The chicken you eat is not all that healthy

Antibiotic ChickenNew Delhi (ISJ): A study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reveals, indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry industry results in developing antibiotic resistance in humans in India.

Releasing the findings of the biggest study to test residues of antibiotics in chicken by CSE?s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) in New Delhi on Wednesday (July 30), Sunita Narain, its Director General said ?antibiotics are no more restricted to humans or limited to treating diseases.?

?The poultry industry uses antibiotics as a growth promoter. Chickens are fed antibiotics so that they gain weight and grow faster,? said Ms Narain.

PML tested 70 samples of chicken in the national capital and surrounding areas like Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurgaon and found tainted with antibiotic residues in 40 per cent of them. CSE researchers say, antibiotics are routinely injected into chicken during its life cycle of 35-42 days, occasionally given as drug to treat infections, regularly mixed with feed to promote growth and routinely administered to all birds for several days to prevent infections, even when there are no signs of it.

?Our study is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more antibiotics that are rampantly used that the lab has not tested,? said Chandra Bhushan, CSE?s Deputy Director General and Head of the lab.

The samples were tested for the presence of six antibiotics widely used in poultry - oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines); enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin, an aminoglycoside. Of the 40 per cent samples found tainted with antibiotic residues, 22.9 per cent contained residues of only one antibiotic while the remaining 17.1 per cent samples had residues of more than one antibiotic. In one sample purchased from Gurgaon, a cocktail of three antibiotics ? oxytetracycline, doxycycline and enrofloxacin ? was found. This indicates rampant use of multiple antibiotics in the poultry industry.

Large-scale misuse and overuse of antibiotics in chicken causes antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the chicken itself. These bacteria are then transmitted to humans through food or environment. Additionally, eating small doses of antibiotics through chicken can also lead to development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

CSE researchers also reviewed 13 studies conducted by various government and private hospitals across the country between 2002 and 2013 to ascertain the linkage between overuse of antibiotics in poultry and antibiotic resistance in humans. They found that resistance was very high against ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and tetracyclines. These are the same antibiotics that were detected in the chicken samples.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many essential and important antibiotics for humans are being used by the poultry industry. In India, there is growing evidence that resistance to fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin is rapidly increasing. Treating fatal diseases like sepsis, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) with fluoroquinolones is becoming tough because microbes that cause these diseases are increasingly becoming resistant to fluoroquinolones.

The research and advocacy think-tank has urged the government to ban use of antibiotics as growth promoters and for mass diseases preventions - antibiotics critical for humans should not be allowed in the poultry industry, regulate the poultry feed industry ? ban use of antibiotics as a feed additive, set standards for antibiotics in chicken products, among other things.

The study says poultry industry in India is growing at 10 per cent per annum and poultry forms more than 50 per cent of meat consumption in India.

?India will have to adopt a comprehensive approach to tackle this problem. The biggest problem is the emergence of resistant bacteria in animals and its transmission through food and environment. Till the time we keep misusing antibiotics in animals, we will not be able to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance,? said Chandra Bhushan.

-Written by : N.B. Nair

Image courtesy: CSE


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