How safe is eating chicken?

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After a recent report about “overuse” of antibiotics in chicken there is a growing concern in Kashmir about the safety of the poultry products available in the markets.
Referring to its 2017-study the New Delhi-based center for science and environment had asserted that “life-saving drugs like Colistin were being used to fatten the chicken and poultry farms are breeding grounds of superbugs”.
In 2015, Prof Parvaiz A Koul, leading researcher and head of internal medicine at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of medical Sciences (SKIMS) here, published a write-up in a leading journal regarding the growing concern of antibiotic resistance.  
“One of the speculations for long has been that poultry is raised on an overdose of antibiotics mixed to feed and that is why the scale of antimicrobial resistance is going up,” DrKoul told Greater Kashmir on Friday.
However, he said, whether use of antibiotics in chicken renders it unsafe for use was an “absolutely different issue”. 
“There are reports of steroid use in chicken and very valid concerns as to how these antibiotics and steroids, might be affecting us. But nothing has been proven yet,” he said.
“The way forward would have been to examine chicken meat and analyze it for growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics,” he said.
He alleged that regulatory bodies were not doing enough. “What is our quality regulatory and food testing mechanism here? Lax, very dangerous,” he said.
Noted endocrinologist DrShariq R Masoodi, who works at SKIMS while talking about endocrine disorders being attributed to suspected steroids use in poultry said, “There are only anecdotal cases. Nothing has been proven by any study yet.” 
He said there were reports of use of estrogen in chicken and estrogen is known to cause endocrine problems. In addition, there are huge number of pesticides, fertilizers and others chemicals being used in our environment. Much of it is getting into our food chain one way or the other,” he said. 
These chemicals, DrMasoodi said, are “estrogen disrupters”.
He said that the concerns regarding the use of chemicals, antibiotics and steroids in poultry and other food sources needed to be studied rather than rubbished.
Former director animal husbandry department and veterinary expert Dr Farooq Ahmed Kaloo said that the poultry farmers were being blamed for something that was “beyond their control”.
“Antibiotics and growth promoters, permitted ones, are added to the poultry feed by the manufacturers,” he said. 
“There is no mechanism or regulation on checking the feed and its ingredients. Is there a law that makes testing of animal feed mandatory? Does a farmer know what is mixed with this feed?” DrKaloo asked.
Regarding the allegations of use of steroids in poultry, he said, “A farmer is always looking for cost effectiveness. Steroids are not cost effective and these are not used.” 
He stressed on the point that whatever antibiotics are used in chicken are in the readymade feed, supplied by manufacturers.  “Use of antibiotics in poultry here is not widespread,” he said.
AltafGeelani, a poultry farmer and consultant to government for drafting the poultry vision document said that not live birds, but “dressed chicken was an issue”. “It is supplied in unhygienic conditions, without mandatory certification. This should ring alarm bells, but its use continues,” he said.
Regarding use of high-end antibiotics in poultry, he said, “Lincomycin, and other antibiotics that are not meant for humans are used in poultry. These are used in intensive environments. Colistin is very expensive and not used here,” he said. 
He justified his argument saying that poultry farmers in Kashmir have to keep their birds alive only for 30-35 days, after which they are supplied to the market. “Higher and larger quantities of antibiotics are used in farms where layer birds and parent stock birds are reared along with broilers. These birds are to be retained for a long time, at least 18 months and they might be using higher antibiotics, in those farms,” he said. 
“Here in Kashmir, we only have broiler farms.”
Director animal husbandry, Dr Muhammad YousufChapoo asserted Colistin was not being used in Kashmir farms. “It is not even available here,” he said.
“In every district, our poultry extension officers are inspecting the farms. Every farm is registered with us. They also educate the poultry farmers about the dos and don’ts in rearing of the poultry birds,” he said.
He had an advice for consumers. “A chick over 1.5 kg weight should be consumed, rather than a smaller one. Smaller chicken are younger, have had vaccination and antibiotics not long ago,” he said. 
“Once the chick is a month old, it does not need medicines usually. Only if there is a threat of a disease is it given antibiotics,” DrChapoo added. He however, rued people’s preference for smaller birds.
Controller drug and food control organization (DFCO), LotikaKhajuria said that her department was starting a drive to check the quality of chicken in Kashmir. 
She however clarified that that poultry was not the mandate of the DFCO. “It is under animal husbandry department. Only when it is dressed, it becomes food, and comes under our ambit,” she said.
 

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