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New Measures Will Reduce Antibiotic Use

26 November 2011, at 4:16pm

INDIA - The health ministry is to specify withdrawal periods for antibiotics in poultry, livestock and shrimp, as the result of pressure from the EU, in order to reduce the risk of the development of antimicrobial resistance.

The days of pumping antibiotics to make chicken fatter and shrimp bigger are numbered, reports Times of India.

The Union health ministry is inserting a new norm in the Drugs and Cosmetics rule that will specify the withdrawal period, or the timeframe for poultry, livestock and marine products to be kept off antibiotics before they enter the food chain.

According to the new insertion in Rule 97, eggs and milk products will have to be off antibiotics for seven days before they enter the food chain. The corresponding figure for poultry and livestock items will be 28 days. For fish, it is specified at 500 degree days, taking into account both temperature of water and number of days.

The European Union has been pressing New Delhi to specify the withdrawal timeframe as it imports meats and fish products from India.

There is overwhelming evidence that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics via feed to promote growth in livestock, poultry and fish contributes to antibiotic resistance among humans. Some experts say antibiotics are eight times more likely to be used for non-therapeutic purposes than for treating a sick animal.

A ministry official told Times of India: "When animals pumped with antibiotics enter our food chain, we consume residual antibiotics in meat and develop resistance to these drugs. The withdrawal period will ensure the meat does not carry antibiotic residues in excess quantities. Containers of these drugs used by vets will mention the withdrawal period."

How will this rule be governed?

The official explained: "Rules will be formulated, and then cleared by the law ministry. This will be followed by a gazette notification. Subsequently, state drug controller generals will be informed that under the Act, they can check with poultry and livestock farmers on whether they are adhering to the withdrawal timeframe."

Antibiotic resistance is becoming rampant in India, according to the newspaper. Indiscriminate and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food, livestock and fish farming is fuelling the epidemic.

Experts say treated animals become 'factories' for production and distribution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Salmonella and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Even if farmers turn to antibiotics that are not commonly used to treat people, these drugs – administered over a prolonged period – can promote resistance, according to the report.

India has prepared a National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance, which puts a cap on how much antibiotics can be pumped into seafood or poultry products, including shrimps, prawns and various species of fish and fishery products.

The policy has named common antibiotics like tetracycline, oxytetracycline, trimethoprim and oxolinic acid, and clearly mentions that it "shall not exceed the prescribed tolerance limit". The use of over 20 antibiotics or pharmacologically active substances has been prohibited in seafood and poultry products. However, the ministry is yet to notify the policy.

In a recent review study, researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine, Stuart Levy said: "For the past 70 years, humans have relied on antibiotics to combat bacterial infections such as streptococcus, meningitis, tuberculosis and urinary tract infections. The misuse has made antibiotics less effective at saving lives."

Several studies have demonstrated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can easily spread from animals to people in close contact with animals, such as veterinarians, slaughterhouse workers, farmers and the families of farmers. As much as 90 per cent of antibiotics given to livestock find their way into environment.

Resistance spreads directly by contact and indirectly through food chain, water, air, manure and sludge-fertilized soils, reports Times of India. The broad use of antibiotics in fish food in farm fishing, particularly overseas, leads to leaching, where it can be washed to other sites, exposing wild fish to trace amounts of antibiotics.