Rampant use of antibiotics on animals in India
“I don’t know whether the chicken-based dishes sold at popular fast food restaurants have antibiotics and are a potential source of antimicrobial resistance. However, I have heard of incidences where antibiotics became ineffective in treating illness,” says Nitin Rawat, resident of Ghaziabad. It is estimated that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will cause 10 million deaths per year and loss of outputs worth US$100 trillion by 2050.
In India, it is becoming increasingly difficult to treat common bacterial infections because the pathogens that cause them have become resistant to antibiotics. AMR can lead to greater spread of infectious diseases, uncertainty in success of high-end procedures, longer hospital stays and more expensive treatments.
The misuse of antibiotics in food-animal production, especially for growth promotion, is a key contributor to rise of AMR. India’s rapidly growing fast food industry, which uses meat raised with antibiotics, is a key contributor to the worsening AMR situation.
Currently, there is a huge momentum worldwide to combat AMR. After the adoption of World Health Organization (WHO)-led Global Action Plan on AMR at the World Health Assembly in 2015, many countries have developed their National Action Plans (NAPs) on AMR. Recognising the need to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are used commonly in human and animals, the WHO developed a list of critically important antimicrobials (CIAs) for humans. Combating AMR also received global political support at the United Nations General Assembly in 2016.
Some developed countries, particularly those of the European Union (EU), have addressed AMR through systematic policy and practice initiatives. For example, the use of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) in animals was banned in the EU in 2006. India still allows such use.
Clinching evidence of rampant use of antibiotics on animals in India
India experiences rampant use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes (growth promotion and disease prevention) in poultry farms, according to an investigative report published by Bloomberg in March 2016. Usage of approved antibiotics by fast food brands such as KFC and McDonald’s was among the key highlights of the report.
A 2017 global study projects over 80 per cent increase in antibiotic consumption in livestock by 2030 in India. Currently, two-thirds poultry farms in India use antibiotics for growth promotion, and has also been estimated that consumption of quinolones, macrolides and polymixins is estimated to grow by about 250, 90 and 160 per cent respectively.
A 2017 study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on antibiotic resistance in poultry farm environment found routine antibiotic use in all poultry farms surveyed across four states in North India.
Researchers at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, reported the presence of drug-resistant Salmonella in ready-to-cook poultry products in 2017. Multi-drug resistance was reported towards five or more antibiotics. “I was suffering from seasonal infection this summer and was given heavy doses of antibiotics since my medical reports showed bacterial resistance towards multiple antibiotics,” says Fatima, resident of New Friends Colony in New Delhi.
Growing global momentum to eliminate antibiotics in the supply chain
In response to the growing momentum to reduce animal use of antibiotics and pressure from consumers and investors, along with campaigns by civil society, several US-based multinational companies (MNCs) have come forward and made commitments to reduce antibiotics in their supply chain. Globally, fast food companies have come out with measurable objectives and clear-cut timeframes to reduce and eliminate such use in many countries, including in the US.
By the end of 2017, most fast food companies would already have eliminated medically important antibiotics from chicken supply chain in the US and the remaining would do so before 2020. However, when it comes to India, these companies show double standards and are vague about reduction or elimination frameworks and timelines. This double standard does not augur well for India.