Brussels—The discovery of a new strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in cattle in the UK and in people in the UK, Denmark, Germany and Ireland is another reason why the current food chain model, based on maximum pressure on farmers from supermarkets and processors to produce as cheaply as possible, is wrong and needs urgent attention, said Brussels-based advocacy group Food & Water Europe today.
The model has been imported to Europe from the U.S., where livestock are routinely subjected to non-therapeutic antibiotic treatments in order to promote growth and ward off potential health problems from crowded, unsanitary conditions, a notable feature of high output factory farming in particular. In 2009, nearly 80 percent of antibiotics sold were reserved for use in livestock and poultry, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Mark Holmes, the veterinarian who led the University of Cambridge study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, documented the new strain and noted that dairy farmers are under “relentless financial pressure” from supermarkets – driving cows to produce more and more milk as cheaply as possible results in inevitable health problems, which leads to overuse of antibiotics either to treat them or to try to prevent them. Such misuse of antibiotics helps drug resistant strains of bacteria to emerge, with unknown consequences for human or veterinary health.
A U.S. study published in the journal Clinical Infections Diseases in April confirmed that drug resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus are in meat in the U.S., and it’s likely coming from the way livestock are produced on crowded factory farms.
“A growing amount of scientific consensus shows that routine feeding livestock antibiotics is the wrong model to follow,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “U.S.-style factory farm methods like the overuse of antibiotics are increasingly being used around the world, and hopefully European regulators will heed this discovery as more reason to promote policies that create more local and small-scale regional farming methods.”
“The new Garcia-Alvarez study corroborates the signals we’ve received from earlier studies in the US and abroad,” said Robert Lawrence, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and founding director of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). “The findings of the authors underscore the urgent need to protect the effectiveness of a critical medical and public health resource – and this unambiguously translates to the obvious step of eliminating the irresponsible administration of antibiotics to food animals.”
The group has been campaigning against a proposed megadairy in Linconshire because these types of dairy operations routinely administer antibiotics to address diseases related to crowding.
Livestock farms in the U.S. are consolidating, bringing more and more animals under the care of fewer and fewer factory farms. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census data for beef and dairy cattle, hogs, broiler meat chickens and egg-laying operations in the U.S., the total number of livestock on the largest factory farms rose by more than 20 percent between 2002 and 2007.
“Europe is playing follow the leader on factory farms,” said Hauter. “The detection of MRSA should be a wake-up call for regulators in Europe that this dangerous model of food production shouldn’t be expanded. It also highlights the need for screening programs for antibiotic residues in milk and beef.
“But ultimately it’s the pressure supermarkets and processors put on dairy farmers that drives these problems and others – farmers don’t want to treat their cows this way. It’s past time for the oft-promised Ombudsman to be given the powers to hear and resolve anonymous complaints from farmers in their dealings with supermarkets so we can get to the more ethical farming people want,” said Hauter.
Food & Water Europe is a program of Food & Water Watch, Inc., a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, D.C., working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.
Eve Mitchell, Food & Water Europe, emitchell(at)fweurope.org, +44 (0)1381 610 740
Darcey Rakestraw, Food & Water Watch, drakestraw(at)fwwatch.org, +1 202-2683-2467