Indiscriminate use of antibiotics by farmers in treating cattle diseases is posing a public health risk as the medicines enter the food chain through various avenues.
Amid lax monitoring by the authorities and a lack of veterinaries at upazila and union levels, rural farmers opt for antibiotics because of their easy availability in pharmacies and ability to yield quick results.
Traditional farmers have very little knowledge about the antibiotics, said Prof Md Nurul Islam of dairy science department at Bangladesh Agricultural University.
“Every antibiotic has its withdrawal period. If milk is collected after the withdrawal period, there is very little chance of finding antibiotics in milk. But in some cases, antibiotics can be found in milk even after that,” he told The Daily Star recently.
Studies have found that residues of antibiotics -- medicines which treat infections caused by bacteria, protozoa, parasites and fungi -- accumulate in cattle milk.
“We have to check the residue level through lab tests. If the residue exceeds the permissible level, then it is harmful,” said Prof Nurul Islam.
The presence of high-concentration antibiotics above acceptable limit in dairy products may accelerate development of antibiotic resistance in human bodies. It also makes consumers vulnerable to bacterial diseases, says Mohidus Samad Khan, associate professor at Buet’s chemical engineering department.
Bangladesh Food Safety Authority allows 100 micrograms of antibiotics in milk per kg.
Already, experts say, some bacteria have developed full or partial resistance to various antibiotics. It is welldocumented that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can transmit through air, water and soil, and enter human bodies from animals through consumption of meat.
SHORTAGE OF VETS
According to the officials of Department of Livestock Services, there are around 65,000 commercial cattle farms and around 2.39 crore cows in the country, mostly reared by traditional farmers who in many areas rely on quacks and compounders amid a shortage of trained vets.
“The problem is the local quacks and pharmacy staff. Most often they prescribe antibiotics meant for humans in case of cattle diseases,” Hiresh Ranjan Bhowmick, director general of DLS, told The Daily Star recently.
“Although we are assigned to look after these things, we cannot monitor at the union level. For a single veterinary surgeon, it is not humanly possible.”
According to DLS officials, each upazila has only one veterinary surgeon to look after all the cattle in the area and one livestock officer for the administrative tasks. The department is struggling with 118 posts of veterinary surgeons remaining vacant.
Take the example of Pabna. There are only nine veterinary surgeons in the district, which has around 13 lakh cattle.
“I have 60 cattle in my farm and disease of the animals is very common. But most of the time I don’t get the upazila veterinary surgeon. So, I have to go to a veterinary trainee or veterinary shops and they prescribe antibiotics,” said Md Saiful Islam, a dairy farm owner in Faridpur upazila.
Asked about what kind of antibiotics he uses, Saiful said he does not know the names of the medicines.
Md Saiful Islam, owner of a veterinary medicine shop in Chatmohar upazila, said he used to sell various antibiotics but has stopped it now.
Of the antibiotics, Gentamycin, Safety-1, Combicilin LA and Ciprofloxacin are mostly used, he noted. “Mostly veterinary experts from different companies recommend these medicines.”
According to Pabna Livestock Officer Al Mamun Hossain Mondol, there are over 6 lakh cows, 1 lakh buffaloes and 6 lakh goats in the district.
“So many animals could not be supervised due to manpower shortage, but we have already ordered all the medicine shop owners not to sell medicines without prescriptions.”
Livestock officials said they have a list of antibiotics but they do not know how many antibiotics are used by the veterinary surgeons.
“My personal experience is that farmers use antibiotics indiscriminately for animals, even the high-ended antibiotics like Colistin which is strictly prohibited,” Maj General Md Mustafizur Rahman, former director general of Directorate General of Drug Administration, told The Daily Star recently.
“We have banned 32 veterinary antibiotics. Farmers use antibiotics when they prepare food for cattle and thus it is entering human bodies.”
However, there are examples of good practices too.
Shamim Ahmed has a cow farm in Barail village in Dinajpur Sadar. In the farm, there are 97 cows, and 25 of those give milk regularly.
“When there is any disease, we give medicine to our cows. We have a retired veterinary officer in the farm and he guides us. District livestock officers sometimes visit our farm,” Dhabendranath Roy, a caretaker of the farm, told The Daily Star.