Govt may ban antibiotic colistin used to fatten chicken

The usage of colistin, an antibiotic of last resort, and other such drugs in livestock has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans

Teena Thacker
Updated4 Dec 2018, 10:43 AM IST
Chickens raised in India are dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics available. Photo: AP
Chickens raised in India are dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics available. Photo: AP

New Delhi: The government has proposed a ban on the use of antibiotic colistin that is widely used in the meat and poultry industry in India to make animals grow faster. The usage of colistin, an antibiotic of last resort, and other such drugs in livestock has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans. Continued use of such antibiotics in farming renders them useless when treating patients, according to public health experts.

An investigation carried out by London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism had earlier this year found that chickens raised in India were dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics available. It revealed the use of colistin by companies such as Venky’s, the biggest supplier of chicken products to fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC. Venky’s has said that it uses antibiotics only for therapeutic reasons, according to a story in on 2 February.

Government agencies including the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, ministry of health and family welfare and the drug controller general of India have examined the issue and recommended that colistin cannot be used. Further, India’s top drug advisory body at its meeting held on 29 November decided that the drug should be banned for use in animals. Doctors call colistin a “last hope” antibiotic because it is used to treat patients with infections resistant to most drugs.

The Drugs Technical Advisory Board deliberated on the issue and recommended a ban on the use of colistin in an attempt to stem the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance, said two people aware of the matter, requesting anonymity. India’s drug regulator has received representation from Dr Abdul Ghafur, coordinator, Chennai declaration on antimicrobial resistance, and technical advisory member, national antibiotic policy, regarding the urgent ban of growth promotional use of colistin in poultry and aqua farming.

The drug in question helps chickens gain weight faster. During its investigation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was able to buy Venky’s colistin in India without a prescription. It found that growth-promoting antibiotics, including colistin, remain widely available to Indian farmers through a number of international and domestic pharmaceutical companies. “The Bureau found multiple examples of Indian drug manufacturers selling colistin as a growth promoter for chickens,” said its report.

Significantly, the World Health Organization has said that the use of such antibiotics, which it terms critically important to human medicine, should be restricted in animals and banned as growth promoters.

Thousands of tonnes of veterinary colistin was shipped to countries including Vietnam, India, South Korea and Russia in 2016, the Bureau’s probe revealed. It also found that Zoetis India Ltd, a former subsidiary of the drugs giant Pfizer Inc., is supplying farmers in India with antibiotics to help them artificially fatten up livestock.

ALSO READ | Steroids, antibiotics and a dose of spare ribs

While an email sent to Venky’s did not elicit a response till publishing of this story, Zoetis said it did not hold any marketing authorization for colistin products in India. “Zoetin does not use colistin in any products registered and distributed in India. It holds marketing authorization from Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) along with no objection from Ministry of Agriculture for several poultry products vaccines & pharmaceuticals in India,” said the company spokesperson in an emailed response.

While the European Union banned colistin in 2006, Malaysia and China joined the list this year and do not permit the use of the antibiotic, both for therapeutic and growth promotion in animals.

ALSO READ | Indian poultry farms are breeding drug-resistant superbugs

Yum Brands Inc., owner of fast-food chains KFC and Pizza Hut, said the company adheres to all laws and regulations regarding the use of antibiotics and its products are free from antibiotic residue. “We are committed to ensuring that our food is safe for our customers. We would like to assure our consumers that Yum! India’s poultry suppliers follow the standards set by World Health Organisation (WHO) and only use antibiotics that are approved for veterinary use or dual use, and prescribed for maintaining chicken health in a responsible and judicious manner. Furthermore, as part of our strict adherence to robust safety practices and processes, chicken supplied to Yum India is free from any antibiotic residue, as our chicken supplies are subjected to a withdrawal period specific to each medicinal treatment,” it said in an emailed response.

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First Published:4 Dec 2018, 10:43 AM IST
HomeindustrymanufacturingGovt may ban antibiotic colistin used to fatten chicken

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