Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021: What are herbal alternatives for antibiotics in dairy and poultry?

Enhancing host immunity by using scientifically proven herbs has gained momentum as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters

By Anup Kalra, MJ Saxena
Published: Wednesday 24 November 2021

Antibiotic resistance has emerged globally as one of the major threats to human health. It leads to an additional burden on the health system as well as treatment failures.

Public health experts agree that overuse, misuse and abuse of antibiotics in intensive animal production for growth promotion contributes significantly to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Antibiotic growth promoters (AGP) are banned, and there is debate on looking for alternate solutions.

There is a greater knowledge today on the use of herbal alternative growth promoters — phytogenic sources with proven scientific rationale and worldwide acceptance are an example. Due to the increase in demand of antibiotic-free and safe produce, farmers have started to produce antibiotic-free chicken eggs and milk, which fetch higher profits.

Antibiotics are central to modern medicine. They help treat infectious diseases. But bacterial infections are increasingly common, so farmers tend to observe growth promotion with low doses of antibiotics mixed with feed.

More than half of the globally produced antibiotics are used in animals for growth promotion. Finding alternatives for AGPs offers an opportunity out of concern for food safety. 

Strategies to reduce AMR

It is imperative to move to alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters to reduce AMR and improve food safety. Many scientific explorations suggest that phytogenic solutions can help grow friendly micro-flora and reduce pathogenic strains, giving proper integrity to the gut walls.

The use of antibiotics as growth promoters can be eliminated without compromising productivity.

Many phytogenic ingredients in nature are known to act against harmful microbes and help in growth promotion without producing resistance. Some examples are Tulsi (basil), Ashwagandha (ginseng) and Amla (gooseberry).

Clinically validated solutions can impart benefits to the farming community. These solutions can be used as feed additives and enhance value of safe animal food production.

Other herbal solutions help:

  • Control mastitis
  • Improve liver function and health
  • Improve skin health
  • Improve milk production
  • Manage stress in dairy production

Quality and constituents in herbs decide the efficacy and the expected value creation for farmers and stakeholders. Whether the medicinal plant is cultivated in India or abroad makes all the difference. These medicinal plants are produced using certified seeds and quality soil under the supervision of experts.

Holistic approach to replace antibiotics

Antibiotic use for growth promotion, however, can be problematic too. Several herbs reduce the pathogenic load in the intestine, respiratory system as well as other vital organs.

These phytochemicals initiate responses from the natural defence mechanism of the body, so that cytokines acquire the role of natural killer cells and check the microbial population.

This approach to enhance host immunity by using scientifically proven herbs has gained momentum as an alternative to AGPs. This strategy is effective to produce antibiotic-free milk, meat, eggs and other animal proteins.

Solutions made from a mixture of herbs and essential oils have antibacterial (static) and antiviral properties. They also facilitate healing action of gut epithelium. It also has a strong antioxidant property that diminishes the damaging effect of free radicals.

Such solutions have been tested against feed supplements made from Tetracycline, Salinomycin, Enramycin, Bacitracin Methyl Salicylate, Roxarsone and many other popular alternative growth promoters with great success.

The powerful synergistic combination of herbal extracts and essential oils products adsorbs and inactivates enterotoxins, and has antibacterial and antiviral activities. It protects the gastro-intestinal mucosa and maintains a healthy gut.  

They also exhibit inhibitory effects on Clostridium, Salmonella, E.coli. They also help increase helpful bacteria like lactobacillus and bifidobacteriam.

They also provide a reprieve from respiratory distress. Ingredients herbs and essential oils not only have antiviral and antibacterial effects, but also help build immunity locally. Robust action of cilia and mucus-producing defence mechanism helps animal / birds fight respiratory infection without lowering productivity.

We need to look at the responsible use of antibiotics, especially the ones used for growth promotion. Our efforts simultaneously should focus on nutrition, health and hygiene index to keep animals healthy and productive.

It is time we create consumer awareness to mitigate the risk of AMR under the National Action Plan on AMR.

Views expressed are the author's own and don't necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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