The Union health ministry has for the first time set a timeframe for keeping food-producing animals, such as dairy cattle, treated with antibiotics out of human food chain. The amendment in rule 97 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, also suggests that the antibiotics, which are used for therapeutic purposes in animals, should be labelled with the withdrawal period.
Withdrawal period is the time interval between the last administration of veterinary medicines to animals under normal conditions and production of food stuff from such animals.
The amendment says that for antibiotics for which no withdrawal periods are mentioned on the labels, a standard withdrawal period will have to be followed. In this case, milk and eggs should be kept out of the human food chain for minimum one week, poultry and meat products for 28 days while fish and other marine products for 500 degree-days (unit takes into account both time and temperature).
Mass scale use of antibiotics and growth promoters for food producing animals has been reported in India in recent times, especially in factory farms, where food-producing animals and poultry are kept in confined space. These have side-effects. Not only do food products derived from these animals contain residues of antibiotics, excreta of these animals contaminates the environment. One may also become resistant to antibiotics after consuming products from these animals.
“Such a regulation can be successful if it is based on what would be the health risk of the final product on human beings with a particular amount of antibiotics residue. The Codex has laid down antibiotics recommendations based on risk assessment of the final products and these should be considered,” says S Dave, chairperson, Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Though these amendments acknowledge the problems posed by the incessant use of antibiotics, they might not be sufficient to reduce the antibiotics present in the food chain, says N G Jayasimha, campaign manager (farm animals) at Humane Society International (HSI). “There is no infrastructure or monitoring mechanism to keep a check on antibiotics’ consumption level with the proposed regulation. It should ideally be regulated farm-wise and the practice of factory farming should be banned to produce desired results,” he adds. HSI is an US-based animal protection organisation.
The amendment, however, keeps honeybees out of the purview. Bees are reportedly fed with huge amounts of antibiotics for non-therapeutic uses and traces of antibiotics are also found in the honey.