Zoetis, the largest producer of veterinary medicines, is banned from selling antibiotics that promote faster growth in animals, exposing consumers to a high level of health risk, in the US and Europe. However, the company continues to sell the banned drugs in India, an investigation by The Hindu and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.
The World Health Organisation has declared that consuming poultry items injected with such antibiotics can cause a wide range of untreatable infections. The World Organisation for Animal Health(OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) have pushed for a ban on these antibiotics. While the US and European countries have accepted this ban, India continues to have no strict rules in this regard.
It may be noted that these antibiotic drugs introduce resistant bacteria which then cause infection. Such infections kill an estimated 1,00,000 babies in India and 7,00,000 people around the world every year.
Antibiotic banned in the US and Europe
At the time when the US banned growth-promoting antibiotics, Zoetics had pledged its support to the new law, stating its “continued commitment to antibiotic stewardship”. However, the same antibiotics are being sold openly in India to the farmers and are being advertised on their website with the claim that they help animals grow bigger and bigger.
Many experts have called out the double standard of the company. Prof Abdul Ghafur who brought the Chennai Declaration to tackle antibiotic resistance, told The Hindu, “If an American company follows one policy in America, they should follow the same policy in India.”
In fact, while in the US, after the ban came into effect, Zoetis in 2013, said that it supported “FDA’s efforts to voluntarily phase-out growth promotion indications for medically important antibiotics”. However, in India, Neftin-T which contains growth-promoting antibiotic tylosin is being sold with open claims of improving weight gain and FCR(feed conversion rate).
Zoetis has said that if the antibiotics are used under the supervision of veterinary professional while following approved indications, its product “will not contribute to drug resistance” and will not put consumers’ life under threat.
However, investigations have shown that this is not followed in India. In fact, when a Bureau reporter posing as a veterinary drug store owner spoke to a member of Zoetis’ Indian sales team, he was told that the no such guidelines are followed in India and the antibiotics are sold directly to the farmers.
Indian consumers also stand at a high risk because of the rampant use of Colistin or the “last hope” antibiotic in the poultry farms. “Colistin is the last line of defence”, said Professor Timothy Walsh, who is also an adviser to the UN on antimicrobial resistance. “It is the only drug we have left to treat critically ill patients with a carbapenem-resistant infection. Giving it to chickens as feed is crazy.”
The Bureau found that although none of Zoetis’ growth promoter contains Colistin, other major Indian poultry companies have been found to use it, which can be obtained from a store without a prescription.
Venky’s is a major poultry producer. Apart from selling animal medicines and creating its own chicken meals, it also supplies meat directly and indirectly to fast food chains in India such as KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dominos. An earlier report by The Bureau said that Venky’s sold colistin to farmers in India as a growth promoter. However, Venky later removed the growth promoter claim, further clarifying to the Bureau that, “ usage of Colis-V (colistin sulphate) in poultry farming is based on advice from Registered Veterinary Practitioners only.”
In India, awareness around superbugs is lacking. In addition to the stricter international framework, greater funding for antibiotic research, national government policies and further regulations on private pharmaceutical companies, a social change needs to be brought about.
Read the original report here.