Israeli medical diagnostics ‘moo-ves’ to the farm

Veterix CEO Eliav Tahar: We looked for a solution and the main reason was the welfare of the animals. I wanted to give the quickest remedy to any problem an animal has. If Little Bo Peep wants to find her …

Veterix CEO Eliav Tahar: We looked for a solution and the main reason was the welfare of the animals. I wanted to give the quickest remedy to any problem an animal has. If Little Bo Peep wants to find her sheep and never lose them again she might want to consider investing in a new Israeli technology firm Veterix. The company has developed an electronic capsule that sits in an animal’s stomach to wirelessly report back to the farmer real-time about the health of the herd. It can send messages to a farmer’s cell phone and email, alerting him if animals are distressed, sick, injured or lost.

“Healthy animals mean healthy people,” says Eliav Tahar, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “We have built a system that ensures animals will give better meat and milk.”

Better quality meat and milk is certainly a competitive advantage for farmers to think about, but it was the love for animals, says Tahar that compelled him to develop Veterix’s e-capsule. After his dog was injured in a road accident and he couldn’t be at home all day to take care of it, Tahar started thinking. Maybe he could invent a collar which a dog or cat could wear that would allow people to monitor their pets when they were far from home. After meeting with vets and scientists, their brainstorming sessions led Tahar to investigate health-monitoring options for farm animals.

“We looked for a solution and the main reason was the welfare of the animals. I wanted to give the quickest remedy to any problem an animal has. We believe if the animal is happy, the farmer will be happy,” Tahar told ISRAEL21c.

Embarking on building such a system, Tahar found that cattle have tissue in their necks that are too fatty for a collar to work. His quest led him to develop the e-capsule, which due to its sheer weight stays put inside the cow’s stomach.

Fabricated by using a unique polymer, the e-capsule was designed to run on low-power sensors that measure physiological parameters such as heart rate, respiration and digestive processes. It also measures temperature.

The e-capsule doesn’t need a professional to administer it – it can be inserted by the farmer into the mouth of the animal. Once swallowed, it stays in the cow’s second stomach, the reticulum, for the animal’s lifetime.

An e-capsule prototype is now being tested on a herd of cattle in Israel and is expected to be ready by 2008. The company’s target market initially will be the United States, home to 100 million head of cattle.

The device is now customized for cows and measures 11 centimeters in length, but a smaller prototype is currently being developed for sheep and goats.

Coupled with a sophisticated monitoring station, the e-capsule can also relay more than just simple physiological parameters. It actually studies the animals over time and gives farmers diagnostic abilities and can suggest ways to feed or water the animals better. It can also tell a farmer when an animal is ready to mate.

Tahar believes that the e-capsule will have enormous cost savings on feeding: farmers can decide which animals are more productive and keep them or sell them accordingly.

Down the road, the e-capsule could be a promising early-warning detection system against bioterrorism threats; and serve as a diagnostic tool for catching symptoms of mad cow, or foot and mouth disease.

Veterix hopes the e-capsule will be used to spare the mass slaughtering of animals suspected of carrying an unwanted disease; and to prevent the giving of unnecessary medications to the animal, an action which is both costly to the farmer and the consumer.

“Today the farmers give antibiotics whether or not an animal is sick, to ‘avoid’ any kinds of diseases,” says Tahar. “We are saying ‘don’t do it’. This constant injection is damaging to the animal, to its meat and milk; and eventually the people who are drinking and eating the milk and meat.”

Now more than ever, people are concerned about the quality of food they are eating. They are looking for free-range meat and milk and there is a growing awareness to consume antibiotic-free animals.

It is the savvy consumer, which Veterix plans on marketing to at first. “I want people to look for our stamp on the meat and milk in the grocery store. So they will know that the animal was treated with respect and is healthy,” says Tahar.

One day, he hopes, the Veterix stamp will be recognized in the same way as BIO-organic labels, Jewish kosher symbols or Moslem Halal stamps are on products today.

The cost will be about $75 per capsule (per cow), which does not include end-user monitoring tools and diagnostics software.

Veterix employs a staff of 11 and is headquartered at Ramat Ishai in Israel. The team includes cattle scientists, veterinarians, a biotech professor, engineers and business developers. The manufacturing plant is expected to be built in Israel.

Veterix, agrees Tahar, will benefit in the international market from Israel’s known reputation of delivering both high-tech and agricultural solutions. And more specifically in the “inner” diagnostics market, Veterix will benefit from the reputation of Israel’s Given Imaging camera-in-a-capsule technology that has revolutionized the way colonoscopies are done.

Tahar concludes, “We are dealing with the future. People should be aware of all of the things involved in the food process, which includes the health and well-being of the animals.”

And with Veterix’s e-capsule working effortlessly 24 hours a day inside the herd’s bellies, farmers can sleep soundly knowing they won’t have to wait or worry for the cows to come home.

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.