May 2, 2011

India develops sound policy on antibiotic use in aquaculture and food animals

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

India is the most recent country to address the public health concerns associated with the use of non-therapeutic antimicrobials in food animal production, and in doing so, may just leap-frog the United States.

India’s Directorate General of Health Services recently released a policy document entitled “The National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance (NPCAR)”, which outlines approaches for targeting both human and animal antimicrobial usage, infection prevention and control, education and training on administration of antimicrobials, antimicrobial resistance surveillance systems, and enforcement.

It is a move that should be viewed as very positive, if significantly overdue” says Ed Broughton, Research and Evaluation Director of the USAID Health Care Improvement Project at University Research Company and former doctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

Among the proposed policies specific to food animal production, the NPCAR recommends banning non-therapeutic usage of antimicrobials in food animals, labeling requirements in food exposed to antimicrobials, and banning over-the-counter (OTC) sale of antimicrobials. It is not clear whether the OTC sales ban would also apply to purchases of antimicrobials in feed (i.e. medicated feed) for food animals.

NPCAR specifically mentions the lack of United States leadership—“the United States has yet to pass such a far-reaching policy decision about antibiotics in livestock production” while acknowledging “the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) did ban one class of antibiotics used in poultry.” Instead, India took a cue from the European Union, who completed a ban on growth-promoting antibiotics in 2006.

Based on the policy, India will: reassess the 1995 ban on certain veterinary drugs*; revisit residue tolerances in seafood; and consider expanding the scope of rules to other antimicrobials and species, such as poultry. The NPCAR has big implications for aquaculture management and international trade, which seem to be aimed at meeting food safety standards of international importers such as the US and European Union (World Bank).

Whether sweeping national antibiotic policy will translate into enforceable aquaculture regulations remains to be seen. While the policy document is very forward thinking, Broughton cautions, “developing mechanisms for effective enforcement is likely to be mammoth task that would take decades. China has been at this kind of thing for much longer and is much more autocratic, but they are still having major problems with enforcement.”

Broughton recently published his findings on China’s food safety system for aquaculture in the October 2010 issue of Food Policy. He found a two-tiered system in China, with aquaculture destined for export markets receiving stricter enforcement based on the demands of international countries and looser regulations and enforcement of aquaculture for domestic markets.

Of Asian aquaculture, Broughton predicts, “as diets change and agribusiness gets a firmer foothold in the subcontinent, the need for an effectively functioning regulation system [for aquaculture] will be of even greater importance.”

* The 1995 Prevention of Food Adulteration Act & Rules (Part XVIII) bans 20 antimicrobials in aquaculture and sets residue tolerances in shrimp and fish tissue for four allowed antimicrobial.

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