Constant reader Pat Gardiner guided me to an enlightening post at the website of the agricultural magazine World Poultry that questions the routine use of antibiotics in food animals. It’s written by Wiebe van der Sluis, a Netherlands journalist from a farming background, founder of World Poultry and also the magazines Pig Progress and Poultry Processing.
The Netherlands, let’s recall, is the place where MRSA ST398 first emerged, and also the place where that livestock-MRSA strain has caused the most serious human cases and triggered the largest changes in hospital infection-control practices. In the Netherlands, swine farmers and veterinarians are considered serious infection risks because of their exposure to animals, and are pre-emptively isolated when they check into hospitals until they can be checked for MRSA colonization.
Van der Sluis takes seriously the tie between the use of antibiotics in animals and the emergence of MRSA:
Although most of the time MRSA is linked to pig production, it is also related to the veal and poultry industry. The industry, therefore, cannot shrug its shoulders and move on if nothing was wrong. In this case it would be wise to redefine the term prudent use of antibiotics. Time is up for those who use antibiotics to cover up bad management, poor housing conditions or insufficient health care. The standard rule should be: Do not use antibiotics unless there is a serious health issue and no other remedy applies. Veterinary practitioners, who usually authorise producers to use antibiotics, should also take responsibility and prevent unnecessary antibiotic use and the development of antibiotic resistance in animals and humans.
It’s unusual in the US context so hear someone so immersed in agriculture speak so candidly about antibiotic use. It’s refreshing.