Use of antibiotics in animal food leads to drug resistance in humans

A new report highlights the risks of antibiotic use in animals and their presence in effluents from pharmaceutical companies

By Mouna Nagaraju
Published: Friday 11 December 2015
Photo: Thinkstock

A new report has revealed that antibiotic use in agriculture promotes resistance in humans. Titled “Antimicrobials in agriculture and the environment: reducing unnecessary use and waste”, the report has been released after a literature review of nearly 150 published articles on use of antibiotics in agriculture.

The report should be a clear indication for policy makers to reduce global use of antimicrobials in production of food, including food-producing animals.

The study has also highlighted the danger of antibiotics found in effluents released by pharmaceutical companies amid lack of norms. The report is the third in a series of reports released by Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, an institution commissioned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron last year to study antimicrobial resistance.

The study also points out that large scale antibiotic use in agriculture – in food animals, aquaculture and crop growing, across the globe. High use of antibiotics among food-producing animals leads to entry of antibiotics in the environment through animal excreta.

 What’s the solution?

 The report proposes three interventions to tackle antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic releases in industrial effluents:

Firstly, the study suggests reduction in global levels of antibiotic use in food animals by setting a global target antibiotic use/kg of livestock or fish. The report suggests a target of 50 mg of antibiotic/kg of livestock or fish – the level of antibiotic use in Denmark.  The report talks about Denmark that since 1995 has taken a slew of measures including a ban on antibiotic growth promoters in food-producing animals. As a result, Denmark has drastically reduced antibiotic use in agriculture and in the meantime, increased pork production. Today, it is one the largest exporters of pork in the world.

The report suggests that low and middle-income countries would need more time to achieve this target, while high-income countries could arrive at this target in ten years. Apart from the quantity of antibiotic use, the types used are also important, the report adds. The report mentions that there is overlap of antibiotics used in humans and animals and hence, countries should collectively agree to restrict or ban antibiotics important for humans to be used in animals.

The second measure is to set minimum standards to reduce antibiotics in effluents released from pharmaceutical companies, including ones that manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

Thirdly, improve surveillance of antibiotic use in agriculture and antibiotic release during manufacture; their impact on antibiotic resistance and eventually on human health. There are knowledge gaps on both – antibiotic use in agriculture and antibiotic release during manufacture – the report mentions.

Where does India stand?

India was one the top five consumers of antibiotics in food-animals in 2010, as reported by researchers at Princeton University and the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy earlier this year. According to the study, the level of antibiotic use is projected to double between 2010 and 2030 in India and the country is reported to remain a top consumer till 2030 as well.

Mahajan, professor and head at Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology, Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences at Hisar said that there are no statistics on antibiotic use in the production of food animals in the country and hence it is difficult to estimate the current level of antibiotic use in food animals or the approximate time that India needs to reach a target of 50 mg of antibiotic use/kg of livestock or fish. He added that India needs to monitor antibiotic use in food animals and it would helpful to monitor antibiotic use at species level.

Globally, India is a hub for manufacturing APIs. A 2007 study conducted by Swedish scientists reported high levels of several broad-spectrum antibiotics in effluent from a waste-water treatment plant in Patancheru, a hub of API manufacturing companies located near Hyderabad. The study adds that the effluent was released into a nearby river.

When asked about antibiotic residues excreted out of animals and their contribution to antibiotic resistance, Suryanarayana, who was a part of a committee that drafted “Environmental guidelines for poultry farms” in 2012 for Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said that there has been no action on the draft and the guidelines have not yet been notified. When pointed out that the draft guidelines does not propose norms for antibiotic residues, Suryanarayana added that standards for antibiotic residues would help contain antibiotic resistance.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.