sure veterinarians and herders are provided with enough knowledge and information about livestock medications, and that they are using them under strict regulations.
Agriculture Ministry officials have reported that there is shortage of veterinarians in Mongolia. According to one report, there are around 1,700 veterinarians nationwide, which means that one veterinarian is available to care for approximately 40,000 head of livestock. The ministry should place a priority on increasing the sector’s personnel in order to improve the quality of the country’s meat and dairy products and to be able to export our agricultural resources to foreign countries.