After a report last month revealed that the number of Danes infected with the antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria nearly doubled between 2013 and 2014, Agriculture Minister Dan Jørgensen vowed a “comprehensive action plan” to tackle the issue.
Jørgensen released his plan this week, but experts said it doesn’t do nearly enough to combat the rising prevalence of MRSA while pig producers argued that reducing antibiotic use will be bad for business and animal welfare.
The ag minister’s action plan calls for the use of antibiotics in pig farming to decrease by 15 percent by 2018 and the total elimination of the antibiotic tetracycline “as soon as possible”.
Jørgensen also wants all pig farmers to undergo obligatory hygiene training and to wash their clothes on site.
But two experts who last year estimated that up to 12,000 people in Denmark are infected with MRSA without knowing it, said the minister’s plan doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“The plan is unambitious. The long-term goal is that we need to get all the way up to 90 percent [antibiotic reduction, ed.] if this is to have any effect. So this isn’t even a step along the way,” Hans Jørn Kolmos, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark, told Politiken.
“The plan also does nothing to address the underlying problems that create the massive antibiotic use: the production environment,” he added.
The Danish organization for pig farmers, Danske Svineproducenter, countered that they have already reduced antibiotic use dramatically and that it is “easier said than done” to cut it even further.
“There is nothing surprising in Dan Jørgensen’s new plan for the reduction of antibiotic use in Danish swine production and the phasing out of the most criticized types of antibiotics, but it would have been nice if the minister was able to show my colleagues and I how we’re supposed to hit these lofty goals,” the head of the organization, Henrik Mortensen, wrote in a comment.
“What should we do when sickness breaks out amongst the animals? Should we turn around and leave? Shut the stall door behind us and hope for the best?” he added.
According to Mortensen, Danish pig farmers have already cut antibiotic use by 17 percent since 2009 and implementing Jørgensen’s plan would “hurt both the production and animal welfare”.
In 2014, 1,271 people were infected with MRSA CC398, a variant that can be transmitted from livestock to humans. Two of the infected individuals died and eight suffered toxaemia.
In December, a task force found that MRSA is present in two out of every three pig production sites in Denmark, and a spot check of pork products in Danish supermarkets showed that every fifth pack of pork carries MRSA.
The prevalence of the bacteria threatens the country’s exports to Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway, as retailers in both countries have said that they are looking at the possibility of putting a stop to the import of Danish pork.
Some in Sweden are also calling for a boycott of Danish pork after a Danske Svineproducenter representative told a Swedish radio programme that about half a million piglets are killed in Denmark every year for "humane" reasons.