Farmers are using antibiotics as pesticides


Antibiotics meant for humans are rampantly being used in crops.

Friday December 06 2019

New research suggests that antibiotics meant for humans are rampantly being used in crops, further threatening the health of millions of people. The revelation was made during this year’s commemoration of the World Antibiotic Awareness Week, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi. A report of the findings showed that farmers in New Delhi were using streptocycline “routinely and indiscriminately in high doses in crops, including on those crops which they [had]not[been]approved for.” Streptocycline is a 90:10 combinations of streptomycin and tetracycline and leads to various complications if it is not used rightly. The medicine is used for tuberculosis (TB) patients with different types of TB. However, research shows that “resistance to streptomycin is quite high, and its large scale non-human use could add to the problem.”


“We found that farmers are unaware of the recommended use and spray antibiotics frequently like pesticides as a regular practice,” said Amit Khurana, programme director, Food and Toxins programme at CSE. Streptocycline was classified as ‘a critically important antibiotic for humans’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to research, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increased threat to global public health, despite bacterial infections being shared around the world.

Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in Kenya has increased with an average of 2,300 incidences, having been reported in 2018 according to WHO data. A total of 150,000 cases of TB were reported in the same year, with Kenya still being one of the 30 high burden countries around the world. TB is the fourth in killer infectious diseases in the country.

The antibiotic is also used in preventing diseases and boosting growth in animals such as chicken, fish, and cattle around the world. However, research shows that overuse can contribute to AMR. According to Dr Khurana, no medically necessary antibiotic should be allowed to for promoting the growth of food animals. Also, the research found out that antibiotics continue to pollute the environment, especially at point sources such as pharmaceutical manufacturing units.


The study recommended that medicines are considered hazardous chemicals. It recommended that the unsafe disposal of unused and expired drugs be checked and controlled. In Kenya, in 2017, some 65,000 kilogrammes of unused and expired medicine was destroyed by regulators, after collecting them for one year, pointing to the enormity of the problem in the country.