Factory farmed meat has become the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to the food we eat at home and in most restaurants. Called Intensive animal farming by Big Agra, factory farming uses dense populations of animals, confined in shed or pens, forced to stands surrounded ankle deep in their own feces and urine,
Because bodily waste serves as a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, beef, poultry, and hog farmers feed or inject their livestock with ongoing doses of antibiotics.
But the combination of dense populations, rampant bacterial growth in waste-soaked soil, and the process of natural selection virtually guarantees that bacteria, with their reproductive rates thousands of times faster than that of humans, will evolve to resist the drugs designed to kill them.
The result is a panoply of organisms like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurea, or MRSA, better known to the mass media as flesh-eating bacteria capable of standing off what has been the antibiotic of last resort when all others have failed.
One of the meats most intensively factory-farmed is pork, asn thius image from Farm Sanctuary is an example of the origins of your morning bacon and evening pork chops:
So the next logical question is this: Does working on a factory farm, the perfect storm of conditions for breeding MRSA, result in higher rates of MRSA infections for workers?
A new study looks at that question, using hog farm workers, and the answers are just what you’d expect.
From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
New Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests that some workers at industrial hog production facilities are not only carrying livestock-associated, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses, but may also be developing skin infections from these bacteria.
The findings are published Nov. 16 in PLOS ONE [open access].
“Before this study, we knew that many hog workers were carrying livestock-associated and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains in their noses, but we didn’t know what that meant in terms of worker health,” says study leader Christopher D. Heaney, PhD, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School’s departments of Environmental Health and Engineering, and Epidemiology. “It wasn’t clear whether hog workers carrying these bacteria might be at increased risk of infection. This study suggests that carrying these bacteria may not always be harmless to humans.”
Because the study was small, the researchers say there is a need to confirm the findings, but the results highlight the need to identify ways to protect workers from being exposed to these bacteria on the job, and to take a fresh look at antibiotic use and resistance in food animal production. Hogs are given antibiotics in order to grow them more quickly for sale, and the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of bacteria that are resistant to many of the drugs used to treat staph infections.
The researchers, involving collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help in Warsaw, NC, and the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, enrolled 103 hog workers in North Carolina and 80 members of their households (either children or other adults) to have their noses swabbed to determine whether they were carrying strains of S. aureus in their nasal passages. Each person was also shown pictures of skin and soft tissue infections caused by S. aureus and asked if they had developed those symptoms in the previous three months.
The researchers found that 45 of 103 hog workers (44 percent) and 31 of 80 household members (39 percent) carried S. aureus in their noses. Nearly half of the S. aureus strains being carried by hog workers were mutidrug-resistant and nearly a third of S. aureus strains being carried by household members were. Six percent of the hog workers and 11 percent of the children who lived with them reported a recent skin and soft tissue infection (no adult household members reported such infections).