What India is not asking about eating chicken

Sourish Bhattacharyya
Sourish BhattacharyyaNov 16, 2017 | 10:49

What India is not asking about eating chicken

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has done well to expose the double standards adopted by global fast-food chains operating in India. In the US, Russia, Europe, Australia and even Brazil, chains such as McDonald’s and KFC have made and fulfilled in some cases, specific and time-bound commitments to eliminate antibiotic misuse in chicken supply chains, they have not even bothered to initiate similar collective steps in India.


The alert raises two disturbing questions: Why aren’t stringent regulations in place to prevent the misuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic use especially among chicken and livestock? Why are food providers so cavalier about the quality of meats they serve to their unsuspecting consumers, thereby contributing to the serious rise in antibiotic resistance in the country? The food supply industry had got to be more concerned about the health of the population that makes sure its bottom line is in the black.

When I raised these issues in a Facebook post to test the waters, I was surprised at the number of people who questioned why the CSE was targeting only the fast-food chains (11 multinationals and three homegrown companies, including coffee chains such as Starbucks, Cafe Coffee Day and Barista). Yes, other bulk users of chicken, from five star hotels and fancy standalone restaurants to the Indian Railways and airport food retailers, are equally guilty of not insisting on using only antibiotic-free chicken feed. In fact, the packaged chicken we buy off shelves has also been pumped up with antibiotics, but that does not reduce the culpability of fast-food chains.

One of the more informed interlocutors pointed out that the use of antibiotics has ensured the mass production of healthy chickens, which, in turn, are among the cheapest sources of protein for the people. And India, as we know very well, is hurtling towards severe protein deficiency. Without antibiotics, we are warned, we would have had more than a handful of diseased birds and chicken that is not meaty enough.


This argument, unfortunately, makes a lot of sense in a skewed market where the two most abundant natural sources of protein — dal and millets (bajra, for instance) — are either too expensive for the poor (as in the case of most dals), or not made available through the public distribution system (PDS) targeting the really poor (the widespread inclusion of millets in the PDS mix of grains, in fact, has been a long pending demand).


But what the CSE is asking for is not a ban on the use of antibiotics, but a stop to the misuse. And if McDonald’s can commit itself to eliminating this misuse elsewhere in the world by the year 2019, what prevents it from following its own global example in India?

Chicken are given antibiotic-laced feed to speed up their growth so that they produce more meat in a shorter number of days (in other words, they are readied for slaughter in a fewer number of days). It is this intervention that has made chicken (and now, increasingly, farmed fish) a commonly available source of protein, but it has brought in its wake the life-threatening problem of antibiotic resistance among humans. In India, the levels of antibiotic resistance seen among those afflicted by tuberculosis and urinary tract infections have already risen to life-threatening levels.


We cannot ignore the warning signs any longer. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which has unveiled a flurry of new initiatives, from a national framework of organic certification to an initiative to promote food waste recovery, in recent weeks, must now expedite the process of formulating stringent regulations so that the problem is attacked at its source, that is, at the chicken production centres.

Bulk consumers of chicken, from five star hotels and equivalent standalone restaurants to supermarkets, must also start insisting on free-range, antibiotic-free chicken. The Park New Delhi is one five star hotel that has taken this critical first step, even though it is paying a higher price for the chicken it sources. A rising demand from bulk buyers will definitely have a salutary effect on prices. And I cannot but resist adding the parting thought: the Indian Railways, taking a leaf out of the good practices of Air India, must stop serving chicken on its trains for the sake of the health of its passengers.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: November 16, 2017 | 10:49
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