Study finds alarming levels of antimicrobial resistance in poultry environment

NEW DELHI: A new study has found high levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the poultry farm environment in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, raising serious concerns about the impact on human health.

Researchers from NGOs Toxics Link and World Animal Protection collected 14 poultry litter and groundwater samples from six poultry farms for the study.

Eleven of these samples showed an alarming presence of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARG) against 15 important antibiotics, including glycopeptides, carbapenems, and macrolides.

Surveys conducted by Toxics Link found that poultry farmers are using antibiotics indiscriminately due to a general lack of awareness and understanding of the possible consequences.

Despite the recommendation of the Bureau of Indian Standards to not use antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) in poultry feeds, these continue to be available in the markets and used by poultry farmers.

Colistin, a last-resort antibiotic drug for treating multidrug-resistant infections, banned for use in food-producing animals by the Union Ministry of Health in 2019, is still being sold through online platforms.

ARGs are genetic facilitators of AMR which causes bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites to no longer respond to antimicrobial medicines.

Although naturally occurring, ARGs in the environment have increased in recent years due to anthropogenic activities leading to overuse and misuse of antimicrobials across different sectors.

This has led to diseases such as pneumonia, gonorrhoea, post-operative infections, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria becoming increasingly untreatable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least seven lakh people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases, including more than two lakh people who die from multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.

India accounts for three per cent of the global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals and has one of the highest intensity of antimicrobial usage (AMU) rates in the livestock sector.

As the country intensifies its animal farming practices to meet food insecurity, there are growing concerns about the poultry sector emerging as a new hotspot for antimicrobial resistance.

AMR can spread through various routes, including contact with animals or their products and contaminated food, thereby increasing the risk of infection for veterinarians, farmers, and food handlers.

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