CSE says poultry industry spreading half-truths

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy think-tank, released a statementin response to what it called myths perpetuated by the Indian poultry industry.


Following the impact on chicken sales in certain states of India after the recent CSE report which had noted that chicken sold in Delhi-NCR had antibiotic residues, the industry had claimed that the antibiotic residue levels were way below the international norms – including in the EU and the US. CSE, however, rebutted the claims.

Antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin, reduce the ability of human cells to carry out their normal metabolic activities, and interfere with their production. As such, being exposed to antibiotics, especially powerful ones like flouroquinolones, for longer periods can result in decreased stamina and tiredness, muscle pain, dry skin, loose teeth, and nerve-related symptoms including ticks and poor sleep.

CSE pointed out that antibiotics are used in India on a large scale for promoting growth of the chicken and to prevent disease even if there is no disease. In such case, all the chickens in a poultry farm are exposed to low-dose of antibiotics for their entire life-span, i.e. 35-42 days. Compared to the therapeutic use, wherein a higher dose is given selectively to only those that are sick for about few days to a week to kill the bacteria in the chicken, the non-therapeutic use leads to emergence of resistant bacteria. This is exactly why medical doctors in case of humans prescribe strongly against dropping the antibiotic course in between.

“The poultry industry is misleading the public by saying that residues found in Indian chicken are lower than the EU standards. They are comparing apples with oranges. The EU does not allow antibiotic use as growth promoters in poultry. The standards for antibiotic residues depicting the maximum limit address the therapeutic use. Further, these standards focus on protecting against toxicity of antibiotics to humans. They do not completely safeguard humans from antibiotic resistance,” it said.

CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab (PML) recently released its findings on antibiotic residues in chicken that stated that growing antibiotic-resistance in humans is because of large-scale indiscriminate use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. The CSE study released on July 30 had revealed that out of 70 chicken samples from Delhi-NCR region tested for six commonly used antibiotics, 40 per cent samples had tested positive and residues of more than one antibiotics were found in 17 per cent samples. The study pointed to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics as growth promoters by the poultry industry.

The study had highlighted that antibiotics that are important to treat diseases in humans, like ciprofloxacin, are being rampantly used by the poultry industry. This is leading to increased cases of antibiotic resistance in India. For instance, ciprofloxacin resistance is growing rapidly in the country.

CSE researchers revealed that listed companies in this space are openly selling antibiotic-laden feed premix to the poultry industry as a growth promoter.

“We would miss the point if we focus on the levels of antibiotic residues. We need to stop non-therapeutic use to prevent emergence and spread resistant bacteria. Researchers reiterated that the issue, therefore, is not limited to antibiotic residues in chicken. It is about increasing reservoirs of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the gut of the chicken which can get transmitted to humans through food, or through direct contact or through the environment. People who do not eat chicken (vegetarians) can also get infected to resistant bacteria through the environment. The issue, therefore, is much beyond the antibiotic residues in chicken and its impacts on those who eat chicken meat,” it said.

It also asked for quick government action on this front.

“Governments worldwide are adopting regulations to control the use of antibiotics. But only those countries have shown signs of improvement that have taken stringent actions. EU, for instance, has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that antibiotics that are critical for human use should not be used in animals. Countries have also set standards for antibiotics in food commodities,” it said.

Deputy Director General of CSE and head of the lab Chandra Bhushan said: “India has no regulation on controlling antibiotics use in the poultry industry, or to control sales of antibiotics to the poultry industry. It is free for all. India has not set any limits for antibiotic residues in chicken. India will have to implement a comprehensive set of regulations including banning of antibiotics use as growth promoters in the poultry industry. Not doing this will put the lives of people at risk.”