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.
This is part of a larger strategy (that I’ll describe below) that, on the one hand, says we need more research, while, on the other hand, attempts to deny funding to do the research they claim is needed.
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 which point, they will agree that it’s a problem. Then they argue that changing antibiotic use is moot because resistance to the drug of interest is so common it won’t make a difference. Nice denialist tautology you have there.
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 fucking 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’? What they meant is that NARMS should spend all of its time making the confidence intervals even smaller than they already are. Rather than spending its funding, I dunno, genetically tracking the spread of resistance, the pork lobby wants them to dither around testing thousands more bacteria for resistance.
Second, and I can’t remember the exact phrase, they wanted equal contributions from the three agencies that support NARMS (CDC, FDA, and USDA). Basically, this was a way to reduce funding and personnel for NARMS: CDC, through the PHS, lends NARMS a lot of personnel, while FDA and USDA provide a lot of the funding. By calling for equal contributions (which is the dumbest governance ‘principle’ I’ve ever heard of), personnel staffing and funding would sink to the lowest agency level.
Of course, while they were doing this, they were also claiming that we need more research. We do need more research, but the ag lobby has consistently opposed meaningful research. I know NARMS personnel want to design rigorous surveillance schemes that would move from farms to the specific slaughterhouses, and then to the supermarkets and hospitals that receive food from those slaughterhouses (or that are near the farms and slaughterhouses). I know NARMS personnel want to use resistance to agricutlure-only antibiotics (e.g., florfenicol) as a genetic biomarker to track the srpead of resistance from the farm to the clinic. But they can barely keep their ongoing projects afloat due to the constant political assault from those opposing their work.
I told you this would happen.