Bovine gallstones are worth more than their weight in gold


Declan O'Brien and Louise Hogan

There’s gold in them thar … cows.

It appears bovine gallstones are being given the kid glove treatment in meat factories as pristine specimens can rival gold bullion prices and fetch up to €35,000/kg in the Far East.

However, the caveat is they are extremely scarce.

“They are like gold dust, but they are really rare,” said Paul Daly from the Irish Casing Company.

“Not every animal has them; maybe more of the older cows have them. You are talking about grams from an animal. A kilo could take a plant maybe a year; you have to collect them, put them in an area to dry them — they can’t crack. They have to be handled with care. They are graded.”

The stones are used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of hepatitis and liver and heart-related diseases.

It has also been suggested by some elders in the beef game that they are used as an aphrodisiac in Japan.

They have been harvested from old cows since the start of the meat processing industry in Ireland.

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An increased emphasis on the value of offal and other by-products resulted in Japan being identified by Irish factories as a valuable outlet for bovine gallstones

(pictured) in the late 1950s.

Co Offaly-based company Expert Gallstones Trade Ltd has been building a network of suppliers over the past year.

A spokesman said their family has long been involved in the beef trade and they now collect gallstones from factories in Ireland and throughout Europe.

They use a special system for harvesting them, with a dry box.

“They are very scarce. You could kill 2,000 animals and find nothing for a whole month,” he said. “It is not as simple as people think. People need to know how to buy, and the quality. There is a lot of counterfeit stuff as well. So if you don’t know the trade you can lose your money.”

A spokesman also emphasised that quality is key and that can vary dramatically.

It is understood that the gallstones are being put into safe keeping by factories that come across them during processing. The increased security follows thefts of gallstones from slaughter plants around the world because of their black market value.

Gallstones are small, hard masses that form in the gallbladder from a digestive fluid called bile and can be very painful.

The stones form in cattle because of problems between the heart and liver.

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