India’s Union Health Ministry is planning to replace gelatin capsules with plant-based cellulose capsules. Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi gave a “representation” to the Health Ministry about replacing gelatin capsules with cellulose and a comittee was set up in March this year. Gandhi had 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.”
About 98 percent of the Indian pharmaceutical industry uses gelatin capsules. Gelatin has been approved by the FDA and the European Union. Gelatin is made from the skin, bones and tissue of animals. Since they are used to coat life-saving medicines, the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) does not mark it as non-vegetarian since it is not a food preparation.
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has said that there are no standards for synthetic cellulose-based capsules and they will be three-four times more expensive than gelatin-based ones. There is also no infrastructure to support it.
It seems strange that the government is pushing so hard for all these all-veg capsules at a time when they are trying to make healthcare more affordable for Indias. The government was planning to bring down the prices of drugs by making it mandatory for doctors to prescribe pure-generic drugs, instead of branded generics.