Keeping Chicken Healthy Threatens India’s Health
Outside the northern city limits of Bangalore, in a commercial poultry farm, cages packed with screeching chicken, sit on metal stilts. In a corner of the farm, men pack jute bags with bird feed. One of the workers–who would only say his name is Kumar–reveals the chicken feed is made in-house, and “medicines” are mixed with the feed.
These “medicines” are usually antibiotics, which play a key role in fulfilling India’s growing appetite for animal protein. That protein comes mainly from chicken–although goat, bovine and fish are also contributors–largely raised by intensive poultry farming, which uses antibiotics widely not just to ward off the threat of epidemics at such close quarters, but as growth factors.
India was among the top five countries using antibiotics in animal-food production, with 3% of the global share in 2010, according to a new research paper in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) last week.
Over the next 15 years, the PNAS paper predicts, India’s antibiotics consumption will double. Across Asia, already high antibiotic use will rise 4% in pigs and 143% in chicken, the extreme rise in poultry coming from India’s unprecedented appetite for chicken.
Giving chicken antibiotic-laced pre-mixed feed forces them to ingest low concentrations of antibiotics “for every day of their lives”, Dr. Ramanan Lakshminarayan, Director of Princeton University’s Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and one of the authors of the paper told IndiaSpend in an email interview.
“This has profound impacts on the effectiveness of antibiotics in medicine, including effects that we may not fully understand,” said Lakshminarayan.
The paper noted that daily animal-protein intake in Asia more than tripled over 53 years (1960 to 2013), from 7 gm per capita per day to 25 gm per capita per day, primarily among higher-income populations.
India will be most affected by skyrocketing antibiotic use in animal feed, said the PNAS study.
“Widespread resistance may be more consequential for India than for other countries because India’s bacterial disease burden is among the highest in the world, and therefore antimicrobials play a critical role in limiting morbidity and mortality,” the paper said.