MRSA (Methicilline resistant Staphylocossus aureus) develops on pig farms and with transports of piglets and finishers the bacteria have spread rapidly. About 40% of the pig farmers in the Netherlands carry MRSA-bacteria and if they have to go to hospital they have to be cared for separately and quarantined.
ESBL (Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase) develops on poultry farms and spreads through the food chain. In certain countries up to 90% of poultry in supermarkets is infected. The number of antibiotics working against ESBL is limited.
In most countries the situation is still manageable, but has already become critical in Greece and Turkey where it is almost impossible to treat infected patients with antibiotics that work. In Greece a MRSA-type has emerged that is resistant to all antibiotics. The situation is also critical because no new antibiotics are to be expected in the short term.
In order to avoid this horror scenario for other countries, antibiotic use in the livestock industry has to be minimised. This is possible with vaccinations against diseases, better feed and better housing. It will lead to decreased growth rate of animals and possibly to fewer farms, because some are too infected to continue.
In some regions of the world the mental change – from using only antibiotics to alternative means of treatment and from curing to preventing disease or even an antibiotic free livestock industry – has taken place and is accepted in the heads of people working in the food chain. In some other places, such as the USA and Eastern Europe, this different way of thinking has not yet taken place. The industry is still in the denial phase and keeps on emphasising the disadvantages of withdrawal of antibiotics instead of looking for opportunities of a new disease management system.
As a consequence our chicken filet and pork chop may become a little bit more expensive. I have no problem with that if it ensures me of a risk-free hospital use when necessary and ensures a healthy (health-wise and economically) living for farmers.
It is still not too late, but it is up to governments in cooperation with the feed and food chain to resist the lobby of animal drug companies and make a clear move in reducing antibiotic use in livestock – for a healthier future.