New Delhi: Misuse of antibiotics in poultry farms is leading to multi-drug resistant bacteria which is spreading into the environment through unsafe disposal of poultry litter and waste in agricultural fields, with the potential to infect human beings, a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) warns.
Urging the government to control the “rampant antibiotic misuse", the thinktank urged the environment ministry and central and state pollution control boards to bring in laws and standards ensure monitoring and surveillance.
In 2014, another CSE study had said that there is a possibility that one in every two chicken consumed in India has a strong presence of antibiotics, which could be leading to growing antibiotic-resistance in humans.
For the present study, CSE collected samples of litter and soil from in and around 12 randomly selected poultry farms in four key poultry-producing states in north India—Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab. The farms were spread out across 12 different clusters in nine districts.
“A total of 217 isolates of three types of bacteria – E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus lentus —were extracted and tested for resistance against 16 antibiotics. Ten of these antibiotics have been declared Critically Important (CI) for humans by the World Health Organization (WHO)," the study said.
The study found that antibiotics were being used in these poultry farms and that the litter was used as manure in neighbouring agricultural lands. The poultry sector is estimated to be worth Rs1 trillion in India, which is among the top five eggs and chicken producers in the world.
“Antibiotic misuse is common in the poultry sector. What makes the situation worse is the fact that the sector is also plagued with poor waste management. Therefore we first wanted to understand the extent of antibiotic resistance in the poultry environment, and then establish if the resistance bacteria is moving out of the poultry farms into the environment through waste disposal," said Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general while releasing the study on Thursday.
The study said if bacteria are resistant to antibiotics of at least three classes, they are considered multi-drug resistant, adding 100% of the E. coli, 92% of Klebsiella pneumoniae and 78% of Staphylococcus lentus isolated from the poultry environment were multi-drug resistant,
About 40% of E. coli and 30% of Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates were resistant to at least 10 out of 13 antibiotics against which these bacteria were tested for resistance, said the study.
“Both E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae had very high resistance to antibiotics of critical importance to humans such as penicillins, fluoroquinolones, third and fourth generation cephalosporins and carbapenems, which is a last resort antibiotic used in hospitals," the study added.
Bhushan warned, “In humans, E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae cause infections which are becoming difficult to treat due to high resistance."
“Disturbingly, we found very high resistance in E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates from the poultry environment. In some of the isolates, all antibiotics that we tested were ineffective. If these bacteria infect a human, then hardly any medicine will work as cure," he added.
The study also found strong similarity in the resistance pattern of E. coli from the litter and from agricultural soil in the surrounding areas where the litter was used as manure.
“This similarity was statistically established by the study," it added.
“This indicates that the multi-drug resistant E. coli being created in the poultry farms is entering the environment through litter. From the agricultural fields, these bacteria can go anywhere – into groundwater and food – and can infect agricultural workers and animals, thereby becoming a public health threat," said Amit Khurana, senior programme manager of CSE’s food safety and toxins team.
In April 2017, India’s health minister J.P. Nadda announced the finalization of India’s comprehensive and multi-sectoral National Action Plan (NAP) to combat Antimicrobial Resistance. The government had pledged to adopt a “holistic and collaborative approach towards prevention and containment of AMR in India".
Bhushan said the NAP must be properly supported and funded by the Union government.
“We must eliminate the use of antibiotics as growth promoter in the poultry industry. Antibiotics should be used as a last resort to control the disease. This is the only way we can reduce the creation and spread of antibiotics resistance," Bhushan said.