Ban use of TB drug on crops: Central panel

Minutes of the meeting said that streptomycin, tetracycline use be phased out by 2022-end for crops for which no options were available

By Rajeshwari Sinha
Published: Monday 11 May 2020
Antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline are used as pesticides on crops. Source: Flickr

The Registration Committee (RC) under the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) recommended that use of antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline be completely banned with immediate effect on crops where other options were available for bacterial disease control.

The final report accepted the recommendation of the sub-committee on production, sale and use of streptomycin sulphate (9 per cent) and tetracycline hydrochloride (1 per cent). The 414th meeting of the RC was held on May 1, 2020. 

The report recommended that streptomycin and tetracycline use be phased out by 2022-end for crops for which no alternatives were available. Till then, the antibiotics could be used on crops strictly as per the label claim.

The minutes of the meeting were uploaded on the website of the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare on May 6, 2020. 

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had been talking about the issue at various platforms over the last couple of years. During the World Antibiotic Awareness Week in November 2019, CSE released a detailed assessment highlighting the rampant misuse of important antibiotics in crops.

It had suggested measures to contain this malpractice and regulate it. In the assessment carried out in agricultural farms of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, CSE had found that streptocycline, a 90:10 combination of streptomycin and tetracycline, was being routinely and indiscriminately used by farmers in high doses in crops.

The findings were published in CSE’s Down to Earth in November 2019.

CSE also brought to light that streptomycin had important use for previously treated tuberculosis (TB) patients, who make up over 10 per cent of the total estimated TB incidence in India. It is also used in multidrug-resistant TB patients and in certain cases of TB meningitis (brain TB).

The World Health Organization recognises streptomycin as a critically important medicine for human use.

Although streptocycline use is allowed for eight crops by the CIBRC, it was found to be used on many more crops in practice. With this ban / phase-out, misuse of streptomycin and tetracycline in crops for which it was not approved will be checked. This will also help plug gaps such as registering them in the name of pesticides or using them in an unregulatory fashion in the absence of prescription.

CSE had earlier recommended that antibiotics should not be used as pesticides for crops, but preserved for treatment of bacterial infections in humans. It had shared its recommendations with all stakeholders concerned, including the CIBRC.

 “We are pleased that the RC has recommended ban of streptomycin in crops. We hope that the agriculture ministry notifies it soon. This move will go a long way in containing AMR”, said Amit Khurana, director of the food safety and toxins programme, CSE.

The RC also acknowledged that diseases in crops can be managed by using integrated pest management and other practices. In line with CSE’s  recommendations, the RC also requested the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to initiate research on better and safe alternatives, such that these could be available for all recommended crops in a time-bound manner.

It has directed that the report be shared with the ICAR and the Department of Agriculture Cooperation for necessary action on suggesting alternatives.

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