Indian Advocacy Body Seeks Ban on Antibiotics in Poultry

INDIA - New Delhi-based research and advocacy think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), is seeking a ban on antibiotic growth promoters in the poultry industry and other measures following the publication of a report into antibiotic residues found in Indian chicken meat. Jagdish Kumar reports.
calendar icon 31 July 2014
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In its report ‘Antibiotics in Chicken: From farm to fork’ conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) and released on 30 July 2014, CSE said that Indians are developing resistance to antibiotics and, hence, falling prey to a host of otherwise curable ailments. Some of this resistance might be due to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics in the poultry industry.

“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,” Sunita Narain, director general, CSE said while releasing the findings of the study.

The report said that CSE lab study found residues of antibiotics in 40 per cent of the samples of chicken that were tested. Chicken is one of the most popular ingredients for non-vegetarian foods in India. has previously reported on government notice to all poultry farms to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feeds.

The report also said that chicken meat production is an industrial process; no longer a backyard activity. India's poultry industry is worth more than US$20 billion, and the market for chicken meat is growing at about 10 per cent for over a decade and 3.5 million tonnes of chicken meat produced in 2013.

Andhra Pradesh is the biggest chicken meat producer with 500,000 tonnes in 2012-13.

Haryana has registered the highest growth rate of over 12 per cent in the last five years and is just short of being at number three. With 340,000 tonnes in 2012-13, Haryana produces about 10 per cent of chicken meat in India. It is a major supplier to Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) region.

Speaking at the release of the report, Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and head of the lab said: “Public health experts have long suspected that such rampant use of antibiotics in animals could be a reason for increasing antibiotic resistance in India.

"The government has no data on the use of antibiotics in the country. Our study proves the rampant use and also shows that this can be strongly linked to growing antibiotic resistance in humans in India," Mr Bhushan added.

PML tested 70 samples of chicken in Delhi and NCR: 36 samples were picked from Delhi, 12 from Noida, eight from Gurgaon and seven each from Faridabad and Ghaziabad. 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.

This is the biggest study done in India to test residues of antibiotics in chicken.

Residues of five of the six antibiotics were found in all the three tissues of the chicken samples. They were in the range of 3.37 to 131.75μg/kg. 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.

CSE researchers point out that antibiotics are frequently given to chickens during their life cycle of 35 to 42 days: they are occasionally given as a 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 Mr Bhushan.

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.

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

Governments worldwide are adopting regulations to control the use of antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that antibiotics that are critical for human use should not be used in animals. Countries have also set standards for antibiotics in food commodities.

Mr Bhusan continued: “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. For India, therefore, the priority should be to put systems in place to reduce the use of antibiotics in poultry and other food animals.”

CSE researchers pointed out that the poultry industry in India is growing at 10 per cent per annum and constitutes more than 50 per cent of all the meat consumed in India.

The Centre also recommended measures to the government that includes ban use of antibiotics as growth promoters and for mass disease prevention:

  • Antibiotics critical for humans should not be allowed in the poultry industry
  • Antibiotics should not be used as a feed additive
  • The government should regulate the poultry feed industry
  • Unlicensed and unlabelled antibiotics should not be sold in the market
  • The government should promote the development of alternatives and good farm management practices
  • Standards should be set for antibiotics in chicken products
  • Systems should be set up for monitoring and surveillance of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in humans and animals; and
  • Pollution control standards should be set up for the poultry industry.
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