The startling revelation by the Centre for Science and Environment on rampant use of antibiotic as chicken feed brings to the fore the worrying trend in food trade: profit is paramount and ethics an alien term. Since business interest or higher margin devoid of moral responsibility and value-based trade is the bottom line, a stringent regulatory mechanism is needed. The government has to crack down to safeguard the citizens’ health. We are a tropical country. An antibiotic-resistant population as an after-effect of such contaminated food consumption is an alarming proposition, to say the least.
The dangerous practice of feeding chicken with antibiotics started decades ago when it was realised that such “treatment” made the birds gain as much as three per cent more weight than in the normal process. The reason apparently is that the drugs kill the flora in the birds’ intestines, enabling them to utilise the food they eat more effectively. But, the practice is neither good for the birds or for people who consume them because such daily medicinal infusion not only makes the bacteria resistant to the drugs, thereby endangering the birds themselves, but can also enter the bodies of those who eat the birds.
How widespread the practice of feeding the birds is can be gauged from the fact that 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics are used for the purpose every year in the US. Not surprisingly, the WHO has called for the reduction of the “overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in food animal for the protection of human health”. Such practices are banned in many countries of the European Union and Canada, but not in the US. India should emulate the former. As it is, fears have been expressed that even the vegetables that are eaten contain residues of pesticides used in the fields and that groundwater has been contaminated by arsenic. The need, therefore, for strict safety standards for all edibles cannot be over-emphasised.