Latest study by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab finds antibiotic residues in chicken | Centre for Science and Environment

Latest study by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab finds antibiotic residues in chicken


Growing antibiotic-resistance in humans also because of large-scale indiscriminate use of antibiotics in poultry industry, claims CSE study

  • 70 chicken samples from Delhi-NCR region tested for six commonly used antibiotics 

  • 40 per cent samples test positive; residues of more than one antibiotic found in 17 per cent samples

  • Points to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics as growth promoters by the poultry industry

  • Antibiotics that are important to treat diseases in humans, like ciprofloxacin, being rampantly used by the industry. This is leading to increased cases of antibiotic resistance in India. For instance, ciprofloxacin resistance is growing rapidly in the country

  • India has no regulation on controlling antibiotic use in the poultry industry, or to control sales of antibiotics to the industry. It is free for all 

  • India has not set any limits for antibiotic residues in chicken 

  • India will have to implement a comprehensive set of regulations including banning of antibiotic use as growth promoters in the poultry industry. Not doing this will put lives of people at risk

New Delhi, July 30, 2014: Indians are developing resistance to antibiotics — and hence falling prey to a host of otherwise curable ailments. Some of this resistance might be due to large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics in the poultry industry, says a new study released here today by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy think-tank.

Releasing the findings of the study which has been conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML), Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said: “Antibiotics are no more restricted to humans nor limited to treating diseases. The poultry industry, for instance, uses antibiotics as a growth promoter. Chickens are fed antibiotics so that they gain weight and grow faster.” The CSE lab study found residues of antibiotics in 40 per cent of the samples of chicken that were tested.

Speaking on the occasion, Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general and head of the lab, said: “Public health experts have long suspected that such rampant use of antibiotics in animals could be a reason for increasing antibiotic resistance in India. But the government has no data on the use of antibiotics in the country, let alone on the prevalence of antibiotic resistance. Our study proves the rampant use and also shows that this can be strongly linked to growing antibiotic resistance in humans in India.”

The test results
PML tested 70 samples of chicken in Delhi and NCR: 36 samples were picked from Delhi, 12 from Noida, eight from Gurgaon and seven each from Faridabad and Ghaziabad. Three tissues — muscle, liver and kidney — were tested for the presence of six antibiotics widely used in poultry: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines); enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin, an aminoglycoside. This is the biggest study done in India to test residues of antibiotics in chicken.

Residues of five of the six antibiotics were found in all the three tissues of the chicken samples. They were in the range of 3.37-131.75 μg/kg. Of the 40 per cent samples found tainted with antibiotic residues, 22.9 per cent contained residues of only one antibiotic while the remaining 17.1 per cent samples had residues of more than one antibiotic. In one sample purchased from Gurgaon, a cocktail of three antibiotics — oxytetracycline, doxycycline and enrofloxacin — was found. This indicates rampant use of multiple antibiotics in the poultry industry.

CSE researchers point out that antibiotics are frequently pumped into chicken during its life cycle of 35-42 days: they are occasionally given as a drug to treat infections, regularly mixed with feed to promote growth and routinely administered to all birds for several days to prevent infections, even when there are no signs of it. “Our study is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more antibiotics that are rampantly used that the lab has not tested,” says Bhushan.

What does it mean?
Large-scale misuse and overuse of antibiotics in chicken is leading to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the chicken itself. These bacteria are then transmitted to humans through food or environment. Additionally, eating small doses of antibiotics through chicken can also lead to development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

To ascertain the linkage between overuse of antibiotics in poultry farms and antibiotic resistance in humans, CSE researchers reviewed 13 studies conducted by various government and private hospitals across the country between 2002 and 2013. They found that resistance was very high against ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and tetracyclines. These are the same antibiotics that were detected in the chicken samples.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many essential and important antibiotics for humans are being used by the poultry industry. In India, there is growing evidence that resistance to fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin is rapidly increasing. Treating fatal diseases like sepsis, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) with fluoroquinolones is becoming tough because microbes that cause these diseases are increasingly becoming resistant to fluoroquinolones.

Replying to a question in Parliament recently, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the number of multi-drug resistant (MDR)-TB cases in the country has increased five times between 2011 and 2013. Studies show that one-third of MDR-TB cases are resistant to fluoroquinolones, which are critical for MDR-TB treatment.

The CSE study found two fluoroquinolone antibiotics — enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin — in 28.6 per cent of the chicken samples tested.

With antibiotics losing their effectiveness, the world would need newer antibiotics. Unfortunately, no new class of antibiotics has hit the market since the late 1980s. In the US, which is the largest user of antibiotics for animal food production, more than two million people suffer from antibiotic resistance-related illnesses every year; 23,000 of them succumb to the diseases. Annual healthcare cost due to antibiotic resistance is estimated to be as high as US $20 billion. No such estimates are available for India, but cases of high antibiotic resistance are emerging from across the country.

So what is to be done?
Governments worldwide are adopting regulations to control the use of antibiotics. But only those countries have shown signs of improvement that have taken stringent actions. EU, for instance, has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that antibiotics that are critical for human use should not be used in animals. Countries have also set standards for antibiotics in food commodities.

CSE researchers point out that the poultry industry in India is growing at 10 per cent per annum. Poultry constitutes more than 50 per cent of all the meat consumed in India. Says Bhushan: “India will have to adopt a comprehensive approach to tackle this problem. The biggest problem is the emergence of resistant bacteria in animals and its transmission through food and environment. Till the time we keep misusing antibiotics in animals, we will not be able to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance. For India, therefore, the priority should be to put systems in place to reduce the use of antibiotics in poultry and other food animals.”

CSE has recommended the following to the government:

1. Ban use of antibiotics as growth promoters and for mass disease prevention. Antibiotics critical for humans should not be allowed in the poultry industry.

2. Antibiotics should not be used as a feed additive; the government should regulate the poultry feed industry.

3. Unlicensed and unlabeled antibiotics should not be sold in the market.

4. The government should promote development of alternatives and good farm management practices.

5. Set standards for antibiotics in chicken products.

6. Set up systems for monitoring and surveillance of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in humans and animals.

7. Set pollution control standards for the poultry industry.


About Centre for Science and Environment and its Pollution Monitoring Lab
New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is one of the foremost research and advocacy bodies working in the South Asian region on issues of environment and development. CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab has conducted some seminal studies on health and environment, and its work has had immense impact in driving policy as well as public opinion in India.


• For queries, please contact Amit Khurana of our food safety and toxins team at / 9810813245.

• For interviews etc, please contact Souparno Banerjee at / 9910864339.



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