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How much of the food we eat has antibiotics?

July 2, 2019
 
How much of the food we eat has antibiotics?

A recent study published in the Pakistan Veterinary Journal highlighted the alarming issue of increased antibiotic resistance or antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in food-producing animals in the country.

The paper, published in March 2019, reviewed the existing literature on AMR in livestock, poultry and fisheries and stressed on the need to develop efficient monitoring systems to curb the phenomenon before it becomes a nationwide epidemic.

The study, ‘The under reported issue of antibiotic-resistance in food-producing animals in Pakistan’, was co-authored by Sadeequr Rahman of Abdul Wali Khan University’s College of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Mashkoor Mohsin of University of Agriculture’s Institute of Microbiology in Faisalabad.

The authors interviewed various farmers and veterinary medicine suppliers to ascertain the types of antibiotics being used to promote growth in food-producing animals. They found that different antibiotic classes, “mainly lactam antibiotics (comprising mainly penicillins), lincosamides, and macrolides, including erythromycin and tetracyclines, oligosaccharide, avilamycin and flavophospholipol,” were in use.

The paper also referred to a previous study (Khaskheli et al, 2008) whereby beta-lactam antibiotic residues in levels not advised for human consumption were found in 36.5% of the surveyed dairy milk samples. Other studies referenced Jabbar, 2013 and Solangi et al, 2013 also detailed the high concentration of antibiotics in marketed meat and dairy products across the country.

What is AMR?

It is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, anti-virals, and anti-malarials) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.

What does increased antibiotic resistance do?

AMR is concerning as it jeopardises a person’s chances of preventing and treating serious infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. It not only renders most antibiotics ineffective against infections, but also poses risks during surgery and chemotherapy.

It prolongs the duration of common illnesses and hospital stays. In a country such as Pakistan with a high burden of infectious disease and rising rates of drug-resistant infections such as multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and typhoid, AMR can also prove to be fatal.

“Proper planning, improved use of antimicrobials, establishment of effective surveillance systems, constituting and enforcing legislature and combined international actions should immediately be taken to control the spread of antibiotic resistance,” stressed the authors of the study.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Pakistan has still not implemented its 2017 National Action Plan which entails guidelines by the World Health Organisation and other international councils to tackle the issue of AMR.

Antibiotics are sold indiscriminately in the market too.

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