J&K consumes 6 crore chicken stuffed with ‘spurious’ antibiotics annually

Srinagar: In the burgeoning poultry sector, hundreds of thousands of chicken are produced inside the state and imported annually that go directly into the market without any proper testing entailing a significant health risk to consumers.

The nature of this alarming development can be put into perspective by experts who point out to the dangers inherent to this approach.

“The problem lies with the unhygienic slaughtering and old chicks which are contaminated with infections like Campylobacter, Salmonella and E.coli,” Director, Animal Husbandry Department, Dr. Makhdoomi said. “Once they are consumed by human, diseases of various kinds are imminent.”

The prevalence rate, Dr. Makhdoomi said, is higher within the premises of the poultry farms where chicks are bred. “Unfortunately, in our state we don’t have many health officers who can take a regular inspection to the market as well as to the farms.”   

Poultry is one of the fast emerging sectors as important growth leverage to state economy and its share to gross domestic products is also increasing.

The last decade has witnessed tremendous growth in the poultry sector in the state.  Poultry farming has come up in a big way in Jammu, Kathua , Udhampur, Pulwama Srinagar and Budgam districts, with large number of educated unemployed youth taking up poultry farming as a sustainable means of earning their livelihood. There are at least thirteen thousand poultry units identified by the animal husbandry department.

Each year, Kashmir imports around 5.5 crore chickens from neighbouring Haryana and Punjab. 36 lakh chickens are produced locally.

Some 8000 youths in the state have been given poultry units for self employment till date.

While this is all well and fine in terms of both production and employment generated, but there are obvious health risks.

There is as such no mechanism which could ensure that the chicken available in the market is infection free. “Long time ago, it was well within the purview of Srinagar Municipal Corporation to go for a disease check but it has been taken away from us and handed over to the Drug Department,” said Dr. Samina, health officer at SMC.

There are over 60 listed diseases associated with the poultry and they are common sources for the pathogens: Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and Campylobacter. Some of these pathogens are often identified during processing but the exact source can come from several sources, including the poultry house environment, hatchery and through vectors such as equipment and personnel. 

Some serious illnesses that infected chicken can lead to include disease called ‘Gullian-Barre Syndrome’ which kills nearly 2 lakh people around the world every year.

Vector borne and other forms of disease is not the only problem. Consuming chicken which are laced with antibiotics can lead to resistance to anti-biotics in humans.

According to Dr. Javaid, a veterinarian with the SMC , “Poultry birds are heavily dosed with antibiotics. Without knowing their ill effects on human health these chicken are directly consumed by the humans and thus making us resistant to various antibiotics. “Government has not formulated any antibiotic withdrawal period among the birds. This is a cause of concern”.

As per the latest laboratory report testing released by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), antibiotics are routinely pumped into chickens during their short life span of 30-45 days to promote growth so that they look bigger and also to treat or prevent infection.

“The findings are not shocking as patients who come for treatment have become really resistant to various drugs,” Dr. Altaf Ahmed, a general physician said. “A patient with a minor problem comes frequently to see a doctor who could be treated with a simple antibiotic pill but those on chicken meat have had their threshold already crossed making them susceptible to diseases.”

Dr. Syed Altaf Geelani who is posted at the Hariparbhat Pultry farm says a farm owner has to follow a stringent 3-pronged protocol. “Management, Bio-security and Vaccination are the three protocols a farm owner must follow,” he said. “Though vaccination is performed, Management is faulty while as bio-security is non-existent.”

Dr Geelani said that spurious antibiotics are readily available in the market and the farm owners feed their chicken with the same increasing the health hazard manifold”.

People, by and large attribute the prevalence of consumption Broiler chicken to lack of availability of an alternative. According to Waheed Mir,  a self employed person, “We consume broiler chicken as Kashmiri chicken is not available in the market. They are rarely reared now”. Squib Ahmad, a student, adding weight to this view, says, “Broilers are easily available in the market ay cheaper rates, so they have become sort of a natural choice for the people”.

Khurram Wani, an entrepreneur, attributes the trend to Kashmiris’ carelessness about their health. According to Khurram, “ Kashmiris are least concerned about their health. People here get easily attracted to new varieties; they are fascinated by taste rather than knowing and understanding health hazards”.

These are not the only issues; other critical issues pertain to logistics, warehousing and retailing aspects of the entire poultry farming and production chain.

Experts assert that chicken raised for their flesh are often packed by the thousands into massive sheds and fed large amounts of antibiotics and drugs to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them.

Only seven weeks after they are born, chicken are crowded onto trucks that transport them to the slaughterhouse. Every year, tens of millions of chickens have their wings and legs broken in the process. They are trucked through all weather extremes, sometimes over hundreds of miles, without any food or water. At slaughter, chickens are hung upside down and have their throats slit, and they’re often scalded to death in defeathering tanks.

Most chicken spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with tens of thousands of other birds, each getting less space than a sheet of paper, where intense crowding and confinement lead to outbreaks of disease. Adult chickens can have trouble breathing and standing upright and will even topple forward because they’ve been bred to have abnormally large breasts.

More than 99 percent of broiler chicken carcasses sold in stores had detectable levels of E. coli, indicating fecal contamination.

Ignoring the risks entailed in the flawed poultry farm production entail and carry serious health hazards of both a direct and indirect nature. This is a public health issue whose repercussions will be long term and long lasting. It is incumbent upon any government to pay serious attention to a lingering but serious issue whose proportion, scale and magnitude can only be serious.

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