New Delhi: Indian chicken and poultry products have been found to contain antibiotic residue, says a study by a not-for-profit organization that claims resistance to antibiotics in humans is growing because of large-scale and indiscriminate use of these drugs by poultry farmers.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) pointed out that India had no regulation on controlling antibiotic sales and use in the poultry industry. The country also does not have any limits for antibiotic residue in chicken.

The pollution monitoring lab at CSE tested 70 samples of chickens in Delhi and the National Capital Region—36 from Delhi, 12 from Noida, eight from Gurgaon and seven each from Faridabad and Ghaziabad. It tested three tissues including muscle, liver and kidney for the presence of six antibiotics used widely in poultry—oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines); enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones), and neomycin (an aminoglycoside).

While some of these are for mild infections; one is for lung infections, throat inflections and tuberculosis; and one for life-threatening whole-body infections such as sepsis.

The study found that 40% of the samples contained residues of antibiotics. While 22.9% contained residues of one antibiotic, the remaining 17.1% samples had residues of more than one antibiotic.

Sunita Narain, director general at CSE, said that antibiotics are no longer restricted to humans, nor limited to treating diseases. “The poultry industry, for instance, uses antibiotics as a growth promoter. Chickens are fed antibiotics so that they gain weight and grow faster."

The country’s animal health industry body, the Indian Federation of Animal Health Companies (INFAH), said it had always promoted “rational use" of antibiotics in poultry and other livestock and that “regulatory guidelines", formed through regular dialogues and other initiatives by the industry and the government, were in place.

“Irrational use of antibiotics in animals and passing off this to humans through meat consumption had been a major concern in the country," said Vijay Teng, joint secretary, INFAH, and head of the animal health business at Intas Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

“But this has been under control since at least the last one year after strict guidelines by the regulators on the withdrawal date (slaughter of animals after the stipulated period post-antibiotic treatment) is being implemented by many of poultry and livestock companies," Teng said.

The CSE study said antibiotics were frequently pumped into chickens during their life cycle of 35-42 days to treat infections, mixed with feed to promote growth, and administered to all birds for several days to prevent infections—even when there are no signs of an infection.

The study said the problem was compounded by the fact that many essential and important antibiotics for humans were being used by the poultry industry.

“It is very clear that antibiotic use is common in animal husbandry, and these cannot be completely banned. Rule of the game should be to lower the generation of antibiotics you use for poultry, because if the same generation of antibiotics are used for poultry, they will not work for humans tomorrow," said Samir Brahmachari, a member of the task force that formulated the 2011 National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance.

The task force had recommended that the government develop regulations on the usage of antimicrobials in poultry and other animals, and requisite labelling requirements in food.

“The government should have a policy which prescribes and classifies the drugs that can be used for poultry, and the ones which can be used for humans therapeutics," Brahmachari said.

As much as 94% of the poultry industry is unorganized. CSE only tested the chicken available in the markets and not packaged chicken.

Arabind Das, chief operating officer at Godrej Tyson Foods Ltd, which sells packaged chicken, said the company runs a buyer security programme that makes sure the birds are protected from external contact. “We also have an in-house team of veterinary doctors and use our own feed to have complete control on the environment," he said.

Sapna Agarwal in Mumbai contributed to this story.

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