Rampant misuse of important antibiotics in crops: Study

High doses of antibiotics are being used in crops by farmers like pesticides


High doses of antibiotics, that are vital for human beings, are being used "routinely" and "indiscriminately" in crops by farmers in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab like pesticides, a new study claimed. 

The study, conducted by environment think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), was released on Wednesday to mark the World Antibiotic Awareness Week (November 18 to 24).

"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 combination of streptomycin and tetracycline, routinely and indiscriminately in high doses in crops, including on those crops which they not approved for," the CSE said.

CSE Director General Sunita Narain, who was a member of the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on anti microbial resistance (AMR), said, "We strongly feel that concrete and timely action is required by central and state governments to contain AMR, particularly from animal and environmental routes."

Amit Khurana, programme director, Food and Toxins programme, CSE, said, "We found that farmers are unaware about the recommended use and spray antibiotics frequently like pesticides as a regular practice."

In humans, streptomycin is used to treat bacterial infections like tuberculosis (TB). 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," the study said.

According to the study, AMR or antimicrobial 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, leading to a huge health and economic burden," it said.

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.

Khurana, while appreciating health ministry's ban on using antibiotic Colistin in food-producing animals, said it was "a welcome step but to limit antimicrobial resistance (AMR) from this sector, it is imperative that no medically important antibiotic is allowed to be used for promoting growth of food animals.

The ministry had banned the sale and distribution of Colistin in July this year.

The study said that 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 effluent is under review of the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change. It is time that these standards are notified and made enforceable," the CSE member said.