Blood farming is a growing health care and human rights issue that is especially prevalent in India. This highly illegal and immoral practice involves treating human beings (often recent immigrants and individuals from other marginalized populations) much like cattle on an industrial dairy farm. Instead of milk, however, these unfortunate individuals are cruelly and systematically drained of their blood. This blood is then sold on the black market to serve a variety of medical purposes.

In order to prevent escape, blood farmers imprison individuals indefinitely, often securing them around the clock with chains and padlocks. After gaining access to one of these blood farms, investigative journalist Scott Carney described it as “a medical ward fit for a horror movie.” His new book, The Red Market, paints a portrait of a man who was too weak to protest as his blood slowly drained into a plastic bag on the floor. “A crumpled nylon bag next to him held five more pints,” Carney reports. “Inside were another nineteen empty bags ready for filling.”

Blood farming is just one facet of a disturbing international black market that buys and sells various fluids and tissues from the human body. According to a 2013 study by Global Financial Integrity, worldwide organ trafficking is big business, generating between $600 million and $1.2 billion in total annual profits.

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In general terms, organ and blood trafficking crime can be divided into 3 broad categories. The first is when traffickers directly force or indirectly deceive victims into unwilling donations. The second encompasses instances in which victims formally or informally agree to sell fluid or tissue before being cheated out of the funds that they were promised. The third category includes individuals who have organs or blood removed without their knowledge while being treated for other real or falsified medical ailments.

In addition to preying upon immigrant populations, organ traffickers and blood farmers typically seek out migrant workers, the homeless, the illiterate, and other vulnerable individuals. A recent United Nations report identified the international organ trade as a highly organized criminal industry that involves a host of offenders, including recruiters, transporters, contractors, and a wide range of medical professionals.

Of the 106,879 global organ transplants that occurred in 2010, as many as 10% are estimated to have involved organs that were obtained through illegal channels. According to Dr. Luc Noel of the World Health Organization, the real organ harvesting numbers may be even higher. “The stakes are so big, the profit that can be made so huge, that the temptation is out there,” she said.

Illegal organs and blood generally flow from poorer countries in Asia, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe to more affluent countries, such as Israel, Japan, Canada, Australia, England, and the US. Although the sale of human organs has been banned in the US since 1984, suspects have been convicted of the crime as late as 2011. Mainstream American physicians universally abhor the influx of black market organs for a variety of safety and human rights reasons.