06/22/2011 10:43 am ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

Time for Antibiotics-Free Animal Industry Practices

The misuse of antibiotics in medical care for humans and in the animal industry is at the center of the increasing problem of antibiotics resistance. Low-dose antibiotics are used prophylactically in the animal industry with the goal of preventing illnesses in crowded animal facilities and to promote growth.

In the US, approximately 70% of all antibiotics are fed to chicken, pigs and cattle. Resistant or partially resistant bacteria have been isolated from the fecal matter of those animals. An active debate is underway on banning the sub-clinical use of antibiotics with the American Medical Association opposing the use of medically important antibiotics in healthy poultry and farm animals. Further, the US Food and Drug Administration has called for a ban on the use of the fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics in poultry.

Resistance to antibiotics develops because while low-dose antibiotics can kill most susceptible bacteria, the more robust ones survive and multiply passing on their resistant characteristics. Further, mutation of bacterial DNA adds defenses against antibiotics such as biochemical pumps to flush out antibiotics, and also enzymes to inactivate antibiotics. Worse, antibiotics-resistant genes from one species of bacteria can be incorporated into other bacteria, thereby creating resistance in bacteria unrelated to the animal industry, and because bacteria can multiply in as fast as half an hour, resistant bacteria can become predominant in a colony.

By utilizing hygienic and humane methods, the use of antibiotics can be restricted solely to therapeutic uses, eliminating the dangerous prophylactic use in animal farms. Further, because innovative nutrition formulation with scientific evidence, such as higher quality protein, herbals, probiotics have shown great promise for growth promotion, sub-clinical antibiotics usage is increasingly needless. A great example in this respect is Skylark, headquartered in Haryana, India. It is carefully managing its antibiotics-free flock through bio-security, associated innovative nutrition practices, and training.

The Indian medical and veterinary professions are equally concerned and broadly seek to ban the misuse of antibiotics; therefore, the government could act on those concerns, or the industry might take simple proactive measures of hygiene, training, and nutritional management as a handful of progressive companies have already been adopting. We certainly would like to see the mechanism to promote such industry practices and resultant value creation.