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Sick as a pig

News Section Icon Published 20/03/2009

A new documentary, commissioned by the Soil Association, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming, has been released to expose the rise of a new strain of MRSA in pigs and its link to the overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms.

Made by the Ecologist Film Unit, the film is based on an investigation by Ecostorm into pig farming in the Netherlands and shows how a new type of MRSA virus has passed to humans from pigs.

This strain of Staphylococcus aureus, known as ST398, is resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Patients with farm-animal MRSA in the Netherlands, and in other EU countries including the UK, have developed blood poisoning, skin infections, heart infections, bone infections and pneumonia.

The new film shows that 40 per cent of Dutch pigs and up to 50 per cent 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.

Approximately 60 per cent 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 per cent of Dutch pork is contaminated with MRSA.

This new threat to human health is linked to the excessive use of antibiotics in factory farms.

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."

Enabling Compassion in World Farming to produce new tools to expose the dangers of factory farming is one of the many things that our supporters have helped us to do so far.

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