Did you know that India is one of the largest consumers of antibiotics in the world? Naturally, their misuse and overuse is rampant. As a result, ‘super bugs’, that are resistant to all known types of antibiotics, are starting to thrive.
In this article, we look at what antibiotics are, why we develop a resistance to them, the connection between the food we eat and antibiotic resistance, and ways in which we can curb it.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. They work by stunting the growth or by destroying the bacteria in the body.
Over time, bacteria develop resistance to the medicine. This can lead to prolonged illness and even increased mortality.
An antibiotic-resistant bacteria will survive and multiply within the host body despite being exposed to antibiotics. This is a major hurdle in treating a particular disease.
When this resistance develops, the introduction of a new antibiotic is needed to fight the infection. This process significantly increases the time for recovery.
The overuse of antibiotics has played a major role in increasing the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What’s the connection between poultry meat and antibiotic resistance?
The results of a study conducted and published in the journal Acta Scientific Microbiology on May 6 stated that chickens and eggs being sold in Mumbai are infused with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is an alarming revelation.
During the study, samples of chicken liver meat and eggs were collected from 12 locations; they were found to contain ‘multi-antibiotic resistant’ bacteria.
Vikas Jha is a senior research analyst at the National Facility for Biopharmaceuticals in Mumbai and a co-author of the study. Speaking to Down To Earth, he said, “Excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed is one of the prime reasons for such antibiotic resistance.”
Rajeshwari Sinha, deputy programme manager, food safety and toxins unit, CSE, in the same article, said, “The high resistance level in bacteria against antibiotics of human importance is alarming. It is high time that Centre and State governments take urgent action on limiting antibiotic misuse for growth promotion and disease prevention in food-animal production.”
How can we stop this?
1. First and foremost, we must stop buying and using antibiotics on a whim. These drugs must only be consumed if advised by a doctor. Refrain from buying these drugs as an over-the-counter medication.
2. Complete the course prescribed by your doctor. Stopping the course mid-way may cause more harm than you realise.
3. While the symptoms of your illness might be similar to someone else, do not use anyone else’s prescription or leftover medication. In the same vein, do not self-medicate. Always seek an expert for their medical opinion.
4. Consume food that is free from the influence of antibiotics. Do some research before you buy your food.
Cooking at a high temperature kills all bacteria but uncooked meat can harbour resistance in the bacteria. However, heat cannot break down some of the antibiotic residues that may have remained within the meat.
5. Make sure that you follow WHO’s guidelines of Five Keys to Safer Food—keeping it clean; separating raw and cooked food; cooking food thoroughly; keeping food at safe temperatures; and using safe water and raw materials.
Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins, CSE, told Down To Earth, “Phasing-out antibiotic misuse as growth promoters is the first step to contain antibiotic resistance in animals. India’s action plan on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) called for it about two years ago, but there is no laid out roadmap so far. We also highlighted misuse of colistin in 2014, but it continues to be allowed.”
As consumers, we may not have a way to tell if antibiotics have been added to our plant/animal-based foods, but it greatly helps our cause (and our health) if we are aware of these practices.
If you own a poultry shop/business or know someone who does, the following guidelines can help countless people.
• Give antibiotics to animals only under veterinary supervision.
• Do not use antibiotics for promoting growth or preventing diseases in healthy animals.
• Vaccinate animals regularly to ensure their good health, reducing the need for antibiotics. When required, use alternatives.
• When producing and processing foods from plant and animal sources, promote good practices at every step.
• Ensure hygiene and animal welfare on farms to prevent infections.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)