50% Chickens in India contaminated by antibiotics, says study by CSE

Non-vegetarians need to be careful as there is a possibility that one in every two chicken being consumed in India has strong presence of antibiotics, revealed a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Wednesday stating that “large-scale indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry industry” may also be leading to “growing antibiotic-resistance in humans”.

A study by CSE, conducted over past few months using 70 chicken samples from Delhi-NCR region, revealed presence of “six commonly used antibiotics (by humans)” in chickens. “Antibiotics are no more restricted to humans nor limited to treating diseases.

The poultry industry, for instance, uses antibiotics as a growth promoter. Chickens are fed antibiotics so that they gain weight and grow faster,” said CSE Chief Sunita Narain, while revealing the study in a conference. Three tissues — muscle, liver and kidney — 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.

The study found that 40% samples tested positive for antibiotics including residues of more than one antibiotic found in 17% samples. It also revealed that antibiotics that are important and critical to treat diseases in humans, like ciprofloxacin, are being rampantly used by the industry.

“Our study is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more antibiotics that are rampantly used that the lab has not tested. Large-scale misuse and overuse of antibiotics in chicken is leading to the emergence of 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,” said CSE’s Chandra Bhushan while adding that they reviewed 13 studies to ascertain the linkage between overuse of antibiotics in poultry farms and antibiotic resistance in humans.

“In our review, we found that resistance was very high against ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and tetracyclines. These are the same antibiotics that were detected in the chicken samples,” Bhushan added. He also explained that it is not only non-vegetarians who are at risk but even the vegetarians who may develop resistance to antibiotics.

“Even vegetarians are under threat as bacteria from gut of a drug-resistant chicken can get into the environment and enter into people who don’t consume it directly,” Bhushan added. CSE would be soon testing milks and other products to check use of antibiotics in other products.

Calling for regulations on use of antibiotics in poultry industry, Narain said the study “points to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics as growth promoters by the poultry industry” and “is leading to increased cases of antibiotic resistance in India”.

Narain and Bhushan called for “regulation on controlling antibiotic use in the poultry industry, or to control sales of antibiotics to the industry”. “It is free for all. India has not set any limits for antibiotic residues in chicken. India will have to implement a comprehensive set of regulations including banning of antibiotic use as growth promoters in the poultry industry. Not doing this will put lives of people at risk because with antibiotics losing their effectiveness, the world would need newer antibiotics. But unfortunately, no new class of antibiotics has hit the market since the late 1980s,” said Chandra Bhushan of CSE while showing a bag of antibiotics that CSE acquired from open market without any questions asked.

Bhushan batted for comprehensive approach from Indian government to address the issue. “Worldwide governments are adopting regulations to control the use of antibiotics. But only those countries have shown signs of improvement that have taken stringent actions. EU, for instance, has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. India will have to adopt a comprehensive approach to tackle this problem,” added Chandra Bhushan.

He said government should set standards for antibiotics in chicken products and set up systems for monitoring and surveillance of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in humans and animals.

Chicken is single largest meat consumed in India. In US, which is the largest user of antibiotics for animal food production, more than two million people suffer from antibiotic resistance-related illnesses every year.

Annual healthcare cost due to antibiotic resistance is estimated to be as high as US $20 billion. No such estimates are available for India.

CSE said poultry industry in India is growing at nearly 10%  per annum and they chose chicken for testing as poultry constitutes more than 50% of all the meat consumed in India.

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