Opposing industrial-scale pig farming — in Europe

Well, wow. National legislators stand up to oppose the use of tax revenues to subsidize large-scale confinement pig farms out of concern for food safety and antibiotic resistance, declaring that they are “going to war in defense of pigs.”

In Europe, though.

At the European Parliament today, three national representatives — Janusz Wojciechowski of Poland, José Bové of France and Dan Jørgensen of Denmark — declared their opposition to industrial-scale swine agriculture, positioning themselves for a fight over the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy, which is up for revision this summer.

Jørgensen represents the country that has done the most to place controls on agricultural antibiotic use; Bové is a farmer and political organizer who famously destroyed a McDonald’s by driving a tractor through it; and Wojciechowski is the son of pig farmers who wrote on his blog today:

Chcemy poruszyć sumienia posłów i doprowadzic do likwidacji tego typu “fabryk miesa” w Unii Europejskiej, no czywiscie takze w Polsce, gdzie takich fabryk jest juz ponad sto.
Chcemy doprorowadzic do tego, aby wielkie fermy nie były wspierane środkami europejskimi, aby wstrzymać lokalizacje nowych obiektów, po czym stopniowo likwidować te, które już istnieją.
Chcemy, żeby na miejsce fabryk miesa powróciła normalna hodowla świń.

We want to move the conscience of members and lead to the liquidation of this type of “meat factories” in the European Union, also in Poland, where such plants are already over a hundred.
We want to ensure that large farms are not supported by the European funds to stop the locations of new facilities, then gradually eliminate those that already exist.
We want “meat factories” returned to normal breeding of pigs. (via GoogleTranslate)

As I’ve written before (long archive here and here),the MRSA strain ST398 arose on Dutch pig farms in 2004, among pigs that had been given prophylactic doses of antibiotics, especially tetracycline. It has since spread through the EU, Canada and the United States, affecting not only farm workers and veterinarians, but also hospital patients with no connection to agriculture.

(Self-promotion alert: This may be a good time to tell you that my book SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, which tells the full story of the emergence and spread of ST398, has just been released in paperback.)

In advance, this morning the trade paper Farming UK wrote this about the planned European Parliament announcements:

(Members of the European Parliament) will hear evidence that European taxpayers’ money is being used by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, together with Common Agriculture Policy payments, to subsidise industrial pig farming even though there is increasing concern over the impact on human health. With a vote this summer over reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy, MEPs will come together to take a stance against the crisis in agriculture with critically low prices for pork, poor labelling, and widespread disregard for animal welfare laws.

MEPs and NGOs will condemn the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms which has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and ESBL E. coli. A recent report by the Dutch Food Standards Agency estimated that one third to one half of all antibiotic resistance in human diseases in the Netherlands derives from farm antibiotic use. American scientists recently found that flies and cockroaches from intensive pig farms carry bacteria resistant to the same antibiotics routinely used in pig farming, and warned that the insects were likely to be able to spread the disease from the farms to local people.

The event was co-organized by Tracy Worcester, who is both a British aristocrat and director of a documentary, Pig Business, that has not yet been shown in the US. Here’s its trailer:


In both medicine and agriculture, Europe has been ahead of the US in addressing concerns about antibiotic resistance. This morning’s announcements are yet more evidence of just how far ahead they are.



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