The finding of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-government organisation, that large-scale use of antibiotics by the poultry industry may be contributing to development of antibiotic resistance by the consumers of chicken is a matter of concern.
It has noted that such resistance may make humans vulnerable to many ailments which are otherwise curable. The findings were based on studies of samples collected in and around Delhi.
But they could be valid for chicken produced elsewhere also because poultry industry is known to use antibiotics as a growth promoter in other places too. In fact the CSE embarked on the study after a Bangalore hospital reported an increase in antibiotic resistance even among people who do not frequently use antibiotics.
Excessive use of antibiotic drugs, prescribed by doctors, is itself a major health hazard, but their ingestion through food gives it a more dangerous dimension.
Chicken are given antibiotics for weight gain and faster growth but they are passed on to humans who eat the chicken.
They kill friendly bacteria in the chicken and lead to emergence of drug-resistant bacteria which enter the human body. The CSE found the presence of five antibiotics in the samples which it tested but has said there could be more because the tests did not cover all kinds of antibiotics.
It has also sought to support its conclusions with the findings of some other studies made by some government and private hospitals over a period. Public heath experts have for long suspected this. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for a ban on the use of antibiotics by the poultry industry to stimulate the growth of chicken and for strict steps to ensure that they are used only to treat sick birds.
There is no regulatory system in India to check the use of antibiotics in chicken or other items of common consumption. Many other countries have rules and regulations on it. The European Union (EU) has completely banned the use of antibiotics as feed supplements.
The US allows administration of antibiotics only for a limited period so that the residues do not remain in the bodies of birds and animals when they are slaughtered. More detailed studies are needed to find out the extent of the problem in India. But there is no doubt that rampant and indiscriminate use of antibiotics should be curbed in the interest of public health.