By Martin Khor
According to versions of the Minister of Health, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, a survey by the Ministry revealed that 51 percent of the samples of chickens brought from different locations contained nitrofuran at levels up to 4,000 percent above that prescribed by the Veterinary Department.
Datuk Chua said that his office did not allow the use of nitrofuran in chicken rations, and criticized the poultry industry for its duality, since it uses chickens fed with rations without nitrofuran for export, but not to the domestic market. The following day the Department of Veterinary Medicine, which supervises the practices of the animal husbandry industry, through the deputy director general, Datuk Anwar Hassan, came out in defense of the use of nitrofuran, arguing that seven days after ingesting the level in the blood it disappears when excreted, adding that the use of alternative antibiotics would increase the price of chickens and eggs.
The Animal Breeders Association said that to get cancer, a person would have to eat chicken with nitrofuran for 28,500 years, but consumer groups, led by the Penang Consumers Association (CAP), demanded an immediate ban on the use of nitrofuran in the ration for animals.
The Minister of National Trade and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Abu Hassan Omar, demanded that a safe level of nitrofuran be established to allay fears and Datuk Chua remained firm in his position. He said he didn't know how many years you had to eat nitrofuran-contaminated chicken to get cancer, but that "all chickens for sale had to be nitrofuran-free."
Reasons abound The Veterinary Department allows the poultry industry to use antibiotics, and there are very few restrictions or controls on the sale or use of drugs in animals and in animal feed.
On the other hand, the 1985 Food Regulations prohibit the presence of antibiotics in meat, meat products and milk.
This implies that although animal husbandry establishments can supply them with antibiotics, they must do so taking care that when they are put on sale they have already eliminated them, which is achieved by giving them ration without antibiotics several days before.
In practice, as the Ministry of Health study showed, half of the chickens for sale still had nitrofuran.
Obviously the poultry farmers did not comply with the provision. It must also be borne in mind that nitrofuran is only one of the drugs used in chicken feed.
If the tests had included other antibiotics, the incidence of contamination would have been much higher, perhaps 100 percent.
There are good reasons for prohibiting the presence of antibiotics in meat for consumption.
In the case of nitrofuran, as Datuk Chua pointed out, developed countries and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) do not stipulate permissible levels, which implies that the substance is "unsafe to any degree."
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration prohibited the poultry and swine industry from treating with two nitrofurans - furazolidone and nitrofurazone - because they are carcinogenic. As early as 1984, the Penang Consumers Association of Malaysia had called for a ban on nitrofuran and various other drugs in animal feed.
But the case of nitrofuran is just the tip of the iceberg. The animal husbandry industry for consumption uses different drugs such as antibiotics –to treat diseases and for growth–, hormones –for fattening and growth–, steroids –to give weight–, and tranquilizers –to combat stress. .
The risks to human health are increasing, and they become evident when a carcinogenic substance such as nitrofuran passes from chicken meat to humans.
But there are also other substances used in animal feed that have serious side effects.
For example, the residue of substances in the penicillin family can cause allergic reactions in some people; long-term use and high doses of neomycin, gentamicin and streptomycin can have side effects such as deafness and kidney problems; Tetracycline can make kidney disease worse. Trimethoprim is contraindicated for newborns, pregnant women, or people with kidney problems.
All these substances are found both in rations and in products for the treatment of animal diseases.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing is that the consumption of these antibiotics generates strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which when passed to consumers expose them to diseases that will be difficult or impossible to treat with antibiotics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the resurgence of deadly diseases caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
According to a recently published book by the Penang Consumers Association, Revenge of the Killer Germs, "if these mutant, disease-causing germs cannot be killed with common antibiotics, then the simple diseases they cause, such as poisoning, can become to be mortal.
"The most vulnerable people - children, the elderly, the sick - can die before doctors find an effective antibiotic. Even when resistant germs do not cause disease, they can multiply in the body and transfer their BF factor to other bacteria. antibiotic resistance ".
Indiscriminate use Various surveys carried out by the Penang Consumers Association over several years revealed that in Malaysia antibiotics are used indiscriminately in animal husbandry to fatten and treat diseases of chickens and pigs. And more recently in various types of meat (chicken, beef, lamb and pork) antibiotic resistant super germs were also found:
- Eighty-six percent of the bacteria samples from these animals had some degree of resistance to ampicillin, and 28 percent had total resistance.
- 58% of the bacteria samples showed some resistance to amoxicillin and 3% total resistance. Both ampicillin and amoxicillin belong to the penicillin family and are widely used for a number of diseases.
- But the resistance of bacteria to these drugs means that they will no longer work. Other tests previously conducted by the Penang Consumers Association on chickens, pigs and lambs had identified four strains of pathogenic bacteria resistant to common antibiotics.
- In chicken meat, penicillin failed to combat E.coli bacteria, and chloramphenicol and neomycin had very little effect on E.coli and two other types of bacteria.
- * Three types of bacteria completely resistant to penicillin were found in lamb meat, while chloramphenicol and neomycin had very little effect.
- Several types of bacteria were also identified in pork, all resistant to penicillin; Neomycin was also not useful in treating three types of bacteria; tetracycline and chloramphenicol had very little effect on E. coli bacteria.
E.Coli has been in the news lately as one strain (E.Coli O-157) caused the most severe case of food poisoning in Japan, affecting more than 9,000 people, killing seven of them.
Faced with mounting evidence of the danger, several countries, including Australia, France and Switzerland, have banned or severely restricted the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Australia and France also ban the use of hormones.
The United States has banned nitrofurans, chloramphenicol and ampicillin from animal feed, while in Germany and the Netherlands penicillin and tetracycline are banned.
There is more than enough evidence that the animal husbandry industry's self-regulation on safety is not working. The emergence of mad cow disease in Europe and the epidemic food poisoning in Japan are warnings that cannot be ignored. The safety of all must be more important than the profits of some