Bangladesh sent medical teams to check millions of cows set for slaughter due to fears that they have been pumped with banned steroids for fattening ahead of the Eid.
Some ten million cows and goats are expected to be slaughtered during the major Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha being celebrated in Bangladesh on October 6, industry officials say.
Experts fear many have been artificially fattened with cancer-causing steroids in a bid to cash in on a surging demand for meat during the celebrations.
"In our estimate some 20 percent of the cattle to be sold during Eid are being fattened with banned steroids such as dexamethasone," said Muzaffar Hossain, a professor of animal science at the Bangladesh Agriculture University.
Cows fattened with such steroids can help farmers earn an extra $400-$1,000 per animal but can cause serious health problems for consumers, he said.
"As a result, the use of steroids and other harmful drugs has become rampant all over the country," he told AFP.
Ali Noor, joint secretary at the livestock ministry, said only a small number of farmers were using the steroids, with the vast majority using a government-prescribed natural cow fattening formula.
But he said authorities have deployed 20 medical teams in Dhaka's cattle markets to try to detect sick animals and more teams were being sent to major markets across the country.
"We are also asking the authorities to deploy magistrates to act against the use of steroids to fatten cows. These magistrates will set up mobile courts to hand out sentences against the perpetrators," he told AFP.
On Monday the mass-circulation Daily Star ran an investigative report that said almost every farm in the country's northwest, the main cattle region, was using the banned steroids.
"If someone consumes the meat of the cattle fattened with such steroids, it may cause cancer and kidney failure," Abdus Samad, a professor of Bangladesh Agriculture University, told the paper.
Acting on a petition, the High Court on Monday asked the government to investigate the racket and prepare guidelines for its control.