Sunday, October 26, 2014


When antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens emerged in Western countries, many took solace that it would not happen in India. But if recent reports are to be believed India is on the threshold of such a contingency it the present poultry farming practices are any indication. Use of popular antibiotic drugs, commonly prescribed by physicians to cure illnesses among human beings, by poultry farmers is a controversial subject with many health experts claiming that constant exposure to such antibiotics lead to many pathogens learning to over come the lethal effect of these vital drugs over a period of time. It is true that there are a few strains of pathogenic bacteria which are not killed by any of the known antibiotics leading to a situation where human lives are exposed to fatal dangers. According to some investigative journalists, Indian farmers have also learned how to "fatten" their birds by administering sub-lethal doses of some antibiotics and the processed meat from them often contain antibiotic residues which are consumed regularly by the consumers without being aware of the adverse consequences of the same. Since there are no stringent regulations which are enforced, this undesirable practice is spreading fast in the industry. Here is a take on this critical issue. 

"Poultry farmers can now afford to count their profits before their chickens hatch — and they are big, with chickens weighing on average twice as much as they did 50 years ago. The broiler chicken of today, a product of controlled breeding, weighs around 2.2kg as compared to 1.2kg before 1960, say veterinarians and chicken farm owners. Contract farming started in India in the early 1960s, taking over from multi-breed coops that contained birds of various breeds and ages. Contract farming involves the industrialised breeding chickens of the same age and variety.This method of poultry farming employs improved feed formulations and vaccination, says R Prabhakaran, former vice-chancellor of Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. "Selective breeding has increased livability of the birds," he said. "Since the 1960s mortality rate of chickens has reduced from 10% to 2% due to improved nutrition and hygiene in farms." The downside of scientific poultry farming is that medication administered to the birds may find their way to the table. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in July showed that one in two chickens in the country had antibiotic contamination. Farms give chickens feed mixed with antibiotics that act as growth promoters. Most stop the antibiotics a few days before slaughter. This allows the birds to flush out the remnants of the antibiotics. "Farms should ideally not feed birds antibiotics at least 10 days before slaughter," Prabhakaran said. Because farms seldom follow this, antibiotic residue in meat passes on to humans. Scientists have shown that large-scale use of antibiotics by the poultry industry has caused antibiotic resistance in people who eat chicken regularly, leaving them vulnerable to a range of bacterial infections. Scientists have shown that large-scale use of antibiotics by the poultry industry has caused antibiotic resistance in people who eat chicken regularly, leaving them vulnerable to a range of bacterial infections. Chickens also pass on residue of antibiotics through their faeces, which may spread through water and soil and eventually end up in crops, putting even vegetarians at risk of antibiotic resistance."

Though stopping feeding of antibiotic tweeted feed materials can be stopped 10 days before processing the birds to avoid significant presence of residues, there is no guarantee that the meat from such birds would be free from antibiotics. Regular consumption of such meats can also destroy some beneficial microbes in the intestine causing over all decrease in immunity. Besides the poultry excreta and waste which at present are not scientifically disposed off, also contain significant amounts of antibiotic residues which can potentially contaminate the soil and water. A country like the US is mulling over this issue and remedial measures are being seriously considered. Probably alternate set of antibiotics, which are not used by humans can be considered for use by the animal food industry which can considerably reduce the dangers of further evolution of antibiotic resistant pathogens in future.


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