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Honey, Milk, Eggs, Poultry Have High Level Of Antibiotics, says CSE

Delhi's  Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has cautioned people about the existence of high levels of antibiotic compounds not only in branded honey, but also in milk, eggs and poultry due to indiscriminate use
PTI September 16, 2010 14:21 IST
Delhi's  Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has cautioned people about the existence of high levels of antibiotic compounds not only in branded honey, but also in milk, eggs and poultry due to indiscriminate use of such antibiotics by farmers, bee-keepers and poultry owners.  

A CSE study has found  disturbingly high levels of antibiotics in 11 out of 12 samples of bottled honey of some top brands.

Highlighting extensive antibiotic abuse by farmers, the study says,  disturbingly high levels of the anti-bacterial compounds have been found in 11 out of 12 samples of bottled honey collected from Delhi's shops. The samples include those of prime brands like Dabur, Himalaya, Baidyanath and Khadi.

The highest amount of antibiotics was detected in a bottle of Nectaflor honey, imported from Switzerland, which tested positive for five of six families of antibiotics checked for. Dabur, which has a share of around 75% of the organised honey market in India, found its lone bottle test positive for three antibiotic varieties, reports DNA. 

The quantities ranged from 1.06 mg of antibiotics per kg of Nectaflor to 0.2 mg per kg for Dabur to 0.16 mg per kg for Himalaya.

While there are no standards on antibiotic content in honey meant for the domestic market, the commerce ministry has set its own limits for certain antibiotics in honey exported from India.  

The maximum oxytetracycline content allowed in honey is 0.01 mg per kg and chloramphenicol 0.0003 mg per kg.

"But we found nine times as much oxytetracycline in the Dabur sample and more than 10 times the limit in both the imported samples, including one sample from Canada," said Sunita Narain, director, CSE.  

A 2003 report on the presence of pesticides in bottled water had led to the formulation of standards prescribing the upper limit for such chemicals in drinking water.

Only one of 12 bottles — from a small Delhi-based vendor, Hitkari Pharmacy — turned out not having any of the six antibiotics.  

Narain accepted that the study may have exposed only the tip of India's antibiotics-abuse iceberg. 

Antibiotics, used to save human lives by killing disease-causing germs, are being widely abused by farmers as growth promoters for cattle and poultry.  

As a result, most of the milk, eggs and meat consumed in cities possibly contain harmful levels of these compounds.  

Being in the nature of toxins, prolonged exposure to antibiotics leads to diseases like cancer, liver injury, blood change, bone-damage, genetic defects in children and cardiac problems.

"We are aware that there would be similar or higher levels of antibiotics in other items like chicken," Narain said. "But we decided to start with honey because it is seen as pure and considered good for your health."

Besides affecting the body, the prolonged intake of antibiotics can also lead to the creation of superbugs — micro-organisms that are resistant to particular antibiotics.

 Exposure to drugs in less than lethal quantities allows bacteria and other disease-causing organisms to evolve defence mechanisms that make them completely resistant to an antibiotic, creating a superbug.  

Patients suffering from non-lethal diseases like pneumonia may find themselves fighting for their lives if afflicted by a drug-resistant variety.

Industry, meanwhile, pointed out that honey-making is more in the nature of farming than manufacturing, with companies procuring their products from farmers.

 "No company in India manufacturers its own honey," said Anuraag Sharma, director, Baidyanath Private Ltd.  

Like Narain, he said that there is no mention of antibiotic content in the standards set by Agmark, the government's agricultural certification agency.

"We test all the honey we get. As long as it meets Agmark requirements, we buy it. If the government changes the norms to include antibiotic content, we will be happy to follow it. We know that beekeepers give antibiotics to bees to keep them healthy," Sharma said, adding that the company tries to get "wild honey" from Himalayan jungles, but the supply is not enough to meet the demand.

 A Dabur spokesperson refused to comment on the matter.

India and Pakistan recently gained considerable notoriety as the countries of origin for a resistance-inducing gene called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) after doctors in the West detected drug-resistant bacteria in patients returning from the subcontinent.

Westerners have been warned against Indian healthcare facilities, as drug-resistant microbes are usually passed on during hospitalisation, hitting India's rapidly advancing prospects as a destination for affordable healthcare.  

The Indian government has cried foul over the accusation and has recently set up a committee to study antibiotics overuse.  

Narain, however, urged the government to conduct further studies on the presence of antibiotics in common food items in the country. "We have a small lab and can only do so much," she said, when asked about extending the tests to other items.