'Sick as a pig' is a campaigning film produced and filmed in Holland and commissioned by the Soil Association in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming. This exposes the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs (called ST398), and links its with the overuse of antibiotics on intensive pig farms throughout Europe. (Press release)
Amongst other claims the producers say 40% of Dutch pigs and up to 50% of Dutch pig farmers are now carrying this new and virulent strain which is spreading into the wider population. First detected in Holland in 2003 it now causes almost one in three cases of MRSA treated in Dutch hospitals, the programme makers said. In Dutch hospitals farmers are no longer permitted in general wards without prior screening.
The widespread use of antibiotics in intensive pig farming is claimed to be the cause for rapid spread of farm-animal MRSA.The Soil association claim some 60-70% of British farmers regularly use large doses of antibiotics in pig production. Organic standards, prohibit the routine use of antibiotics.
A spokesman for British Pig Exporters (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.
Sixty percent of the pork meat the UK consumes is imported. 87% of imported bacon comes from the Netherlands or Denmark. 63% of imported pork and 57% of imported processed pig meat comes from Denmark, the Netherlands or Germany.
"The European Food Safety Authority is undertaking studies, looking at the issue of MRSA in food-producing animals and considering what surveillance and other actions would be most appropriate for monitoring use of antibiotics - which the UK are helping with.
The UK has decided not to publish any British results from the EU survey of pigs for MRSA before November 2009.(Perhaps the problem will disappear if it is ignored - like Blue Tongue in cattle)
The first concete evidence that pigs could infect people with MRSA came in the Netherlands in 2004, when a young woman tested positive for a new strain of MRSA, called ST398. The family lived on a farm, public health authorities moved in in — and found that three family members, three co-workers and 8 of 10 pigs tested all carried MRSA. See Pigs to humans: alert over new MRSA strain Guradian 25th June 2007
A small Dutch study found pig farmers there were 760 times more likely than the general population to carry MRSA (without necessarily showing symptoms), and Scientific American reports that this strain of MRSA has turned up in 12 percent of Dutch retail pork samples.Now this same strain of MRSA has also been found in the United States. A new study by Tara Smith, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, found that 45 % of pig farmers she sampled carried MRSA, as did 49 % of the hogs tested.
Farming UK has a story 2 weeks ago that (MRSA) has been found at several farms in Switzerland by the the Swiss federal veterinary office (BVET).
The bacteria was found in one pig and two cows on farms in the West of Switzerland. In addition, three producers have been contaminated.
The infections were discovered through research by the University of Lausanne and the Institute Galli-Valerio, that investigated over 100 farms on MRSA. They discovered the prevalence of the MRSA strain ST398.
The report says that MRSA in pigs has also recently been established in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Canada and the USA.
To arrive at some understanding of the scale ofthe problem - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 94,000 Americans get serious, invasive MRSA infections each year and nearly 19,000 die. Treatment costs between $3 and $4 billion a year, according to an estimate by Dr. Larry Liu of Pfizer Inc. One study(2006 Morbidity and cost burden of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in early onset ventilator-associated pneumonia) shows Attributable excess costs ) of MRSA amounted to approximately US$8000 per case after controlling for case mix and severity.
Note : 'Sick as a pig' can be viewed online at http://www.theecologist.org/etv/
and http://www.green.tv/ecologist_sick_as_a_pig1 (from 13.30, 20 th March)
It is a new documentary made by the Ecologist Film Unit based on an investigation by Ecostorm for the Soil Association / Compassion in World Farming and the Soil Association report, 'MRSA in farm animals and meat: a new threat to human health'