Government proposes to regulate use of antibiotics in meat

21 Nov 2017


The government has decided to cap the use of antibiotics in animals and birds amidst an increase in drug resistance cases caused by indiscriminate use of antibiotics across the world.

The increasing presence of antibiotics in meat and poultry products consumed by humans may lead to consumers developing resistance to a host of antibiotics, which necessitates restrictions on the use of antibiotics by poultry farms.

At present, poultry farms use 137 drugs, including antibiotics and hormones, as safeguards against various diseases and to accelerate growth, most of these without the need to do so.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has prepared draft Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Amendment Regulations, 2017, which proscribes the use of around 18 antibiotics and pharmacologically active substances, including nitrofurans, chloroform and glycopeptides, in seafood processing units.

For 21 antibiotics that are simultaneously used in animals and humans, FSSAI has prescribed a maximum residual limit that can be allowed in meat, animal fat and milk.

Accordingly, not more than 0.01 mg/kg of Ampicillin will be allowed in a meat product like chicken or mutton. In humans, Ampicillin is used as life saving to treat a number of bacterial infections, heart diseases, brain ailments like meningitis and respiratory distress. Ampicillin is also used for veterinary purposes to treat sick birds like chicken.

FSSAI has also prescribed limits for another 98 antibiotics exclusively used on animals and other veterinary purposes. According to the draft regulations, residue of these antibiotics that may be found in eggs, edible fat tissue or milk, the limit ranges from 0.01 mg/kg to 0.15 mg/kg depending on the antibiotic.

"The maximum residue standards have been fixed keeping in mind international levels prescribed by World Health Organisation as well as Food and Agriculture Organisation standards. While we had standards for fish and honey in place, we have widened the ambit of law to now include all animal and animal products," said Pawan Agarwal, chief executive officer of FSSAI.

FSSAI is in the process of collecting and testing meat and poultry products across the country to verify residual contents.

A recent study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had shown that misuse of antibiotics in poultry farms and unsafe disposal of poultry litter in fields has a potential to infect humans.

The study found that 100 per cent of the E. coli, 92 per cent of Klebsiella pneumonia and 78 per cent of Staphylococcus lentus isolated from the poultry environment were multi-drug resistant, which means that when they were subjected to antibiotics in a lab environment, the antibiotics had no effect on the bacteria.

"In humans, E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia cause infections which are becoming difficult to treat due to high resistance. Disturbingly, we found very high resistance in E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia 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," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

"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," says Amit Khurana, senior programme manager, food safety and toxins team, CSE.

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