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Your Tandoori Chicken Could Be Making You Resistant To Antibiotics

67% of the poultry farms tested used antimicrobials as growth boosters—despite a government ban.

07/09/2017 9:07 AM IST | Updated 07/09/2017 1:35 PM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters

I'm a vegetarian, but most of my friends and family love chicken, which means that I've tagged along with them to buy chicken over the years (not my favourite activity). One thing I've noticed is that the chickens today seem much larger than the ones people bought when I was a kid. This led me to do some research, and what I found out was that poultry in India are regularly fed a concoction of antibiotics to make them larger! But antibiotics are prescription drugs for a good reason. They have some serious side effects.

The Hindustan Times recently carried an article about how poultry, especially chickens, are fed antibiotic growth promoters. The article noted that this practice has serious health implications since it contributes to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. The article was based on a study conducted by the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. The study found that 67% of the farms tested used antimicrobials as growth boosters. The study concluded that this has potentially deadly consequences for India since this practice contributes to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The article also notes that most Indians are completely unaware of the fact that their chicken is being pumped with antibiotics.

Although cooking at high temperatures kills the bacteria in the meat, it doesn't get rid of some of the antibiotic residues, which could then cause side effects associated with excessive antibiotic use...

The study also found another disturbing side effect of feeding poultry antibiotics. The same Hindustan Times article includes an interview with the Director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, Ramanan Laxminarayan. He points out that workers on poultry farms can get infected by drug-resistant bacteria either by breathing them in or through exposed body parts like uncovered feet. The infected workers can then end up spreading the infection, potentially causing a drug-resistant epidemic.

Another article about the same study, this one published by Bloomberg, noted that, as a result of continuous ingestion of antibiotics, 87% of the broiler poultry tested carried bacteria that produced enzymes which destroy most penicillin and cephalosporin-based antibiotics. The corresponding figure for egg-laying hens was 47%, which is also an unacceptably high number.

Another problem with pumping poultry (or for that matter any other animals meant for human consumption) with antibiotics, is that although cooking at high temperatures kills the bacteria in the meat, it doesn't get rid of some of the antibiotic residues, which could then cause side effects associated with excessive antibiotic use such as adverse drug reactions, and an increased risk of colonisation and infection with multidrug-resistant organisms.

If this practice is so widespread and unsafe, the government should do something about it, right? Guess what, it has! The use of antibiotics in animal feed was banned way back in 2014!

The fact that, even after a ban, the practice of using antibiotics in poultry feed is still widespread three years later is extremely disturbing. The Central and state governments must figure out a way to ensure the strict implementation of this ban. If this problem isn't dealt with, we are looking at the very real possibility of a drug-resistant epidemic.

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