CDC Study: MRSA Infections Connected to Animal Agriculture

Dec. 5, 2007
Despite mounting evidence that demonstrates certain strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) originate in animal agriculture and could pose a threat to agriculture workers, the United States does not test for the disease in cattle, pigs or other livestock used for food.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reveals that the NT-MRSA, a strain of the affliction that first appeared in the Netherlands in 2003, makes up more than 20 percent of all MRSA cases in that country. NT-MRSA, which previously only affected pigs, has a high rate of hospitalization for humans.

In the Netherlands, NT-MRSA cases were prevalent in parts of the country containing pig and cattle farms, with pig and cattle farmers affected in especially high rates. Furthermore, Veterinary Microbiology recently published evidence of MRSA’s presence in Canadian pigs and pig farmers, suggesting animal agriculture industries may play a large role in harboring and spreading the disease, and that both animals and workers are at risk of infection.

Agricultural, medical and environmental experts urge Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate MRSA’s connection to the agriculture industries and to determine if the nation’s cattle, poultry and swine may contribute to the spread of infection in humans.

Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist at environmental defense, explained that the presence of antibiotics in animal feed could contribute to the problem.

“Antibiotic resistance is exploding in our hospitals and communities,” she said. “Medical experts point to the profligate use of antibiotics in animal feed as a significant cause, but those in charge of safeguarding our food system are mostly just whistling in the dark.”

In “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act,” a proposed bill supported by more than 350 health and agriculture groups, antibiotics relevant to human medicine would be phased out in their use as animal feed additives. The bill was sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., along with Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown, Ohio, and Jack Reed, R.I.

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