Is Your Poultry Pushing You Towards a Post-Antibiotic Era?
The study revealed that two-third of the poultry farms surveyed in Punjab were using antibiotics for growth promotion.
The study revealed that two-third of the poultry farms surveyed in Punjab were using antibiotics for growth promotion.(Photo: CDDEP)

Is Your Poultry Pushing You Towards a Post-Antibiotic Era?

We are already facing the very real possibility of a post-antibiotic world due to the rising number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

At the same time, the growing population numbers and the proportionate increase in the demand for food has led to antimicrobial growth promotion (AGP) use in farm animals worldwide.

A study conducted by the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) across 18 poultry farms in six districts in Punjab has detected high prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in two-third of the farms surveyed.

The practice of using antibiotics for growth promotion in farm animals is based on the notion that the antibiotics will keep the animals healthy by increasing their immunity. This will help them absorb the nutrients easily and hence increase the produce.

The results of the study are alarming because the poultry was tested for resistance to a range of antibiotics critical to human medicine.

The major concern is that extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture results in human exposure to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria via direct and indirect pathways.

The exposure could be via direct contact with livestock or contaminated food products, indirect gene transfer across bacterial species and the widespread release of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens into the environment.
A health worker is seen giving ‘medicine’ to the chickens at a poultry farm. Image used for representation. 
A health worker is seen giving ‘medicine’ to the chickens at a poultry farm. Image used for representation. 
(Photo: Reuters)
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What is Antibiotic Resistance?

Has it ever happened to you that the medicine that cured your skin infection, doesn’t cure it anymore? Or the antibiotics that you had for urinary tract infection (UTI) don’t help anymore?

If the answer is yes, then the chances are pretty high that the bacteria that caused the infection has become resistant to the medicine now.

The reason this happens and you should care is because pretty soon you might run out of medicine to cure such simple ailments.

This phenomenon is called ‘antibiotic resistance’ where repetitive exposure to antibiotics makes the bacteria resistant and renders the antibiotic ineffective, gradually.

So the medicine which is supposed to kill the bacteria, has no effect on it at all!

This phenomenon is growing at an alarming rate due to rampant and inappropriate use of antibiotics across the spectrum.

Alarming Results

The study, which is the largest of its kind ever to be conducted in India, revealed that two-third of the poultry farms surveyed in Punjab were using antibiotics for growth promotion.

Meat producing farms were found to have twice the rates of antimicrobial resistance as compared to egg-producing farms.

Speaking to The Quint, Ramanan Laxminarayan, CDDEP Director, who has also authored the study, said:

Over 67% of the farms surveyed were using antibiotics for growth promotion. This is an alarming figure, since the overuse of antibiotics in poultry puts all of us in great health risk. It will multiply drug resistance in the environment
Ramanan Laxminarayan

This unregulated use also made the bacteria multidrug resistant i.e. their resistance was growing against more and more types of antibiotics.

Over 67% of the farms surveyed were using antibiotics for growth promotion.
Over 67% of the farms surveyed were using antibiotics for growth promotion.
(Photo: CDDEP)

The study also revealed high levels of resistance to many important antibiotics used to treat human infections.

As per the report, bacteria were found to be 39 percent resistant to ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat respiratory infections and 86 percent resistant to nalidixic acid, an antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections in humans.

This is definitely not good news since it means that more and more antibiotics would be rendered useless in the treatment of such infections.

Deadly Consequences

Unfortunately in India, the use of antibiotics in food animal production is unregulated. This means that healthy poultry is being fed things which are high in antibiotic content, which in turn is making the bacteria resistant.

The results of this study could also be extended to the other states and the results could be quite disastrous.

Punjab is known as the chicken capital of the country. So, if two-third of the farms there are using antibiotics so rampantly then imagine what would be the condition in the other states?
Ramanan Laxminarayan

The study also tested Escherichia coli (E.coli) samples from across the poultry farms.

And to make matters worse, the results revealed that 60 percent of this bacteria contained ‘resistance conferring’ genes that rendered many antibiotics ineffective. This protective genes can also be easily passed on to other types of bacteria.
The results revealed that 60 percent of the E.coli bacteria contained ‘resistance conferring’ genes that rendered many antibiotics ineffective. 
The results revealed that 60 percent of the E.coli bacteria contained ‘resistance conferring’ genes that rendered many antibiotics ineffective. 
(Photo: CDDEP)

This might mean that the remaining 40 percent might soon become antibiotic resistant, thanks to resistance conferring genes of the others!

Next Steps?

The study has serious local and global implications.

Since the antibiotics are being mixed with the food being fed to farm animals, it is very important to nip the problem in the bud. Lack of regulation is the main reason for such inappropriate and rampant use of antibiotics.

There needs to be strict guidelines directing major poultry food producers to stop mixing antibiotics at the production stage. Antibiotics for animals and humans must strictly be used only to treat diseases. This is the only way to prevent major misuse of antibiotics
Ramanan Laxminarayan

Countries like the US have strict regulations for using antibiotics for any purpose.

It is high time that India has strict guidelines for use of antibiotics since the bacteria here are known to have developed resistance to 87% of the available antibiotics!

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