In India: Important Antibiotics ‘Wildly’ Used in Crops – New Delhi-Based Research Group Observes

By: Moses R. Quollin, quollinmoses@gmail.com (Environmental Reporter) +231770922412/+231880922412 |

Sunita Narain, Director General, CSE

In observance of the World Antibiotic Week, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based independent research and advocacy think tank has released the findings of its new assessment which suggest that antibiotics that are important for humans, are being rampantly used in crops.

The world conducts antibiotics awareness in November of each year, aims to increase global awareness of antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread antibiotic resistance.

Experts around the world say each year more people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and some people die as a result from complication from antibiotic-resistant infections.

A CSE press release said farmers along the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi, Hisar in Haryana and Fazilka in Punjab were found to be using streptocycline — a 90:10 combinations of streptomycin and tetracycline — routinely and indiscriminately in high doses in crops, including on those crops which they not approved for.

“We found that farmers are unaware about the recommended use and spray antibiotics frequently like pesticides as a regular practice,” the release quoted Amit Khurana, Food and Toxins Program Director at the Center for Science and Environment.

CSE: In humans, streptomycin is used for previously-treated tuberculosis (TB) patients, who make up over 10 per cent of the total estimated TB incidence in India. It is also used in multidrug-resistant TB patients and in certain cases of TB meningitis (brain TB). Resistance to streptomycin is quite high and its large scale non-human use could add to the problem. The World Health Organization classifies it as a critically important antibiotic for humans.

AMR − antibiotic resistance − is a growing threat to global public health, and India is expected to be heavily impacted by it. Antibiotics are becoming ineffective as bacteria-causing infections are getting resistant to the antibiotics that are being used to kill them. Bacterial infections, which are quite common in India, are becoming difficult to treat or completely untreatable, leading to a huge health and economic burden.

Besides antibiotic over-use in humans, it is known that over-use and misuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes – growth promotion and mass disease prevention – in food animals such as chicken, fish and cattle as well as overuse in crops can contribute to AMR.

“The health ministry’s ban on using colistin in food-producing animals is a welcome step. But to limit AMR from this sector, it is imperative that no medically important antibiotic is allowed to be used for promoting growth of food animals.” Khurana maintained

Antibiotic pollution into the environment through waste from point sources such as pharmaceutical manufacturing units is another area of huge concern. It is known to escalate resistance in the environment, which can pass on to humans. Therefore, antibiotics in such waste should be considered and treated as hazardous chemicals.

“For over a year and half, a draft of standards for residual antibiotics in industrial effluents is under review of the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change. It is time that these standards are notified and made enforceable,” says Khurana.

Unsafe disposal of unused and expired drugs also needs to be checked and controlled. CSE had recently published its findings on how unused or expired antibiotics are disposed of at the household level and by retailers and wholesalers of medicines across Delhi-NCR. CSE researchers point out that extended producer responsibility must be introduced to take back unused antibiotics. This best practice can minimize antibiotic pollution in the environment, they add.

India’s five-year action plan on AMR outlines a comprehensive multi-sectoral approach to combat AMR. Released along with the Delhi Declaration on AMR in April 2017, it called upon states and Union territories to develop their own plans. So far, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have developed their State Action Plans, while Delhi is working on one of its own.

Says CSE director general Sunita Narain, who was a member of the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on AMR: “Considering the progress made so far, we strongly feel that concrete and timely action is required by Central and state governments to contain AMR, particularly from animal and environmental routes.”

Therefore, in this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week (November 18-24), CSE is calling for regulating all non-human use of antibiotics, to contain antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

Streptomycin and tetracycline routinely used in high doses on crops, finds CSE. Streptomycin, a drug for treating TB in humans, being used indiscriminately to grow fruits, vegetables and rice

“TB continues to be a public health crisis in our country. We must find a solution to avoid such widespread and negligent use of streptomycin in crops” — Sunita Narain, director general, CSE

To preserve antibiotics for humans and contain AMR, CSE calls for curbing all unnecessary use of antibiotics in crops as well as in animals

In addition, to minimize antibiotic pollution in environment, discharge limits of antibiotics in pharmaceutical industry waste must be notified urgently, says CSE.

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About Cholo Brooks 12515 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.