India’s poultry industry adds to drug resistance

poultry farm_Pan American Health Organization_Flickr
Copyright: Pan American Health Organization/Flickr

Speed read

  • Indian poultry harbour high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • New study points to indiscriminate use of antibiotics by India’s poultry farms
  • Experts call for ban on the use of antibiotics in poultry production

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[NEW DELHI] Chickens farmed for meat and eggs in India’s Punjab state harbour high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, says a new Indo-US study.
“Misuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers all of us because it multiplies drug resistance in the environment,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Washington-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, and who led the study published July in Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study found broilers, or poultry raised for meat, having greater concentrations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than layers, which are raised for eggs. Antibiotics are used to induce rapid growth in broilers and as a cheaper alternative to maintaining hygiene, the study notes.

“Misuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers all of us because it multiplies drug resistance in the environment.”

Ramanan Laxminarayan


While the study looked for different drug-resistant bacteria, it found high prevalence of Escherichia coli strains that are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics such as broad-spectrum fluoroquinolones. E coli is one of the most frequent causes of common bacterial infections such as urinary tract infection, diarrhoea, and clinical infections like neonatal meningitis and pneumonia.  
Laxminarayan says that the findings point to poor regulation of antibiotic use in poultry farms. Such overuse, he says, potentially contributes to antibiotic resistance.
“Banning the use of antibiotic-premixed poultry feed and providing poultry with quality feed and water are ways to tackle the menace,” he emphasises.  
The study, though limited to Punjab state, has wider applicability, says Laxminarayan. “What we have reported is a snapshot of the situation in India.”  
The major broiler-producing Indian states are Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. Projections released by the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) for 2017 say that India is expected to produce 4.5 million tonnes of chicken meat against domestic demand of 4.49 million tonnes. Exports are limited due to inadequate processing facilities.

“Drug resistance is a huge public health problem in India,” says Amit Singh, assistant professor, Centre for Infectious Disease Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. “This study challenges authorities to look at reducing transmission of drug-resistant strains from animals to humans.”

“Use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry, over-the-counter availability of antibiotics and inappropriate prescriptions and use in hospitals, are among reasons for the emergence of drug resistance in the country,” Singh tells SciDev.Net.
India’s Food Safety and Standards Regulations of 2011 prescribe standards and controls for poultry production, including maximum permissible drug residue levels, but enforcement appears lax.
The US, starting January this year, enforced a ban on the use of antimicrobials (antibiotics and antifungals) to promote food animal growth while the EU has had a similar ban in place since 2006.  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.