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As Superbug Fears Grow, India Acts

In the wake of a worldwide alert about a new wave of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, the government of India is considering what would be a groundbreaking plan to regulate the use of antibiotics on animals.

One of the most serious of the new bugs, known as NDM-1, originated in India, has already spread to the U.K., and is expected to go global. No known antibiotic can neutralize it.

Newspapers in India are reporting that although the government responded defensively at first when a British medical journal described the new bug, the National Centre for Disease Control (the Indian equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control in the United States) is now recommending banning all non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals.

As in many other countries, including the U.S. and in Europe, antibiotics are routinely put into animal food – eventually, then, finding their way into our own bodies. In fact, the great majority of all antibiotics are sold by pharmaceutical companies to the farming industry. Fully 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. each year are used on farm animals – mostly at factory farms, and mostly to ward off the effects of unhealthy, often insanitary conditions, to prevent infections, and also to promote faster growth in order to maximize profits.

Last week, the World Health Organization issued a worldwide alert about the unrestrained use of antibiotics and how this is weakening their ability to fight the growing number of drug-resistant bugs like NDM-1. And with no effective new antibiotics in development to help ward off the consequences, many experts are warning that medical care is in danger of reverting back to a pre-antibiotic era.

A ban on the routine use of antibiotics on animals in India may encourage other countries to take similar steps to restrict their use.