The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found antibiotics in 40% of the 70 chicken samples it tested from Delhi and the NCR.
Seventeen per cent of the samples tested had more than one drug, found the CSE study, Antibiotics in Chicken: From Farm to Fork, which was released on Wednesday.
Animals are fed antibiotics to add to growth and bulk, which causes resistance in bacteria in animals, which then gets transferred to humans through food. Annual healthcare cost due to antibiotic resistance is estimated to be US $20 billion.
Cooking chicken at temperatures between 70° and 100°C for at least two minutes at the centre kills most bacteria, says the World Health Organisation. Some bacteria, however, can survive on kitchen surfaces or in storage areas where the temperatures is below 60°C.
Thirty-six chicken samples from Delhi, 12 from Noida, eight from Gurgaon and seven each from Faridabad and Ghaziabad were tested by the CSE lab for the presence of six commonly-used antibiotics, including tetracycline and ciprofloxacin.
The medicines found are used to treat various infections including that of the urinary tract, eye and ear, blood stream, diarrhoea, pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections.
Residues were found from three parts per billion to 31 parts per billion per kg. “The safe limit is zero,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
“Adding antibiotic to chicken feed of one chicken saves a poultry farm Rs. 25 per kg of chicken meat,” he said. India’s poultry industry is estimated to be Rs. 50,000 crore, growing at 10% per year. Thirty-five lakh tonnes of chicken meat is produced each year.
Unlike in Europe, use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry in India is totally unregulated as the government has adopted the US model of self-regulation. “Denmark reduced use of antibiotics for chickens by 90%, but it did not impact broiler death and productivity,” said Bhushan.
The spread of drug resistance from animals to humans can be compared to a nuclear chain reaction that is uncontrollable. “The gain that we have made in modern medicine over the years is at risk," said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE.
Antibiotics were used as growth promoters that made chicks fat without feeding them much. "The samples analysed show antibiotics are fed in low doses over a prolonged period of time, without any disease," says Bhushan.
Prescription antibiotics are freely available in India. “My team bought antibiotics imported from China without a manufacturing date at Bhagirath Place in Delhi, and a dealer in Karnal (Haryana) assured him of an unlimited supply of any antibiotic he wanted,” said Bhushan.