When doctors started recommending white meat to their patients who suffered cardio-vascular disease, chicken became a popular alternative. But a study has shown that Nepalis are unknowingly consuming antibiotics and growth hormones through chicken.
At least half of samples tested by the Food Technology and Quality Control Department (FTQCD) recently showed traces of antibiotics tetracycline, penicillin, and sulfonamides concentrated mainly in the livers and gizzards of the birds.
But now even veterinary doctors have become involved and are prescribing medicine to ‘nutrition deprived chickens.’ Veterinarian Sunil Sapkota says clients stopped coming to his clinic after he refused to prescribe these medicines.
According to FTQCD's website, over the counter sales of tetracycline and penicillin were banned 31 years ago. It is also illegal to produce, sell, distribute, import, or use mixtures of tetracycline-Vitamin C and sulphonamide-penicillin in Nepal. These rules were designed to regulate human consumption of the antibiotics, but veterinarians were allowed to continue their use. However, the drugs are now finding their way to humans through the food chain. A vet in Jawalakhel says that there is widespread use of antibiotics in poultry farms.
A recent WHO report on anti-microbial resistance shows that bacteria that cause common infections are mutating into drug-resistant varieties because of antibiotic misuse. The report says one major concern is the use of antibiotics as growth agents in animals.
Buddha Basnyat of the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership says antibiotic resistance has the capacity to become a silent epidemic in Nepal, precisely because the government is failing to regulate the chicken-feed industry and outlaw antibiotics in the poultry industry.
“The bacteria that infect us are now used in the medicine that was supposed to help us,” says Sameer Mani Dixit, also a member of the global partnership.
None of the 200 poultry feed producers in Nepal include a list of ingredients on their sacks and because farmers are under pressure to make sure their chickens grow up to weigh 2.5 kg each, they have to use what is available.
Director of FTQCD Jiwanprabha Lama accepts that the government is failing to regulate the poultry industry. Says Lama: “Chicken liver is fed to young children for the high-protein content, and now our children will be unnecessarily exposed to antibiotics from an early age.”
An average Nepali consumes 4.8kg meat and 65 eggs in a year and the figures are much higher in city areas. In 2013, altogether 783,701 tons of meat and 1.8 billion eggs were sold in the market.