That India’s food chain is heavily contaminated is well known. Even then the latest study by the Centre for Science and Environment, a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi, on the growing antibiotic resistance in humans, thanks to indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry industry is frightening. The report, which was released on Wednesday, claims that Indians are developing resistance to antibiotics and so falling prey to a host of otherwise curable ailments. And some of this resistance, the study adds, might be due to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. The study done by the organisation’s pollution-monitoring lab tested 70 chicken samples from the Delhi-National Capital Region for six commonly used antibiotics: 40% samples were found positive and residues of more than one antibiotic found in 17% samples. Such large-scale contamination can only mean that the poultry industry uses these antibiotics as growth promoters. India has not set any limits for antibiotic residues in chicken.
This indiscriminate use of antibiotics, leading to resistance, has happened because the country has no regulation on controlling antibiotic use in the poultry industry, or to control sales of antibiotics to the industry. That the situation is extremely serious can be gauged by the fact that even people who stay in rural areas, who don’t use antibiotics regularly, are found to be antibiotic -resistant. This is happening because our everyday food is also becoming contaminated by antibiotics. Add to these, there have been several reports that traces of toxic metals have been found in fruit and vegetables. In fact, the Delhi government is planning a ban on farming with contaminated water from the Yamuna. Additives and compounds are also routinely added. Food additives, scientists say, are capable of altering hormones.
Even though public health experts have long suspected that such rampant use of antibiotics in animals could be a reason for increasing antibiotic resistance among humans in India, the government has no data on the use of antibiotics in the country, let alone on antibiotic resistance. Worldwide, governments are adopting regulations to control the use of antibiotics: The European Union, for instance, has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. Since much of the food trade in India is in the unorganised sector, the first step to reverse the present bull run of antibiotics will be to set up a mechanism to gather data on the depth of the problem and also a system to check the rampant use of antibiotics. But the most comprehensive step forward would be to do what the EU has done: Ban the use of antibiotics as growth promoters.