Mike the Mad Biologist

Always listen to the Mad Biologist. By way of Joe Windish at The Moderate Voice, we find out, just as I predicted, that the pork lobby would claim we don’t know enough about the MRSA ST398 problem:

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’?


  1. #1 Art
    March 22, 2009

    It is entirely predictable that the farm lobby will fight tooth and nail to prevent any changes, or even consideration of changes, in business-as-usual. Even if the the changes might protect them, their pigs, and the general public from massive loss. Change, unless it clearly leads to higher profits is always bad in their minds.

    Of course, when it happens the claim will be: ‘Nobody could have predicted this would happen’.

    The inevitable consequence of a mass outbreak of MRSA from their pigs will be the destruction of vast numbers of animals, closing of swine operations, and, assuming they wish to stay in the business, a complete restructuring of their practices. What will follow will be loud whining about being singled out, draconian government regulation, and a big push for federal aid and subsidies so they can rebuild.

    Ironically, even though the problem will have been known about for years and safe and effective countermeasures, developed in Europe, well documented the US regulations will be pushed through in a crisis atmosphere so they will be both less effective than those the Europeans use and more destructive and costly than they need be.

    This is the USofA and that’s how we roll.

  2. #2 Dr M Sullivan
    March 23, 2009

    Along with MRSA, many significant infection-causing bacteria in the world are also becoming resistant to the most commonly prescribed antimicrobial treatments. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria change or adapt in a way that allows them to survive in the presence of antibiotics designed to kill them. In some cases bacteria become so resistant that no available antibiotics are effective against them. People infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms like MRSA are more likely to have longer and more expensive hospital stays, and may be more likely to die as a result of the infection. When the drug of choice for treating their infection doesn’t work, they require treatment with second- or third-choice medicines that may be less effective, more toxic and more expensive.

    There is a new weapon in the fight against MRSA that is now FDA-cleared and commercially available in the United States. The Microcyn® Technology (www.oculusis.com/us/technology) is a safe-as-saline anti-infective that quickly eradicates a broad range of pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA and VRE), viruses, fungi and spores. Dual-action in nature, in addition to killing the infection, the Microcyn also accelerates the wound-healing process by reducing inflammation in the wound and increasing nutrient-rich blood and oxygen flow to the wound bed. Twenty-five clinical studies have demonstrated Microcyn to be both safe and effective in killing pathogens. There’s an excellent doctor discussion of this new technology at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAiWWNCfYH4

    There is also a version of the Microcyn Technology available for animals in a product called Vetericyn (www.vetericyn.com)