Pig exposé claims MRSA link to antibiotics

20 March, 2009

Campaigners have launched a film which claims to expose the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs, and links its with the over-use of antibiotics on intensive farms.

The documentary, entitled, 'Sick as a pig', was filmed in the Netherlands and commissioned by the Soil Association in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming.

It claims 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, the programme-makers said.

It is not yet known whether any British pigs are affected by the new strain of MRSA (called ST398), it was claimed, since the results of testing, which was required by the EU and carried out in 2008, have not been made public.

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 said it has calculated that about 64% of all farm antibiotic use in the UK is in pig production.

It claims 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."

"It is simply not acceptable to allow methods of food production that 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."

A spokesman for BPEX said: "MRSA has not been detected in farmed livestock in the UK and there is no current evidence that food-producing animals form a reservoir in the UK.

"The European Food Safety Authority is looking at the issue of MRSA in food-producing animals and considering what surveillance and other actions would be most appropriate for member states. The UK is actively participating in this."





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