You Are What Your Food Eats
How does excessive use of antibiotics in animal and poultry feed affect our own health?
Suvecha Dahal, Senior Content Creator
June 21, 2017
When we eat animal and poultry products like meat, milk, eggs and cheese, our body absorbs and processes the necessary nutrients along with anything else in it. It is important to give a closer look at the feed that the animal and poultry are fed, as it affects the source of our food.
Why are animals fed antibiotics?
Antibiotics are produced naturally or synthetically, and are used to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms in either humans or animals. Currently, most food-producing animals are given antibiotic medication for most of their lives. The conditions in which the animals are kept in slaughterhouses and farms in Nepal are mostly unhygienic and have sub par infrastructures. The possibility of infection and its spread is higher. If a single animal gets infected, the infection spreads quickly to other animals as well. So antibiotics is essential for treatment of bacterial infections. But in recent times, antibiotics is increasingly given to enhance animal growth. Antibiotics are mixed in the animal feed or water so that the animal grows faster and less feed is required for weight gain. With the growth of large scale livestock farming and the discovery of this unique effect, use of antibiotics has increased in recent decades.
Who adds these antibiotics in the feed?
Antibiotics could be added at different source points. Most animal feeds in Nepal arrives from India. Sometimes the producers themselves might add the antibiotics. Other times, suppliers in Nepal might add antibiotics to the feed during packaging. Farmers see the resultant health and growth in animals as the direct result of the feed, so it is profitable. The problem here is that it is unregulated and the buyers are unaware that the feed they are buying contains antibiotics. Also, animal farmers themselves could add antibiotics in animal feed to control infection and aid growth in their farms. Needless to say, an overdose of antibiotics is highly probable in this scenario.
The problem here is that it is unregulated and the buyers are unaware that the feed they are buying contains antibiotics.
What is antibiotic residue and why is it in my food?
In many cases in Nepal, antibiotics are added to the feed without laboratory diagnosis, veterinary prescription or professional supervision. The probability of incorrect dosage given is higher as well as giving doses for non-therapeutic reasons. The antibiotics then settles as a residue in the animal’s system as a whole. A prescribed withdrawal period needs to be followed to ensure that the animal has cleared the antibiotics out of their body. But to reduce cost and to ensure quick availability of products in the market, this withdrawal period is not strictly followed. Hence there is a high likelihood that many animal products available in the market have antibiotic residue.
Doesn’t the usage of antibiotics affect the health of the animal too?
The consistent non-therapeutic use of antibiotics causes animals to develop drug resistance. Which means more harmful and resistant bacteria could develop. The animals then become insensitive to antibiotics normally given, leading to treatment failures and possible death.
Occurrences of antibiotics in human food are known to be low in countries where quality assurance programs are effective.
How does the consumption of animal products with antibiotic residue affect my health?
Antibiotic residues in food are not degraded by cooking or pasteurization and is not visible to the eye. So the consumption of animal products treated with excessive antibiotics can gravely affect public health. These are some possible effects.
- When animals develop a resistance to given antibiotics, the resistant strain of bacteria can be transferred to humans upon consumption which are stronger and difficult to treat.
- Long term consumption of products with antibiotic residue can lead to antibiotic resistance. It leads to treatment failures and it is likely that the consumer is unaware of the source of sudden drug resistance.
- Antibiotics can also reduce certain bacteria in human intestines, even those that are important for a healthy gut. This could lead to gastrointestinal imbalance.
- People with sensitivity to certain antibiotics could have allergic reactions, without knowing why it is occurring at all.
- Some antibiotics are known to affect the healthy development of fetus in pregnant women, causing congenital malformation. It also affects the healthy growth and development of infants of lactating mothers.
Can the feed and animal products be tested for antibiotics?
Yes. The antibiotics in feed or animal product cannot be observed or identified with the human eye. This is concerning because the consumer is not informed enough to make a conscious choice. Laboratory tests can be conducted on the feed as well as animal products to ascertain the presence and content of antibiotics. Such tests can be credibly done in accredited laboratories like Zest Laboratories.
The antibiotics in feed or animal product cannot be observed or identified with the human eye. This is concerning because the consumer is not informed enough to make a conscious choice.
What measures can be taken to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal feed?
It is crucial to educate producers, suppliers and farmers about the consequences of excessive use of antibiotics and its long term effect to the consumer’s health. Occurrences of antibiotics in human food are known to be low in countries where quality assurance programs are effective. Such programs include educational programs, widespread testing of feed, feed supplements, animal products, and financial penalties for noncompliance. However implementation of such quality assurance programs can pose as a major challenge in Nepal where there is rampant misuse of veterinary drugs and sale of animal source food is primarily informal.
Wouldn’t it be rather effective to enforce the complete ban of antibiotics?
Banning it would mean that the efficiency of the livestock industry would reduce, dramatically driving up the cost of animal production and related products. This would lead to soaring market prices that consumers cannot afford. Instead it requires stringent quality assurance measures and regulations. It could includes enforcement of statutory requirements, close monitoring of quality of feed, their usage pattern, and finally quality of food that is sold in market.
There are also instances when animal products are tested however it is not as frequently conducted. Due to lack of proper monitoring, sometimes samples that are found as substandard are not destroyed and are continued to be used.
Is there any policy or laws governing this in Nepal?
The Feed Act of Nepal prohibits use of feed that is hazardous to animal health. Similarly the Food Act has directives to ensure safety of food for public consumption. There are also instances when animal products are tested however it is not as frequently conducted. Due to lack of proper monitoring, sometimes samples that are found as substandard are not destroyed and are continued to be used. There is also no significant legal or financial repercussions for the perpetrator. Additionally although many studies have been conducted to show the presence of residue, there is lack of data about health problems caused by it, leading to a gap in evidence. Without significant evidence on the correlation, there will be limited activities undertaken to curb the rampant use.
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