“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”- Mahatma Gandhi
First and foremost let us try to explain ‘What is antibiotics’? Antibiotic is a drug/substance which either kills or prevents the spread of bacteria whenever there is any kind of bacterial infection in our body. Antibiotic which is being prescribed by doctors for 5-7 days can be effectively used for treatment of bacterial diseases. In the same way, such type of treatment for sick animals and birds are being practiced by veterinarians as well. Here, we will discuss about how antibiotics present in our food such as meat, eggs and milk can affect our body in various ways.
There are different types of antibiotics and their actions also differ in different type of bacteria. The mechanism of action of antibiotics will not be discussed as of now, but let us highlight some of the commonly used antibiotics nowadays are penicillin, tetracyclines, streptomycin, enrofloxacin, chloramphenicol, etc. According to Global Trends Antibiotic Report the 5 BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have increased the use of antibiotics by 36% within the past 10 years where India was recorded as one of the highest with 62%. The Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) was established by the co-operation of 5 countries- India, Kenya, South Africa and Vietnam to reduce the risk of side effects of antibiotics in human being.
World Health Organization (WHO) and Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) have put together the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) of antibiotics that can be present in meat, eggs, and milk and the Acceptable Daily Intake of antibiotics for human. Anything that is displayed in the market should strictly follow the WHO&FAO standard. Many countries have their own standard according to their eating habits and culture; since India is yet to create the standard, we currently follow the WHO&FAO standard. Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) have put forward a step to create the standard (MRL) for India because our health, immunity, food habits etc. is different from the developed countries. All these standards are created to avoid the side effect of antibiotics to a maximum level.
Let us discuss the adverse effects of wrong dosage administration and consumption of antibiotics present in the meat, eggs and milk to the human body. India ranks 3rd in egg production and 8th in meat production in the world, due to which the large scale use of antibiotics through feed and treatment of livestock diseases is inevitable. Antibiotics are widely used in treatment of different types of poultry and livestock diseases like fowl cholera, fowl typhoid, coccidiosis, swine fever, FMD, etc.
Besides the above mentioned bacterial diseases, our animals also die due to an infectious agent called virus. Antibiotics cannot kill virus but it is still given to prevent further secondary infections/complications. Other than these, antibiotic is also given along with feed and water to promote growth of poultry and livestock, which has created a lot of debate among researchers and scientists. Faster the growth rate, faster is the market age which increases the amount of profit. But when antibiotic fed poultry is consumed either in the form of chicken meat or eggs, it can adversely affect the human health as well. One research has revealed that 80% of poultry birds received at least once antibiotics in its lifetime or before it come to market. Consumption of antibiotic containing chicken and egg can caused skin allergy, kidney problem, liver problem, miscarriage and other several diseases.
It is evident that certain antibiotic like chloramphenicol can cause a severe bone marrow disease known as Grey baby syndrome in babies. The prolonged used of oxytetracycline can cause leucocytosis, thrombocytopenia, liver and heart problems, and can even effect teeth and bones. Children below 7 years of age may develop yellow teeth with long term use of oxytetracycline. Many people are prone to a type of itching/allergy which may occurs due to the consumption of penicillin antibiotics. After seeing these conditions, doctors also stopped prescribing penicillin for such patient. However, meat containing penicillin can cause the same type of itching which often led to a saying that “I am allergic to this meat.”
Often, we ask ourselves, “If antibiotics are meant to cure diseases, but how does it affect human health?” Antibiotics can kill infectious agent which causes infection to our body. However, when we consume antibiotic containing food, it builds up in our body when we do not need at all and can cause the above mentioned diseases. Let us discuss the world’s most concerned topic of today i.e. Antibiotic/ Antimicrobial Resistance. Antibiotic/ antimicrobial resistance means the resistance developed by infectious agents which mostly occurs due to wrong dosage of administration. The antibiotic that previously cured or treated infections may not work as well anymore, or may not work at all, in order to kill or stop the growth of the bacteria. Infectious agents which cannot be killed by antibiotics have also been discovered.
The so called Superbug or New Delhi metallo β-lactamase 1 (NDM-1) was discovered in India in 2009. This superbug is known to be resistant against almost all types of antibiotics. Similar to this, ESBL (Extended Spectrum β lactamases) bacteria which is resistant against the present known antibiotics, Methicillin Drug Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) etc. are of today’s concern. Tuberculosis drug which was regarded as effective against Tuberculosis infection in the earlier days are not effective anymore against the newly discovered Tuberculosis bacteria. If these types of bacteria infected our body, antibiotics will definitely be useless against them. Scientists are working on day and night to discover antibiotic which will be effective against these antibiotic resistant bacteria. One of the many reasons against antibiotic resistance is the build up of antibiotics level in our body through consumption of meat, eggs, milk, etc. containing antibiotics. We must also keep in mind that antibiotic resistance can occur when we do not take a proper full course of antibiotics as prescribed by a Doctor.
Lets us try to answer the most frequently encountered question “Is antibiotic containing meat, eggs and milk safe for human consumption after boiling?” The observation of veterinary research scholars in this field revealed that antibiotic present in chicken, eggs, milk etc., can be destroyed upto 20 to 50% by cooking and boiling which varied according to the type of antibiotics. However, 100% antibiotics present in food cannot be destroyed by cooking and boiling method.
We should keep in mind that different antibiotics have different withdrawal period for meat, eggs and milk. For example, the withdrawal period of tetracycline in cow’s milk is 48-72 hours, which means that the cow’s milk contains tetracycline for 48-72 hours after administration of such antibiotic and should not be consumed within this period. Same goes with other antibiotics as well. Animals should not be slaughtered within the withdrawal period of antibiotics for the safety of meat and eggs consumption. Some diseases which we mentioned earlier like CSF, FMD etc., are commonly encountered and required vigorous use of antibiotics for their treatment, so we must be more cautious about it.
We have mentioned the different health problems which may occur due to improper dosage of antibiotics and consumption of food containing antibiotics. Self medication and treatment of sick animals without the guidance of veterinarians/doctors should be avoided. Till date, majority of the population are not aware about the probable harmful effects of antibiotics to our health. Awareness about judicious use of antibiotics is of absolute necessity from the grass root level in a society. All the important information or awareness cannot be mentioned right now. Therefore, we should not hesitate to enquire to Veterinary Officers/Doctors regarding the safety of meat, eggs and milk consumption.
Dr Malsawmkima, Lalhruaizeli,
Dr Laltlankimi, Dr Lalsangpuii,
Dr C. Lalawmpuia#
*College of Veterinary Sciences & A.H., Jalukie, Nagaland. #Vet. Officer