A new study has found antibiotic residues in almost half of the chicken samples tested across Delhi-NCR. This could have wider implications on humans, as consumption of the meat could lead to development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the body.
According to research by Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Science & Environment (CSE), 40 per cent of the chicken samples tested contained antibiotics. It said chickens are fed antibiotics to ensure faster growth. “Antibiotics are no more restricted to humans, nor limited to treating diseases. The poultry sector, for instance, uses antibiotics as a growth promoter. Birds are fed antibiotics so that they gain weight and grow faster,” said Sunita Narain, director general at CSE.
However, poultry farmers use antibiotics on the pretext of preventing diseases and it is hard to differentiate between prevention of diseases and growth promotion, the CSE report said.
“It would be difficult to comment on the finding without knowing the exact details about the sample. However, about 94 per cent of the industry is in the unorganised sector, where quality control is an issue,” said Arabind Das, chief operating officer at Godrej Tyson Foods.
The company processes 100,000 birds a day at its plant in Bangalore and Navi Mumbai. “We follow the best global practices to stop any misuse of antibiotics and ensure that every bird goes through a quarantine process so that there is no residual,” Das said.
Bangalore-based Suguna Poultry was not available for comment immediately.
In fact, one-third of the chicken samples tested contained antibiotics generally used for treating serious bacterial infections and the side-effects include diarrhoea, insomnia and mild skin rash.
CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) tested 70 samples of chicken in Delhi and NCR. Of these, half the samples were picked from Delhi, 12 from Noida, eight from Gurgaon and seven each from Faridabad and Ghaziabad.
The study showed of the 40 per cent samples found contaminated with antibiotic residues, 17.1 per cent samples had residues of more than one antibiotic. All the tissues tested – muscles, kidney and liver – had presence of antibiotics.
“Repeated and prolonged exposure to antibiotics lead, by natural selection, to the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria,” Neil Schluger, chief scientific officer at World Lung Foundation, New York, was quoted as saying in the study report.
The presence of antibiotics not only harms poultry but also poses a threat to humans consuming the meat as the antibiotic can invade the human body and cause diseases that are difficult to treat, the report stated.
Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director-general and head of the lab, said the study can substantiate the growing antibiotic resistance among Indians. “Public health experts have long suspected that rampant use of antibiotics in animals could be a reason for increasing antibiotic resistance in India. But the government has no data on the use of antibiotics in the country, let alone on the prevalence of antibiotic resistance. Our study proves the rampant use and also shows this can be strongly linked to the growing antibiotic resistance in humans in India,” according to Bhushan.
As a consequence, drugs consumed by humans lose effectiveness and, in turn, newer antibiotics would have to be discovered. However, no new class of antibiotic has come to market since the 1980s. Certain antibiotics detected even had fatal consequences. For instance, an antibiotic named fluoroquinolone were found in 28.6 per cent of the chicken samples tested.
“Resistance to a class of antibiotics, for instance fluoroquinolone, has fatal consequences. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics are prominently used to combat infections in intensive care units. Treating fatal diseases like sepsis, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) are becoming tough because microbes that cause these diseases are increasingly becoming resistant to fluoroquinolones,” the survey said.
In value terms, the overall poultry market is estimated at about Rs 58,000 crore at the wholesale price level, and is growing at around 8 per cent per annum, according to a report released by rating agency ICRA in 2014. According to Planning Commission documents, the per capita chicken consumption in India was around three kg in 2010, compared to 0.16 kg in 1961.