Farming News - Dutch study reveals link between routine antibiotic use and MRSA

Dutch study reveals link between routine antibiotic use and MRSA

07 Jun 2012
Frontdesk / Livestock

A Dutch study has revealed much lower levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria are present on organic holdings compared to conventional farms. The study found lower antibiotic use and a lower prevalence of MRSA on organic pig farms than on non-organic farms.


The Dutch researchers examined nasal samples of pigs from 24 organic pig farms, they then tested farmers, their workers and families and compared the results with earlier data which had used the same methods on non-organic farms.


Of the conventional farms tested, 71 per cent showed the presence of livestock-associated MRSA, whereas only 17 per cent of organic farms tested positive. The researchers also found that the number of daily dose antibiotics being used on organic farms was 70 per cent lower and, the researchers concluded, 3 per cent of organic pigs in the Netherlands are carrying MRSA, compared to 38 per cent of non-organic pigs.  


The study has been welcomed by farming groups aiming to bring about a reduction in antibiotic use in the European Union. The coalition ‘Alliance to Save our Antibiotics’ said the Dutch study provides further evidence that the overuse of antibiotics is jeopardising both animal health and public health. The Alliance, a coalition of environmental and farming groups, including the Soil Association and Compassion in World Farming, is campaigning to reserve the use of antibiotics for emergencies only to guard their efficacy in combating illness in humans and animals.


Emma Slawinski, of Compassion in World Farming spoke on behalf of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics. Commenting on the study, she said, “The Dutch research shows that by raising pigs in higher-welfare conditions with bedding such as straw and outdoor access the levels of antibiotic use and of MRSA can be greatly reduced. This benefits human health too, as livestock-associated MRSA has already caused human deaths in Europe. British pig farmers need to remain vigilant to ensure that MRSA does not become established in the British pig herd.”


The coalition has called on the UK government to introduce measures it feels would reduce the likelihood of MRSA reaching the same levels of prevalence in British pigs. Amongst the Alliance’s recommendations are increasing surveillance for MRSA, ending live imports of pigs unless they have been individually tested, screening vets and farm workers from outside the UK before they have contact with animals in the country and reducing the amount of antibiotics used in the pig industry.


The Alliance also called for more pigs to be reared in free-range systems and for fewer to be kept indoors on concrete without straw, as its member organisations have said animals kept in this way are at greater risk of transmitting diseases.


There has been a rise in new farm ‘superbugs’, particularly MRSA and E. coli, in recent years, and these bacteria can affect humans. The Alliance believes that misuse of antibiotics in medicine and farming is contributing to the problem; around 50 per cent of antibiotics used worldwide are given to farm animals, though in some countries this percentage is higher.


The European Commission last year announced a twelve point plan to curb antibiotic use in farming. The Commission recommended ending the prophylactic use of antibiotics to preserve the drugs’ efficacy for emergencies to treat humans and animals.


Barbara Sibbald, deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, this week urged Canadian officials to ban off-label use of antibiotics in farm animals because the practice "contributes significantly to antibiotic resistance in humans". Writing in an editorial, Sibbald said, "Of greatest concern is the promotion of resistance to antibiotics that may currently represent the last resort for treating some highly resistant infections in humans."


Although the use of antibiotics for growth purposes is banned in the European Union, the practice is still used in the United States and Canada, however, US officials have begun to clamp down on the misuse of antibiotics, despite the protestations of big pharma companies.