Poultry Goods Can Harm Your System
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26 October 2010
By Prithvijit Mitra
Chicken and eggs making consumers resistant to drugs
A meal sans chicken and eggs would be considered incomplete in these parts of the country. But these poultry products are making Kolkatans resistant to a series of antibiotics, a study has claimed.
Drugs, mostly antibiotics mixed with chicken feed, used to serve as growth promoters across poultry, were being passed on to humans through broiler meat and eggs. Residue of these medicines were turning consumers resistant to antibiotics, including those used to treat digestive and urological disorders apart from common cold and infections, says the study conducted by the West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences (WBUAFS). Doctors said they were being forced to resort to a higher dosage to make these drugs effective.
West Bengal produces 60 lakh chickens per week, 40% of which is consumed in and around Kolkata. In the state’s poultry farms, "feed conversion ratio" is high, which means a small amount of fodder triggers quick growth in chickens. A chick grows into an adult chicken in just five weeks. This is made possible by tempering the feed with antibiotics that help in quick digestion and accumulation of weight. The study reveals that the drugs make it possible to produce 1 kg meat with just 1.8 kg of chicken feed. An average broiler chicken which weighs around 2 kg consumes just 3.6 kg of feed till it is slaughtered.
"This is what intensive poultry farming has done. A farmer needs to invest just Rs 110 kg per chicken, which is sold for around Rs 150. The cost of production would be higher without the antibiotic–tempered feed that hastens growth. While this has translated into more profit for poultry farmers, unsuspecting consumers are getting adversely affected. We have evidence to show that poultry products contribute to antibiotic resistance in a major way in the region," said Barun Roy, a senior teacher at WBUAFS who led the study.
Among the antibiotics which have turned less effective over the years are terramycin, tetracycline, oxy–tetracyclin, neomycin and trioxycyclin, to name a few. "There are other reasons which have contributed to this resistance, but poultry products are majorly responsible. We have found traces of these antibiotics in nearly all the chicken that we examined," said Roy.
Preventive medicine specialists confirmed the finding. Scores of drugs now have reduced efficacy which has forced them to alter dosage, they said. "Drugs like azithromycin, roxithromycin and trioxycyclin are cases in point. Previously , it would suffice to take them for three days. But now we prescribe it for a minimum of six days. It is sad that patients are now having to take medicines for common cough for close to a week," said Debashish Basu, in–charge of Apollo Gleneagles clinic, Gariahat.
Others like rational drug activist Tomonsh Bhattacharya pointed out that residual antibiotics in chicken and eggs could affect liver, kidneys and bone marrow. "This affects you both ways. The pre–scheduled dose proves ineffective for bacteria and microbes that have already developed resistance in your system. Also, an enhanced dose could lead to sideeffects. This is a major challenge for doctors now," said Bhattacharya.
While antibiotics are banned in chicken feed across USA and Europe, India is yet to frame a policy. Researchers at WBUAFS said there were alternatives that could substitute antibiotics in poultry feed and cut out the harmful effects. "Organic acidifiers and biotechnologically developed enzymes could serve the same purpose without triggering resistance. Some herbal preparations could also be tried. But unless the government frames a rule, it will be difficult to get the poultry farms to try these," said Roy.