How safe is that chicken or egg that you are eating?

A new study unveils numbers that are scary.

 |  Hello, Health  |  3-minute read |   25-07-2017
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Just what kind of meat and eggs are we eating these days? It seems it’s less protein and nutrients, and more antibiotics… stuff that we most definitely don't need to pump into our bodies.

Most of us, me included, have had our suspicions regarding the plumped up chicken, juicy pork and bacon and big, huge eggs that we have been cooking and enjoying these days, but when the fact that all might not be well with them stares back point blank in the form of proven research - the jolt hits hard.

This is what happened when I came across a new study led by researchers from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP), published in the July 2017 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The study conducted on Punjab farms has found high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chickens raised for both meat and eggs there. The numbers it unveils are scary! Two-thirds of the farms reported using antibiotics for growth promotion.

High levels of resistance to many important antibiotics were found across the board, ranging from 39 per cent for ciprofloxacin (used to treat respiratory infections), to 86 per cent for nalidixic acid (used to treat urinary tract infections).

This study raises serious concerns over the use of antibiotics for growth promotion (read higher production) in farm animals. Basically, it proves (yet again) that the same life-saving drugs that are prescribed to treat everything from ear infections to tuberculosis in humans are also being used to fatten the animals - chicken, beef and pork - whose meat we eat day in and out. This threat to public health from the overuse of antibiotics in food animals is very real and growing, not just in Punjab, or India, but worldwide.

Why is this is happening?

chciekn_072517064008.jpgIt's imperative to remove antibiotics from the human food chain.

Simply to cater to the rising demand for food and animal products, which is leading to over use of antibiotics for growth promotion in farm animals, to keep the cost of meat low and to produce more meat for less money, resulting in fatter profits. This is leading to serious consequences on human health.

So what’s the harm?

The science is solid on the fact that there’s a big cost involved in eating cheap meat. “Overuse of antibiotics in animal farms endangers us all as it multiplies drug resistance in the environment,” explains author and CDDEP director Ramanan Laxminarayan. And this in fact has been proven beyond doubt.

Antibiotic use in animals can over time promote the development of hard-to-treat antibiotic-resistant superbugs that make people sick. So we are slowly but steadily, thanks to our own follies, becoming an antibiotic-resistant race.

What happens is that when we feed antibiotics to animals, the bacteria in and around the animals are exposed to the drug, and many of them die. But there are always some that the drug can’t kill, and those survive and proliferate - leading to the creating of superbugs. And these superbugs then move from the farm to the kitchen, via uncooked meat and poultry.

The fact is that antibiotics have been in use since the 1940s and have helped bring about a dramatic reduction in illness and death from infectious diseases. But extensive use of antimicrobial drugs is now threatening to reverse the medical advances of the last 70 years. The stakes are that high.

Time to act

It's imperative to remove antibiotics from the human food chain, and restrict them only to treat sick animals to avoid facing the fantasy movie-like (increasingly getting real) prospect of a post-antibiotic world, where nothing, no medicines work on us. Sporadic superbug outbreaks are already pointing in the direction of a future like that.

So what can we do about it at our level?

To prevent antibiotic resistance, definitely avoid antibiotic medications unless absolutely necessary, eat less meat (or give it up entirely) to help reduce demand and buy from small, organic farms which raise antibiotic-free animals. It’s not easy, but then catching (and becoming a medium of spreading) a superbug and becoming antibiotic-resistant is a far scarier prospect by any stretch.

Also read: India urgently needs a national policy paradigm to stop superbugs


Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico).

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