An Ecostorm-produced documentary, commissioned by the Soil Association and Compassion in World Farming, exposes the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs, and its link to the overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms.
‘Sick as a pig’ was filmed in the Netherlands, one of the countries most seriously affected by this farm-animal MRSA. It finds that 40% of Dutch pigs and up to 50% of Dutch pig farmers are now carrying the new strain, which is also spreading to the wider population. Although this type of MRSA was first detected in humans in the Netherlands as recently as 2003, it now causes almost one in three cases of MRSA treated in Dutch hospitals.
It is not yet known whether any British pigs are affected by the new strain of MRSA (called ST398) since the results of testing, which was required by the EU and carried out in 2008, have not been made public.
Several countries have already published the results of their own tests revealing significant levels of MRSA in national pig herds. The European Food Safety Authority has said that, ‘It seems likely that MRSA ST398 is widespread in the food animal population, most likely in all Member States with intensive animal production’.
Dutch scientists and Government officials blame the widespread use of antibiotics in intensive pig farming for the rise and rapid spread of farm-animal MRSA. The Soil Association has calculated that about 64% of all farm antibiotic use in the UK is in pig production.
Approximately 60% of the pig meat eaten in the UK comes from the Netherlands and other countries which have MRSA in their pig herds. A Dutch Government study has found that about 10% of Dutch pork is contaminated with MRSA, yet the UK has introduced no controls on imports, and the Food Standards Agency has refused to undertake any testing of meat for MRSA.
Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser said, “The British Government has buried its head in the sand and is wasting a critical opportunity to prevent farm-animal MRSA getting a hold in the UK. Decisive action could reduce risks to human health, costs to the NHS and avoid another potentially devastating food-safety crisis.
This new type of MRSA is spreading like wildfire across Europe, and we know it is transferring from farm animals to humans – with serious health impacts. The Government has to wake up and start looking after the interests of ordinary people and not just the intensive livestock industry and international drug companies.
It is simply not acceptable to allow methods of food production which take away one of the biggest advances in medical science – our ability to treat and cure serious infections in the human population with antibiotics. We are sitting on a time-bomb here, and while most people have been kept in the dark about the issue, the Government’s inaction will cost them dear for many years to come.”
John Callaghan, director of programmes at Compassion in World Farming said, “MRSA is yet another potential example of how harmful factory farming is for animals and people. Pigs reared intensively often live in stressful conditions, subject to painful mutilations, unable to express their natural behaviour and prone to diseases. Factory farms where animals are unnaturally crowded and stressed, even with careful management, are always likely to need drugs to keep infections at bay.
Cheap pork has nasty implications for the welfare of animals and for human health. We should eat less, but better meat- coming from animals that have lived a happy and healthy life.”