The threat of antimicrobial resistance to humans is already a cause of concern. With the more usage of antibiotics to grow food crops aggravates the problem. Hence a detailed study is needed to know the ill effects of this problem and remedies to be suggested.
- What are streptomycin and tetracycline?
- Effects of them on food crops
- Why ban?
What are streptomycin and tetracycline?
- Streptomycin is an aminoglycoside antibiotic.
- It irreversibly binds to the 16S rRNA and S12 protein within the bacterial 30S ribosomal subunit.
- As a result, this agent interferes with the assembly of initiation complex between mRNA and the bacterial ribosome, thereby inhibiting the initiation of protein synthesis.
- It is used to treat a number of bacterial infections like tuberculosis, Brucellosis, Plague, and rat bite fever.
- These are broad spectrum antibiotics obtained from Streptomyces strains.
- Tetracycline inhibits protein synthesis by blocking the attachment of charged aminoacyl-tRNA to the A siteon the ribosome.
- Tetracycline binds to the 30S and 50S subunit of microbial ribosomes.
- Thus, it prevents introduction of new amino acids to the nascent peptide chain.
- It is used to treat infections caused by bacteria including pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections, certain infections of skin, eye, lymphatic, intestinal, genital and urinary systems.
Effects of them on food crops:
- The indiscriminate use of both antibiotics may lead to the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
- When used in crops, unspent antibiotics find their way into the surrounding environment.
- Microorganisms exposed to this increasing load of antibiotics in soil and water can develop resistance to it.
- The resistance can spread to other bacteria through transfer of genetic material.
- When humans or animals get infected by such resistant microorganisms, their treatment becomes difficult as well as expensive.
- There is a possibility that traces of antibiotics remain in edible parts of the plant long after streptocycline is sprayed, affecting human health or making them resistant to the antibiotics.
- According to the research conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in states of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh none of the farmers know that streptocycline is a combination of antibiotics and are routinely using it as any other pesticide.
- According to CIBRC, streptocycline should be used when plants develop bacterial infections like leaf blight, fire blight, citrus canker, rotting of fruits and stems. But CSE research has found the farmers using it even in the absence of disease symptoms.
- Many farmers mix fungicides with streptocycline before spraying as they are unable to distinguish fungal or bacterial diseases.Some farmers use concentration that is three to four times higher than what is recommended.
- Many Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK)s recommend streptocycline on crops not listed for use by CIBRC.
- The key drug regulator of the country, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), does not have any role in regulating antibiotics used on crops.
- Antibiotics meant for plants or crops do not fall within the purview of Drugs and Cosmetics Act (D&C Act), 1940.
- State drug authority cannot exercise any control over companies that manufacture or sell antibiotics for use in crops as they manufacture and sell the product as pesticides.
- CIBRC has wrongly registered streptocycline as a fungicide and is assigned low toxicity, meaning no special precaution needs to be taken for its use. But this labelling does not consider health hazards like AMR.
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of Indian (FSSAI) does not provide any separate tolerance limit for streptocycline in food products.
- Hence the CIBRC based on the registration committee report recommended a ban with immediate effect on crops where other options were available for bacterial disease control.
- The report recommended that streptomycin and tetracycline use be phased out by 2022-end for crops for which no alternatives were available.
- Till then, the antibiotics could be used on crops strictly as per the label claim.
- With this ban / phase-out, misuse of streptomycin and tetracycline in crops for which it was not approved will be checked. This will also help plug gaps such as registering them in the name of pesticides or using them in an unregulated fashion in the absence of prescription.
- Based on the recommendations of Expert Committee headed by Prof. M.S. Thacker, a comprehensive Insecticides Act was passed in 1968 to regulate the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides.
- The enforcement of Act was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture in the year 1970 by the Ministry of Health and family Planning.
- All the provisions of the Insecticides Act were brought into force with effect from 1st August, 1971.
- In the Act, there is compulsory registration of the pesticides at the Central level and licence for their manufacture, formulation and sale are dealt with at the State level.
- For the effective enforcement of the Insecticides Act, 1968, the two bodies have been constituted at the Central level namely Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee.
What needs to be done?
- A recently released report by the FAO and WHO has recommended integrated pest management as an effective approach to limit the use of antimicrobials in crops.
- Hence, antibiotics, which are drugs meant for treatment of bacterial diseases in humans should not be used as pesticides and be used under expert supervision only after a bacterial disease has been diagnosed in a crop.
- CIBRC should reclassify streptocycline as an antibiotic and ensure that it is not sold as fungicide or pesticide.
- All the other uses of antibiotics should be considered as misuse and phased out.
- CDSCO needs to consider amending the D&C Act to bring antibiotics used in plants as “drugs” under its purview.
- The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (MoAFW) should work towards strengthening the extension machinery and creating awareness among farmers, dealers and extension officers towards limiting antibiotic misuse in crops.
- MoAFW should introduce the concept of “plant health experts” and train them to help farmers with disease diagnosis and use of inputs.
- ICAR should engage in research and development of effective and low-cost alternatives to antibiotics.
- FSSAI should come out with separate tolerance limits for streptocycline in food and conduct surveillance for monitoring antibiotic residues in plant-derived food.