Indian poultry farms aren't just producing chickens-in reality they're also producing germs capable of preventing all but the most potent antibiotics, reserachers found. In Punjab, a major poultry state, health researchers have detected widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics on farms and drug-resistant superbugs in chicken that they say could threaten human health.
Health reserachers were tracking poultry breeding practices. Their study, based on 1,500 samples of bacteria picked up through swabs of 530 live birds from 18 farms has found that over two-thirds of farms used antibiotics as growth promoters and broiler farms had twice the antibiotic resistance as layer farms.
"We saw an abundance of overuse of antibiotics in the farms we surveyed," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics Economics and Policy (CDDEP), a research think tank based in Washington DC and New Delhi. "The use of antibiotics for growth promotion can turn poultry farms into reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria that could pose a threat to human health," he said.
According to the study published in the journal Environmental Health, samples of bacteria resistant to several antibiotics, including 39 per cent resistance to ciprofloxacin, a drug used to treat respiratory infections to 86 per cent resistance tonalidixic acid, an antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections.
Most of the farms surveyed in the study had on average about 50,000 birds and all reported using antibiotics. Among 16 farms that agreed to rerspond to the survey, 12 reported using antibiotics for growth promotion.
According to scientists, poultry farm workers in direct contact with the birds are at high risk of picking up drug resistant bacteria and spreading them into the community.Two-thirds of the farm workers questioned in this survey showed they do not wear closed-toe shoes or other precautions when enteringpoultry sheds.
“This study has serious implications, not only for India but globally,” said study author Ramanan Laxminarayan, director at the Centre for Disease Dynamics, and Policy in New Delhi, in a statement. “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.”
A survey by the New Delhi-based non-government Centre for Science and Environment had in 2014 reported that 40 per cent of 70 chicken meat samples picked up from retail shops in Delhi contained antibiotic residues relating to several antibiotics, including a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones.
The US banned the use of fluoroquinolones for veterinary use in poultry in 2005 after studies indicated that using the drugs to treat respiratory diseases in poultry contributed to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria in humans and animals. And Europe has banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in response to evidence that growth promoting antibiotics drive the spread of resistance.
The Union health ministry had in April this year announced a national multi-ministerial action plan to curb antibiotic resistance that calls on the Union agriculture ministry and animal husbandry departments to take measures to stop the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on farms.