The antibiotics we are eatingNew research needs to be done to develop vaccines as alternatives to antibiotics.
Antibiotics were one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. The world got the first natural antibiotics in the form of penicillin, which was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Prontosil, a sulphonamide tested by Gerhard Domagk in the early 1930s, was the first commercially produced antibiotic; and over time, most other antibiotic classes were produced which are still significant in today’s world. Antibiotic, also known as antimicrobial, is a kind of substance with antimicrobial properties that kills or inhibits the growth of bacteria and has the ability to fight different bacterial infections in humans and animals.
Infectious diseases in livestock were in quest of a cure. Antibiotics are a miracle of the medical world. And in course of time, the production of these useful chemicals was not only limited to human application, but also spread to animal application, which has brought a great level of comfort and solace in animal farming. To control the high mortality rate of livestock due to diseases and infections like anthrax, cyst infection, black quarter, mastitis and foot rot, different classes of antibiotics like penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin and ciprofloxacin and TT have been commercialised.
The demand for animal-origin foods like meat, milk and eggs is high globally. To fulfil the immense demand, producers must ensure the same level of output. Today, animal food manufacturing companies are processing and producing massive quantities of animal feeds containing antibiotics, especially penicillin and tetracycline, which have significantly benefited livestock and poultry producers worldwide. This results in random exposure of animals to antibiotics.
Today, the haphazard use of antibiotics has become an alarming concern. The most malicious effect of the overuse of antibiotics is antibiotic residues in animal-origin foods such as meat, milk and eggs, and the increment in resistant bacteria that is harmful to public health, animals and the environment. This is an outcome of unhealthy competition among animal food production companies, and uneducated and untrained animal husbandmen exploiting and misusing antibiotics in the form of medicines and animal feeds.
Bacteria are being exposed frequently to antibiotics, which eventually result in the development of new strains of bacteria with antibiotics-resistant characteristics which are spreading in the environment. The other threat is contaminated meat products with antibiotics residues reaching more than the maximum residue limits (MRLs). MRLs are the standard amount of chemicals that are anticipated to remain on food products when such chemicals are applied correctly in the production of crops, vegetables or animals. If the value of such remaining chemicals is below or equal to the MRLs, humans are not prone to any health risks.
Most studies have concluded that the prevalence of overuse of antibiotics is high in most developing countries, and Nepal is also in the high alert zone. Due to lack of animal hospitals, greed for higher production of animal-based food products, lack of strict regulation of vet antibiotics, a massive volume of antibiotics is being misutilised and administered to animals. Moreover, farmers are poorly trained and many lack knowledge about the proper dosage of antibiotics. In many areas, due to the absence of veterinarians, the diagnosis of animal diseases and infections is getting harder; and with self-analysis without the proper knowledge of the causative agent, antibiotics are being applied widely. This can make the situation even worse. The question stays: Are we consuming healthy food? And how prepared is Nepal to counter the antibiotics havoc?
The discovery and production of antibiotics is a miracle in the medical world. But a century-long legacy of antibiotic use is now being questioned. Is the human food chain safe? How deadly can antibiotics residues and resistant bacteria be? The substance intended for the welfare of humans and animal health is being misused by humans in such a way that it is adversely affecting humans, animals and even the environment. Since not much significant effect of antibiotics in humans has been evident, we have no idea if it is a boon or a threat in disguise.
When we look back at the mid-20th century which was the golden era of antibiotics, the objective of this chemical was much simpler and defined—to fight bacterial infections and diseases in humans and animals. However, the exploitation of antibiotics by humans has plotted a different critical scenario. Bacteria are fighting back and are growing more potent than they used to be. The human food chain is no longer safe, and the constant threats of antibiotics are ubiquitous. The consequences traced are serious with difficulty and failure in the treatment of infections and diseases caused by such resistant bacteria.
We must level down the haphazard use of antibiotics in animals. For this, standards regulatory protocols for antibiotics should be established. Livestock farmers should be trained to improve animal health practices that might be effective in decreasing the volume of such drugs used in animal farming. Global awareness about the proper use of antibiotics must be highlighted. Unauthorised sales of antibiotics must be controlled. This scenario also demands new research to develop a vaccine as an alternative to antibiotics or the world will remain in continuous threat of antibiotics and the human food chain will be no safer.