Study finds ‘multi antibiotic’ resistant bacteria in chicken samples from Mumbai

There is an urgent need to limit antibiotic use and stop antibiotic misuse for poultry, says study co-author

By Bhavya Khullar
Published: Monday 06 May 2019
A poultry farm. Photo: Vikas Choudhary/CSE

A recent study has steered the fear of consuming chicken laden with antibiotic resistant bacteria yet again. Samples of chicken liver meat and eggs collected from twelve locations in Mumbai were found to contain ‘multi antibiotic’ resistant bacteria.

“One of the bacterial isolate was, in fact, resistant to all of the 12 antibiotics we tested”, Vikas Jha, senior research analyst at the National Facility for Biopharmaceuticals in Mumbai, who is a co-author of the study, told Down To Earth.

His team collected 24 samples of chicken liver meat and eggs from poultry shops across 12 locations in Mumbai and its vicinity namely Vasai, Borivali, Santacruz, Lower Parel, Matunga, Sion, Ghatkopar, Kurla, Chembur, Wadala, Vashi, and Panvel.

Samples were brought to a lab and used for isolating bacterium Salmonella that is known to cause food poisoning. Then, bacteria were tested for susceptibility to 12 antibiotics that are important for treating infections in humans. These are Amoxicillin, azithromycin, ciprofloxacin, ceftriaxone, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, gentamicin, levofloxacin, nitrofurantoin and tetracycline.

More than 90 per cent of the bacterial isolates were resistant to azithromycin, erythromycin, nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim and more than 60 per cent of the isolates were resistant to tetracycline, gentamicin, chloramphenicol and amoxillin. “Excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed is one of the prime reasons for such antibiotic resistance”, warns Jha.  

Notably, antibiotics azithromycin and erythromycin to which the bacteria showed resistance in the present study are macrolides that are listed as a highest priority critically important antibiotic by the World Health Organization (WHO). This implies that it is the sole or one of the limited available therapies to treat serious bacterial infections in people.

“It is worth considering the speed at which pathogens are gaining resistance to antibiotics which is why there is an urgent need to limit antibiotic use and stop antibiotic misuse for poultry. A study like ours can help to plan necessary steps to protect the health of poultry consumers”, said Jha.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-profit, had highlighted the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in poultry farming in India as growth promoters and has been advocating the need to eliminate non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals.

In 2014, the Union agriculture ministry issued an advisory for not using antibiotics in feed or feed supplements for animals but it is voluntary and hence non-enforceable. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) also recommends not using antibiotics with systemic action as antibiotic growth promoters in feed. However, this is again not mandatory.

India’s National Action Plan on AMR (NAP-AMR) calls for restricting and phasing out non-therapeutic antimicrobials. In view of this, the apex food regulator of the country, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, has recently come up with standards for antibiotics in animal food samples. But it has also listed standards for colistin which is a highest priority critically important antibiotic according to the WHO, implying that its use is allowed. Recently, the Drug Technical Advisory Board — India’s highest drug advisory body — recommended stopping the use of high priority critically important antibiotics in poultry but the proposal is yet to be formalised.

“The high resistance level in bacteria against antibiotics of human importance is alarming. It is high time that Centre and state governments take urgent action on limiting antibiotic misuse for growth promotion and disease prevention in food-animal production”, said Rajeshwari Sinha, deputy programme manager, food safety and toxins unit, CSE.

The study was done by Meenakshi Bandyopadhyay, Vikas Jha, BS Ajitkumar and Ashish Jhangiani of the National Facility for Biopharmaceuticals, Aldel’s St. Johns College of Humanities and Sciences and VES College of Pharmacy in Mumbai. It was published in the May issue of the journal Acta Scientific Microbiology.

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