It turns out that European governments — in contrast to the United States — are taking very seriously the emergence of MRSA in food animals and its potential for transfer to humans. (For background, posts here, here, here and here.)
How seriously? They’re doing a sampling survey of pigs on farms across the European Union, at a cost of about $3 million in EC funds, with matching funds expected from each government.
The MRSA survey piggybacks (sorry) on a year-long survey of Salmonella incidence that the EC called for in September 2007. But in December, following publication of several significant papers about the ST 398 MRSA strain in pigs and pig farmers, the EC Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection pushed for an addition to the Salmonella study: a same-time sampling for the presence of MRSA strains in pig operations across 29 countries.
The sampling is taking place from January to December of this year, with results mandated by mid-2009, though individual country authorities may release data earlier if they choose. (In the wake of the finding of three ST 398 cases apparently caused by retail meat in the UK, the Soil Association has called on the British government to release whatever data it has ASAP. Before the EC decision, the UK government had refused to test its pigs; cf. these House of Lords minutes.)
Of note: The Soil Association is pressing the argument that ST 398 has developed in the setting of widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, and contends the strain’s arising in the Netherlands is especially alarming because
they have some of the lowest animal-antibiotic use rates in the EC it illustrates the difficulties that even a society conscientious about antibiotic overuse can have keeping track of veterinary applications. The Netherlands has been successful limiting overuse in humans, but has found controlling veterinary use much more of a struggle. (Thanks to the Soil Association for correcting my misunderstanding!)