What kind of farm do you imagine when you think of organic or cage-free eggs? Images of hens frolicking in lush meadows?
That kind of farming exists, but such conditions aren’t mandated by organic code—not explicitly anyway. According to the USDA regulations, animals raised organically have „year-round access … to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight, suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.“ Those rules are open to a wide variety of interpretations.,
Ella Maria Bisschop-Larsen, the president of the Danish Society for Nature Conservation, and Britta Riis, director of the Animal Protection, unveil the stunningly terrifying details behind Danish bacon. The leading Danish Newspaper JyllandsPosten published a recommendable article by the two ladies.
Sickpigs.dk proudly present this translation of the article:
A sick pig production
Denmark produced 29 million pigs in 2013. 24,000 piglets died every day, 25 per cent of the sows never arrived at the abattoir, but died in the stables. Half of the sows, and a third of the porkers suffer from ulcers, and 99 percent of all piglets had their tails cut, though routine tail docking is illegal. In 2012 77 per cent of all porkers were infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacterium MRSACC398. The latest figures show, that two of three pig herds are infected. And pig MRSA is now spreading from the farms into the surrounding community.
In 2014 there were 1.124 cases of individuals infected with porcine MRSA. This is almost twice as many as the year before. Presumably between 6,000-12,000 people are infected countrywide. MRSA CC 398 has caused five deaths since 2012. Recently the porcine MRSA was detected in more that 21 percent of the packed meat in the super markets’ cooling counters.
Professor of Health Kjeld Møller Pedersen estimates that the treatment of one MRSA-infected patient costs about DKK 100.000. (10.000 GBP) continued here:
Pig production also influences the landscape around the farms. Nitrogen and phosphorus from pig manure contaminate streams, lakes and fjords, and ammonia evaporating from the stables spreads by the wind and causes damage to nature in Denmark as well as in the neighbouring countries. Zinc and copper added to the feed working as preventive antibiotics contaminate soil and create resistant soil bacteria, when manure is spread on fields. The use of pesticides in the fields to fight weeds and insects efficiently also kills the bird life.
Despite EU farm subsidies, pork producers’ deficits amount to DKK 12.9 billion. Over a 10 year period the farmers lost in average DKK 56 (GBP 6) per porker. The latest prognosis from the farmers’ organization predict average 2015 deficits amounting to DKK 820.000 per farm. (GBP 83.000).
For years scientists and journalists have warned against the risk of the porcine-MRSA getting out of control, and called for initiatives such as screening of herds and monitoring of the spreading pattern of porcine-MRSA. Their endeavors have proven fruitless until now. On the contrary, the authorities have kept information about the infected herds secret, and regular control of meat was ceased in 2011 due to the presumption, that porcine-MRSA did not spread through meat. At that time porcine-MRSA was detected in every 10th portion of pork.
In the news and in social media many people now express concern as to how to solve the problem.
After directing a preliminary investigation The National Audit Department lately announced a major investigation of the National Food Authority’s efforts to fight resistant bacteria in agriculture. According to the nation-widely read newspaper, Politiken (November 5th), the government’s experts in the National Food Institute recommend, that regular meat inspection for porcine-MRSA be resumed , because more and more pigs are tested infected at the abattoirs, and “this will affect meat quality”.
The Danish minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark, Dan Jørgensen, claims in the same newspaper that “DTU and the Governmental Institute for decease Control (Statens Serum Institut) still hold the risk of infection through meat to be “insignificant.” Dan Jørgensen so far opted for a hygiene strategy including hand-washing and cleaning of working clothes to limit the spread of porcine-MRSA. But presented for new facts, however, he admits, that the measures taken until this day has proven inadequate. He announced political negotiations over the coming year as to new precautions against the spreading of porcine MRSA. An expert group said, the risk has earlier been underestimated.
While waiting for results of these negotiations and new plans of action, pig-producers are granted allowance to extend their production, the number of infected individuals rises and only hand-washing and the cleaning of working clothes are supposed to stop the spreading of porcine MRSA in the community.
According to a poll by Politiken Research and the Danish Pig Producers Organization the plan will most unlikely be successful. Every fourth pig-farmer does not take a shower after working in the pig-stable, and 70 percent are against more measures against the use of antibiotics, the poll revealed.
The leading farm lobby seems very unwilling to solve the problem as well. ”Porcine MRSA is here to stay”, they said. ”The level of porcine-MRSA has come to a point of no return. The farmers and society will have to live with porcine MRSA ” Martin Merrild, the head of the Farms’ Organization told his members in a newsletter.
His words are sensational, since his producers have created the resistance problem, and now expect everybody to accept them as a part of their daily life. The farmers have no incentive to eradicate porcine-MRSA because it does not make the piglets sick, but on the other hand, they want to stay by high-level antibiotics production, the one and only cause for the development of resistance. The amount of antibiotics has repeatedly gone up, lately from 86 tonnes in 2012 to 90 tonnes in 2013.
The problem cannot be solved overnight, but we have to get started in order to protect consumers, secure decent conditions for the animals and safeguard nature from pollution with fertilizers and poisons from the pig- and feed-production. If pig production shall have a go in the coming decade, it will be crucial to guard the trust in the quality of Danish Foods especially on the export markets. The production paving the way for resistant bacteria must be altered, and porcine MRSA poses a concrete problem for the staff and the community regardless of the fact, that the pigs seem unaffected.
Porcine-MRSA is a wake-up call for a production, where sick as well as sound piglets are treated with large amounts of antibiotics to overcome early weaning
If weaning is postponed a few weeks, it will lead to reduced use of antibiotics, higher quality benefiting the consumers and the pigs. The production will be reduced and thus nature, lakes and streams will be relieved of heavy-metals and fertilizer from the manure.
This demands thorough information about the amount and localisation of the infected herds and the spreading pattern of porcine-MRSA.
Good hygienic conditions in the stables, at the abattoirs and in the private kitchens are necessary to prevent spreading and infection, but we must know the amount and nature of the infection routes to succeed. And so we must secure supplies of bacteria-free meat to the consumers.
They must feel at ease buying fresh meat at the cooling counter regardless of the size of their wallet.
Porcine-MRSA threatens the public health and the national economy if the infection spreads and the pork export fails. Information flyers and hand-washing will not solve the problem, neither will a ”free choice” between MRSA-free and infected meat.
Consumers are unable to act themselves. We must feel safe buying foods in Denmark, but we depend on the actions of others being responsible for solving the problem. The farmers have created the problem by distributing antibiotics in an unethical way for many years. Therefore the farmers must join in solving the problem.
Despite many a warning, the authorities have neglected the problem, but now it is time to take action. We are ready to join in.
There are no easy ways. It will hurt. And the costs will be high. But less expensive than doing nothing.
We recommend the organic pig production, where good animal welfare, healthy foods, improvement of nature, drinking water and profits go hand in hand.