Chicken, eggs may be making you resistant to antibiotics, says study
The study – the largest of its kind in India – published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, found high levels of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in chickens raised for meat and eggs on farms in Punjab.Updated: Jul 20, 2017 17:14 IST
The chicken and eggs you consume could be making you resistant to antibiotics, says a new study done in India by US-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP).
The study – the largest of its kind in India – published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, found high levels of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in chickens raised for meat and eggs on farms in Punjab.
Drug-resistant pathogens, if they find their way into the human body, can be difficult to treat. The Poultry Federation of India (PFI) refuted the claims and said that they were careful about the use of growth promoters in India after adverse reports on their use in US and Europe.
The CDDEP study assumes significance as there has been an increasing demand and consumption for animal products which has led to the rise in use of antibiotics as growth promoters. Previous CDDEP studies have projected that globally, antibiotic consumption in food animal production will rise by 67% by 2030 with India tripling its consumption. But indiscriminate prescription and use of antibiotics and other medicines has also led to concerns about drug resistance in pathogens that cause infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, urinary tract infection and even HIV.
“Overuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers all of us. We must remove antibiotics from the human food chain, except to treat sick animals, or face the increasingly real prospect of a post-antibiotic world,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, lead investigator and director, CDDEP. “This study has serious implications, not only for India but globally.”
Researchers collected samples from 530 birds on 18 poultry farms to test them for resistance to a range of antibiotic medications that are important to human medicine. The study found that samples from two-third of farms that used antibiotics as growth promoters in birds were three times more likely to be multidrug-resistant than samples without antibiotics.
Researchers found 39% resistance for ciprofloxacin that is used to treat endocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscles and valves), gastroenteritis, cellulitis (bacterial skin infection) and respiratory tract infections, among other infection. The study also found 86% resistance to nalidixic acid which is commonly used to treat urinary tract infections.
In addition to higher rates of multidrug resistance, antimicrobial resistance from meat farms was also found to be twice more than egg-producing farms.
“Additional testing revealed the presence of certain enzymes that confer drug resistance to medications used, for example, to treat E. coli, bacterial pneumonia, and other infections. Almost 60 per cent of E. coli isolates analysed contained these enzymes,” the study stated.
Some of the antibiotic drugs used as growth promoters are similar to those used in poultry farms in the US and other parts of the world. In January, the US Food and Drug Administration directed a voluntary ban on using antibiotics as growth promoters in animals.
A member of the Poultry Federation of India (PFI) refuted the claims on the implications of antibiotic use as growth promoters for poultry. “We work with government laboratories and research centres, as well as international laboratories to ensure there are no impacts of humans. We are not careless about human lives as it supports every other life around. In fact some growth promoters do not affect humans, and we are working on probiotic growth promoters too,” said a PFI member. “These antibiotic growth promoters have been extensively used in the US and Europe which had boomeranged on them. But in India we are careful and there is consensus on their use with various government bodies.”
The concern about indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led the Maharashtra government to propose mandatory protocols and guidelines, Complying with the new global strategy, adopted by member countries of the World Health Organization (WHO), the government may ask doctors and chemists to follow certain mandatory protocols and guidelines while prescribing antibiotics. “Consumption of poultry products which are of sub standard could lead to antimicrobial resistance in humans. In India, maintenance of standards food products is not strict, which is a reason for worry as more and more people could be acquiring resistance,” said Dr Madhu Goel, general physician, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central
Using life-saving drugs to fatten chicken
Resistant genes can be generated in hospitals and on farms and can spread everywhere. “The kind of resistance we see in the study is worrying, rather alarming because it shows extremely high levels of multi-drug resistance in organisms that we see in hospitals as well. This is what is killing babies in India. This is also what is being picked up on farms,” Laxminarayan told HT.
Drawing parallels with air pollution, he said bacteria is present in air water and soil, and a vast majority has become drug resistant which means humans are constantly ingesting bacteria that is drug resistant. “We are wasting these very valuable drugs to make sure the chicken gets fatter in 30 days as opposed to 32 days. These are valuable drugs that can get someone back to life from the verge of dying,” he said. “As a society we need to ask whether we want to use the same drugs as an agriculture input to make chickens fatter. Consumers in Europe and US have made the decision that they don’t want to.”
“That awareness is not there in India. Here someone eating butter chicken doesn’t know that the entire chicken has lived its life on antibiotics. And if the person’s child dies of a resistant bug or his mother of a multi organ failure in the hospital, they don’t mentally make the connection between their own action, and the cause and effect in their own minds,” said Laxminarayan , adding, “Chicken with good nutrition and hygiene, and clean water don’t need antibiotics. If they are not treated properly and denied basic nutrition, then using antibiotics is a substitute. It may be a cheap substitute but it doesn’t mean it’s the right one.”
Adding, “There are other ways to raise the chicken by which the cost may go up slightly. But that’s a societal choice; do we want chicken that 5%cheaper and destroy our resistance?”