Livestock scientists call the opinion piece “highly speculative”, and point to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statements on MRSA that say most if not all cases of MRSA come from person to person contact, not person to animal. The column also does not define this strain as one that is found on any swine farm in the vicinity of Camden, Ind.
“They are making a huge leap attributing MRSA in these people to hogs,” says Angela DeMirjyn, science communications manager for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The pork organization has been researching MRSA for some time, says DeMirjyn, and supports the CDC’s statement that most community acquired MRSA infections are caused by a different bacteria than is commonly associated with pigs or pig farms.
“We also know that MRSA is not just staph bacteria that can be found in pigs, it also can be found in horses, dogs and even marine animals. It is not a problem that is solely related to pigs,” DeMirjyn says.
I’ve actually had some limited dealing with pork lobbyists. Before I get to that, I want point out one tactic that the ag lobby has always used.
Whenever we start to see resistance to a particular drug in an agricultural setting, there’s the response (or some variant thereof) that resistance to that drug is mostly clinical. What they neglect to add is the phrase “at the present time.” Which is the whole fucking point. If we see a troubling rise in an MRSA clone in pigs (more like an epidemic sweep), then that should be cause for action. Of course, the ag lobby will argue that we should wait, until resistance becomes relatively common. At this point, they then argue that changing antibiotic use is moot because resistance to the drug of interest is so common it won’t make a difference. I’m sure this style of argument is some characterized form of denialist tautology.
The reason that I’m worried about MRSA ST398 is not that entering the human population is predictable–that is, it’s possible to devise a scenario where it could happen. It’s not that entering the human population has been predicted–that is, someone is claiming it will occur. The reason ST398 is, as I noted in a previous post, a serious problem is that it has already jumped from pigs to the human clinical setting in the Netherlands (and keep in mind that the Netherlands has excellent MRSA hospital infection control policies, arguably the strictest in the world). You don’t have to be smart or clever to realize what will happen–you just have to pay attention.
Anyway, onto (some of) my experiences with pork lobbyists.
A couple of years ago, I testified at the Scientific Review of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). This is a program that conducts research related to antibiotic resistance and agriculture; it also tracks the spread of resistance from the farm, through the food chain, and into the clinic. Several ag lobbyists were at the meeting, including one from the Pork Board (really, it’s called that…). First of all, they had the nicest suits in the room (ok, the PHS people looked pretty snazzy, but they have uniforms and stuff). It must pay really well. Basically, the ag lobbyists spent the entire meeting trying to eviscerate the funding for NARMS.
First, they kept referring to ‘statistically sound sampling’ over and over again (clearly, this was a talking point). Of course, who could possibly be against statistically sound sampling? What are you, an Al-Queda sympathizer or sumthin’?