Is your meat safe?
Let's hope you're not reading this while enjoying your chicken sandwich!
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conducted a lab study on 70 random chicken samples from Delhi and NCR (even the supermarkets!) and found 40 per cent of them to have antibiotics in them! Almost a fifth of them had more than one drug!
Shocking as it sounds, the problem is multifold.
Antibiotics are for sick patients. Given this rampant, unchecked misuse, even if you are not the pill popping types, through poultry, you might have already been exposed to more than 80 per cent of known drugs!
So why do meat producers give a cocktail of drugs to poultry?
To make them grow faster, (feed is metabolized more efficiently) prevent disease outbreaks in cramped conditions and keep the meat looking "fresh" on shelves for longer. Animals gain as much as 3 per cent more weight than they otherwise would with antibiotics. In an industry where profits are measured in pennies per animal, such weight gain is revolutionary.
But the side-effects of antibiotics entering your bodies through poultry are detrimental. They kill the good bacteria in the gut which helps fight diseases. And don't think with the antibiotic party going on, the meat would be bacteria-free. Worse, this meat can contain antibiotic resistant bacteria also known as "superbugs" which can lie dormant in your system. And get activated when you have an immunity suppressing illness, making you resistant to most known antibiotics!
Now couple this with the fact that there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline...Serious trouble?
Dr Sanjith Saseedharan, who heads the Critical Care Department at SL Raheja Fortis Hospital, says, "Every year thousands and thousands of people are dying from infections which were once curable. In America alone, where the antibiotic usage is under a strict check, more than 25,000 people died because of antibiotic resistance. In India that Superbugs have become of urgent concern. And with no new class of drugs coming into play, how am I to treat my patients?"
The CSE also found that medicines used to treat infections of the urinary tract, eye and ear, blood stream, diarrhoea and pneumonia were found to be present in the chicken samples. Residues were found from three parts per billion to 31 parts per billion per kg. "But the safe limit is zero," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
The poultry business in India is a Rs 50,000 crore industry, growing at 10 per cent per year. We produce thirty-five lakh tonnes of chicken meat per year. But unlike Europe and other Western countries, India is a totally unregulated market. Europe banned the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry way back in 1998. The US FDA did so in 2005.
Clearly not eating chicken is not the solution. Two years back CSE found high levels of antibiotics in all leading brands of honey. So what all should we abstain from ?
The government has to step in and enforce strong regulations on antibiotic use in the country in both poultry and off-the-counter. It's a ticking time bomb and has to be dealt with at the earliest. Not to sound alarmist, but we're moving closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. The alternative could be the end of modern medicine.
PS: Honestly, I'm so depressed with the situation that I'm wondering, can Prozac-laced chicken wings help?