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The contamination of chickens

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Every now and then I rescue chickens from the illegal roadside khokhas, where they sit in wire cages and watch their brothers being beheaded. (I have stopped all the khokhas in my constituency and so should you as, under the Municipal Act passed by Parliament years ago, these are illegal.). When I take them to a farm, many of them simply cannot walk, even though we put them down on soft grass. Most walk a few steps, then sit down, then try again after a time. They are clearly in great pain.

Why are broiler chickens lame, and how do their walking problems affect you when you eat them?

Broiler chickens are lame because they are fed hormones and unnatural foods to make their bodies grow very fat in a very short time. The legs are unable to take this weight and so they have great difficulty walking. Apart from that, they are kept in cages with wire flooring and the wires bite into their feet causing wounds. Most poultry scientists have recommended removing wire floors, but the industry continues to use them because the urine and faeces can go through the wires and be collected for sale.

Twenty per cent or more broiler chickens are lame because they are victims of bacterial chondronecrosis with osteomyelitis (BCO). Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. Bones can become infected in a number of ways: Bacterial infection from a wound in one part of the body may spread through the bloodstream into the bone, or a fracture may expose the bone to infection. The ribs become infected and the spinal cord is compressed. Internal wounds develop. Bacteria enter these wounds and create abscesses in the bones. Birds become lame to begin with, and then stop walking and lie on their sides. They flap their wings occasionally, to try and move, but the wings then develop abscesses too. When they stop walking, and remain in a sitting posture for prolonged periods, the major arteries supplying to their legs are compressed and the cells start dying (necrosis). They cannot reach food or water, and die of disease and starvation. These birds don’t respond to treatment, as antibiotics don’t work on bacterial bone and joint infections.

Researchers have found these bacteria in lame chickens: staphylococcus aureus, staphylococcus spp, escherichia coli, enterococcus cecorum, salmonella spp and staphylococcus agnetis. Other sporadic causes, of osteomyelitis and arthritis in poultry, include pasteurella multocida, ornithobacterium rhinotracheale, trueperella arcanobacterium pyogenes, enterococcus spp, streptococcus spp, salmonella spp, streptobacillus moniliformis, aspergillus spp, E faecalis, E durans.

Escherichia coli is often responsible for flock outbreaks of arthritis, and osteomyelitis, in broiler chickens. E coli bacteria colonise the lining of the respiratory and intestinal tract and skin, and then enter the body through a wound. They first cause intestinal infections, and are rapidly spread by the circulatory system. The weakness of the artificially, rapidly growing bones make it very difficult for the immune system to prevent infection and osteomyelitis, as they already suffer from micro fractures. So, micro abscesses develop in the body and then develop into an active site of infection. When the chicken dies of these diseases, it is still sold to you. And some of these bacteria are very dangerous to the human being.

Staphylococcus bacterial infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into the human body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections ranging from food poisoning; skin problems; septicaemia; septic arthritis of knees, shoulders, hips, and fingers or toes; to infections of the inner lining of the heart. Some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

Staphylococcus aureus can cause a range of illnesses, from minor skin infections, such as pimples, boils, cellulitis, carbuncles and abscesses, to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome, bacteremia, and sepsis.

Salmonella bacterial diseases affect the intestinal tract. People develop diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps. In some cases the diarrhoea, associated with salmonella infection, can be so dehydrating as to require prompt medical attention. Life-threatening complications also may develop, if the infection spreads beyond the intestines.

Escherichia coli infections cause intestinal infections, with diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, and sometimes vomiting. It is one of the most powerful toxins.

Pasteurella multocida can cause skin and soft tissue infections, following a bite or scratch. Pain, swelling, and erythema often develop and progress rapidly.

Enterococcus spp, Enterococcus faecalis and E faecium cause a variety of infections, including endocarditis, urinary tract infections, prostatitis, intra-abdominal infection, cellulitis, and wound infection. Some people with infections have diarrhoea, urinate a lot, feel weak and sick, or have fever and chills.

Streptococcus spp causes streptococcal pharyngitis, pyoderma, abscesses, cellulitis, endocarditis, polyarthritis, pneumonia and septicemia. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is an often fatal disease characterised by shock and multiorgan failure.

Streptobacillus moniliformis can cause ulcers at the site of a wound, fever and complications in the wound.

Aspergillus spp affects people with weakened immune systems, or lung diseases, who can develop allergic reactions, lung infections, and infections in their organs.

Enterococcus spp, particularly E faecalis, also causes multi organ infections in humans. The bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics. A study, of ten human patients with osteomyelitis, showed that eight cases were due to infection by E faecalis. A study in Brazil showed the presence of this bacterium in 42 per cent of the chicken carcasses tested (Campos et al). All strains were resistant to the antibiotics tested. E faecalis is particularly dangerous because it has the ability to transfer its resistance genes to other organisms present in the intestinal tract of humans and animals, limiting the utilisation of antibacterial drugs (Campos et al, 2013).

Contamination of animals and their by-products, by resistant bacteria and their transmission to humans, are an animal and public health concern. The sicker the animal, the sicker you will get when you eat it.

The poultry industry has been told, again and again, to do the following things in order to reduce lameness, suffering and premature death.

  Stop using wire floors in the cages, in fact, stop caging altogether.

  Give more nutritious food and stop the periods of starvation.

  Avoid high housing density.

  Ensure adequate access to feeders.

  Keep the place clean and prevent respiratory diseases.

This means emptying and completely disinfecting the broiler house; changing the litter; adequate cleaning of water lines and continuously sanitising the water. All practices, to prevent bacterial infections, would help lessen bone inflammation.

Most poultries in India have ignored these directions. The result is that the chickens you eat are full of abscesses and bacteria, which do not go away in cooking. For those consumers who want to buy large chickens: the bigger the chicken, the more likely that it had all these diseases.

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