Are new draft rules on antibiotics in poultry enough?

Antibiotic misuse in all poultry birds and livestock must be urgently addressed

By Bhavya Khullar
Published: Wednesday 08 May 2019

Egg-laying poultry birds should be administered antibiotics only to treat diseases, that too under veterinary supervision. Their feed should be free of growth promoters. These were put forth by the Centre in a recent draft notification.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Egg Laying Hens) Rules, 2019 also underscores the need for farm registration, farm biosecurity, appropriate disposal of spent hens to prevent infection in egg-laying ones and timely inspection.

In India and across the world, antibiotics are misused in food animals such as poultry. This adds to the growing burden of antibiotic resistance (ABR), recognised by the World Health Organization as a global public health challenge. 

In food animals, antibiotics are misused in two ways: They are fed to chicken to fatten them and also to prevent diseases — as a substitute to farm hygiene. 

The draft implies that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics such as mass disease prevention in egg-laying poultry should not be practiced. Growth promoters also include antibiotics.

ABR could claim 10 million lives by 2050 and result in significant global economic losses, if not timely contained.

Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment has highlighted antibiotic misuse in India’s poultry sector for non-therapeutic purposes like growth promotion and disease prevention over the last decade. It has advocated the need to urgently restrict and reduce the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters in food animals.

The draft rules are provided as amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (AHD), under the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. 

Until now, AHD only had an advisory in 2014 to stop the use of antibiotics in feed or feed supplements for livestock and poultry. But it remains voluntary and hence non-enforceable. The current draft by AHD, when implemented, will be a step further in ABR containment as it would make it mandatory for farmers to use antibiotics solely for disease treatment and prohibit growth promoter use in feed.

But since the regulation would cater only to egg-laying poultry; it will address the antibiotic misuse problem in the country only partially. Moreover, the rules are expected to enter into force on January 1, 2020, and existing farms could change to these new guidelines not later than January 1, 2025. While farmers are being given ample time for this transition, this delay may dilute the purpose of this regulation even further. In view of urgency of the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) situation, restrictions with respect to non-therapeutic antibiotic use in egg-laying poultry should not wait for so long to be fully implemented.

India’s National Action Plan on AMR calls for restricting and phasing out non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials such as their use as growth promoters and disease prevention in animals. While this is a step towards the right direction, there is still more to be done. The Centre and state governments must collectively take action on limiting antibiotic misuse in all food animals including poultry that is bred for both, eggs and meat.

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