Antibiotics are extensively misused in the dairy sector and its residues remain largely untested in milk, which is an integral part of Indian diets, particularly of children, noted a recently published survey report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) which on Wednesday organised an online meeting on antibiotic use in the dairy sector.
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“We are concerned. While we continue to struggle against COVID-19, we are staring at another pandemic-like situation — that of antibiotic resistance fuelled by the way we are producing our food, which has become chemical-intensive,” said CSE director general Sunita Narain.
The meeting was attended by a wide spectrum of experts and participants from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB); the World Health Organization (WHO), the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and representatives from specialised educational and research institutions, civil society bodies, and departments concerned from States.
Growing crisis of resistance
The CSE’s assessment shows that dairy farmers indiscriminately use antibiotics for diseases such as mastitis (infection/inflammation of the udder), a common ailment in dairy animals. Often, these include critically important antibiotics (CIAs) for humans — the WHO has warned that they should be preserved in view of the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance.
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India is the world’s largest milk producer — it produced a massive 188 million tonnes in 2018-19. Urban areas consume 52% of it, and the unorganised sector, comprising milkmen and contractors, caters to 60% of this consumer base; the remaining demand is met by dairy cooperatives and private dairies which represent the organised sector.
“The abused antibiotics — despite a law against it — are easily available without the prescription of a registered veterinarian and stocked at farms. Farmers often inject animals based on their own judgment of signs and symptoms of a disease without any veterinary supervision,’’ noted the CSE in its report.
The CSE researchers also point towards inadequate focus on testing for antibiotic residues in the milk collected by some State federations, which process it and sell packaged milk and dairy products under popular brands.
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“Farmers often sell milk while the animal is under treatment, which increases the chances of antibiotic residues. While milk sold directly to consumers is not tested, contrary to what one would expect, processed milk sold in packets is also largely unchecked for antibiotic residues,” says Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins programme, CSE.