It might sound bizarre, but distilled urine from female cows is worth as much as milk in India.

The indigenous Indian Bos indicus cows are considered sacred by Hindus, and their urine has become increasingly valuable. In recent years prices have been driven by programs introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which act to protect milk-producing cows and shore up industries reliant on them, according to Bloomberg.

Cow Urine A Precious Commodity In India
Image credit: Rachel Kramer, Flickr

Cows revered across India

The Modi government has invested $87 million in cow shelters, tightened beef-eating bans and cracked down on illegal cattle sales to Bangladesh. The cow urine is also used to combat many ailments.

“Around 30 remedies can be prepared at home with cow urine,” said Sunil Mansinghka, chief coordinator at Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra, a cow-focused research organization in Nagpur, India that receives support from two Hindu groups. “It’s our foremost ambition to reach the elixir to countrymen.”

After it is collected the cow urine is distilled to remove impurities. It is then reduced into powder or sold as liquid concentrate.

Cleaning products and medical treatments

Many people buy cow urine, including yoga guru Baba Ramdev, whose company Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd. makes soaps, disinfectants and elixirs from the raw material. Company managing director Acharya Balkrishna says that the most popular product is floor-cleaner Gaunyle. “We prepare 20 tons of Gaunyle a day and still can’t meet demand,” he said.

According to the ayurveda holistic healing system, the urine of an Indian cow has therapeutic properties and can afford health benefits. A study recently found that traces of gold is found in the urine of cows from the Gir breed of Gujarat.

Cows have also become a source of tension between Hindus and Muslims. Beef vigilantism has become a problem and some have criticized the protections given to the animals.

There are shelters for older cows to prevent them being killed, and in Rajasthan there is now a ministry of cow affairs. Critics argue that the bovines have better rights than Indian homeless people, of whom there are around 2 million.

Critics don’t dissuade patients

Scientifically speaking there is also a danger that cow urine contains harmful pathogens. Navneet Dhand, an associate professor in veterinary biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Sydney, says that cow urine could transmit dangerous pathogens to people. Among them are: leptospirosis, which is linked with meningitis and liver failure; arthritis-causing brucellosis; and Q-fever, which can lead to pneumonia and chronic inflammation of the heart.

However the patients at Jain’s Cow Urine Therapy Health Clinic are not discouraged. The unit buys 25,000 liters (6,600 gallons) of cow urine a month from a dozen cattle shelters and has given urine-based treatments to over 1.2 million patients in the past twenty years.

Staff at the clinic receives 4,000 online inquiries per day, and the products are available online at e-commerce sites like Amazon.

A liter of cow urine distillate sells for $1.20-1.50 per liter, which means that some cow attendants are encouraged to keep cows alive. However those that have milk-producing cows can cash in from the milk and urine that they produce.

Pankaj Navani, a former engineer who owns 300 cows that produce 2,200 liters of milk a day, does not believe that it is sustainable to keep non-productive cows alive. “A more logical policy approach is required to deal with the issue in general,” Navani said.

Under the conservative Hindu government of Modi, cows receive high levels of protection. But how long will it last?