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India’s Food Safety Watchdog Raises Alarm Over Banned Antibiotics in Seafood and Meat

India’s top drug advisory body, the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), has expressed concerns over the detection of banned antibiotics in seafood and meat products. This alarming discovery raises serious public health concerns as it could lead to the development of antibiotic resistance (AMR) in humans.

AMR occurs when bacteria become resistant to the effects of antibiotics, making it difficult to treat infections. The misuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals, such as shrimps, is a major contributor to the rise of AMR.

According to the minutes of a DTAB meeting held last month, the National Residue Control Plan (NRCP) for aquaculture analysis revealed the presence of banned antibiotics in shrimp samples. This raises the possibility that shrimp exports to the European Union (EU) may face increased rejections due to concerns over antibiotic residues.

In response to this alarming situation, DTAB has urged the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the department of animal husbandry and dairying, the department of fisheries, the agriculture ministry, and the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) to investigate and take appropriate action.

The advisory board also recommended holding a stakeholder consultation to develop a comprehensive strategy to address this issue. Additionally, it suggested discussing the matter at the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to ensure strict implementation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules, preventing the diversion of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals.

MPEDA has also reported the detection of banned pharmacologically active substances, including antibiotics, in shrimp samples intended for export. However, authorities have yet to respond to queries regarding this issue.

Despite the challenges posed by antibiotic residues, India achieved a record-breaking $8.09 billion worth of seafood exports in FY23, with frozen shrimps being the top contributor. However, the presence of banned antibiotics in these products could jeopardize the sustainability of this sector.

In 2018, FSSAI issued a gazette notification prohibiting the use of various antibiotics and veterinary drugs, including nitrofurans, in the processing of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and fish products. This ban aims to protect public health by preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The detection of banned antibiotics in seafood and meat highlights the need for stricter enforcement of regulations governing the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Additionally, promoting responsible antibiotic use among farmers and raising awareness among consumers can further mitigate the risk of AMR.

By addressing this issue promptly and effectively, India can safeguard public health and maintain its position as a leading exporter of high-quality seafood products.

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