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Use of antibiotics among broiler chickens in Assam and North Eastern states
Assam and other North Eastern states are one of the most meat consuming states of India. Apart from livestock, poultry constitutes a major portion of the meat intake by the people of these states. However, due to growing population and declining local reeds of chickens, the majority of the poultry for this region is in the form of broiler chickens and they are supplied from Andhra Pradesh. Day-old chicks are transported by air daily to Guwahati and are further sent to various places by road. The broiler farms, spread across every corner of this entire region grows the day-old chicks to full grown chickens measuring up to 3-4 kgs in weight. Among the other poultry feeds, the farm keepers use antibiotics widely among the broilers.
The most wide spread of these antibiotics is Cephalexin Monohydrate. It is prescribed to treat a wide variety of bacterial infections in chickens. The medication operates by disrupting cell wall maintenance to destroy sensitive bacteria while preventing reproduction to stop the spread of infection allowing the immune system to destroy it naturally. This action makes it useful for treating conditions such as infections affecting the gums, joints, bones, respiratory tract, soft tissues, skin, urinary tract, or the ear (otitis media). For the broiler chicken this antibiotic is used to prevent early chick mortality and for the treatment of E. coli, Salmonella, Fowl Cholera, Coryza, and Gangrenous Dermatitis.
Assam and the North-eastern states has been consuming the broiler chicken for last two and half decade and the side effects of this antibiotic used among this poultry are now visible. An entire new generation of young population is seen having developed the signs of the most common adverse effects of cephalexin--gastrointestinal (stomach area) disturbances and hypersensitivity reactions, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The consignment comes in paper baskets by air and is carried by road for 70 kms from LGBI Airport, Guwahati. During transit, some of the chicks die due to exposure to outside heat and constant shaking in the vehicle in which they are transported. Rakib either sale the chicks in higher prices to other smaller broiler farmers or keeps them to be grown up. To meet the losses on the transit, he takes all the cares for the chicks to be grown up and being sold in market prices.
The most significant part of poultry farming or precisely the broiler chicken farming in the entire North-East India is the use of some cheap and low quality poultry feeds. As feed plays vital role in poultry farming and is the major cost of poultry production which seriously affects the production output of the birds. So the feed and feeding management is the major important consideration for efficient commercial poultry farming. Improper feeding causes several deficiency disease which results in poor production performance. But for all these poultry farmers the concern for low cost in production along with meeting the losses in the transit have made them to ignore some of the vital ingredients of the poultry feed with the required nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein, minerals & vitamins) in right proportion for better growth of the birds. In addition to the regular nutrients, some additives are required to facilitate digestion and growth and is usually added in reputed commercial feed. But lesser importance to this aspect often leads to diseases among the chickens for which antibiotics are administered heavily.
Another important practice used by broiler chicken farmers in Assam and other North-Eastern states is E.M. It is a brown colour concentrated liquid produced from the cultivation of 80 strains of beneficial microorganisms collected from natural environment. It reduces cost inputs more efficiently and improves gain in body weight. It maintains better health condition of chicks. It helps clean shed, less flies, ticks and less disease incidence. E.M. in broiler feed on daily basis is administered with water and other broiler feeds. In many cases it was found that EM solution is being mixed with antibiotics. This causes a problem as cautioned in user manual.
Usually the preparation of meat, mostly pork in all the tribal societies of the North-Eastern states is based on traditional methods using no spices. Any local menu consisting meat is made of herbs and other natural ingredients. The menus like chicken curry, chicken masala, tandoori chicken—all are brought from North India to this region. The locals mostly the youth have a craze for these chicken items and are usually they are served in hotels and restaurants and dhabas. Over the years, the organic chicken, known as the local chicken have become sparsely available and its prices also skyrocketed making the common consumers hard to buy them. This void has been filled by the broiler chickens in North-East over the years. They are cheaper than the organic one and contain more flesh. Thus it has occupied the major position in the dishes like chicken curry, chicken masala or tandoori chicken across North East.
Daily consumption of broiler meat along with liquor has already taken its toll among the consumers in this region. Facial obesity, weight gain and overall obesity have been noticed among the youth born after 1990—the time from when broiler chicken were brought from South India to the North-East. Now the use of antibiotics in this poultry has causing an entire generation to become antibiotic resistant. Reports of resistance to antibiotics are daily coming out from various places of this region on cases like viral fever and some minor disease. Reports of gastrointestinal (stomach area) disturbances and hypersensitivity reactions, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea are increasing in Assam and other neighbouring states of this region. However no official records of such increase of diseases in these states have been found. India is the single largest consumer of antibiotics in the world (2010), followed by China and the US. There have been reports highlighting an increasing resistance to carbapenems and polymyxins, two classes of drugs long considered “last-resort” antibiotics for illnesses without any other known treatment in India. Doctors monitoring these trends are of the view that lack of a regulatory system is responsible for this unchecked use of antibiotics in broiler chickens and its effects on human health.
In 1950, scientists in the US discovered that adding antibiotics to livestock feed accelerated animals’ growth and cost less than conventional feed supplements. This discovery pushed farmers around the world to use antibiotics as growth boosters. However, the problem started when farmers started using antibiotics used to fight microbial infections in humans to accelerate the growth of livestock.
With increasing awareness of the dangers of using antibiotics as growth promoters, the US and several European countries have designed policies to phase out or ban their use in the poultry industry. But the antibiotics used by large poultry farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana are amnong those which have been banned in US, EU and Australia.
Like most of the other places in India, antibiotics meant for poultry and livestock are sold openly in veterinary shops across Assam and the North-East without any prescription. Any report of disease in broiler chickens in this region is quickly responded by the administration of antibiotics by vets. As a result a time bomb is ticking for disastrous public health sector of this region which is known for its underdeveloped state in India.
In 1997, a World Health Organization (WHO) report had said that national policies on the use of antimicrobials in animals must balance the possible benefits to livestock production against the medical risk and public health consequences of their use. It further recommended that the use of any antimicrobial agent for growth promotion in animals should be terminated if it is used in human therapeutics.
But the mostly non-vegetarian population of Assam and the North-East, who has a craze for chicken dishes, an unaware position is threatening their future. If a strict regulatory mechanism is not introduced and enforced the region may witness a health disaster in coming years due to antibiotic resistance.
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