Denmark is the world’s biggest exporter of pork. Approximately 30 million pigs are produced in Denmark annually, and 90 percent of them are exported.
Being a world leader in exporting pig meat means efficiency in farming – and efficiency means big farms. The amount of pigs is constantly increasing in Denmark and the number of farms is going down.
When pigs are raised in these big, economically productive farms, it results in stressful conditions for animals and infections spreading easily from one animal to another if they are not treated. High volume production of pigs is therefore dependent on the use of antibiotics in animals.
The increasing use of antibiotics in both animals and humans have created increasing amount of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. These resistant bacteria threaten the effective use of antibiotics all over the world.
According to WHO, without urgent action, we are heading towards a post-antibiotic era. Then common infections, which have been treatable for decades, can then once again kill people.
// A piglet is sleeping under a warming lamp in Kobberbølgaard, a pig farm in Vejle mid-Jutland, Denmark. //
One common type of resistant bacteria is called MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).
There are several strains of MRSA bacteria, but one strain in particular, MRSA CC398, is associated with animals.
In Denmark MRSA CC398 is primarily found in pigs. As much as 68 percent of Danish slaughter pigs carry MRSA.
// Steen Lomborg, the head doctor of the Department of Microbiology in Herning regional hospital, is preparing a MRSA-sample for examination. //
From pigs MRSA can transmit to people. First person in Denmark infected with livestock-MRSA was diagnosed in 2007.
After that the number of patients have grown rapidly. In 2013 there was 643 cases of livestock-MRSA. In 2014 the number was already 1,276.
In addition experts estimate that from 6,000 to 12,000 Danes carry the bacteria without knowing it.
// An isolation room for treating MRSA-patients in Herning regional hospital, Denmark. //
Kobberbølgaard, a pig farm in Vejle mid-Jutland Denmark, gives a good example of the size of a modern Danish farm: 800 hectares and 1,000 sows giving birth to 35,000 piglets every year.
The public health care system is left with the bill of people carrying more and more MRSA.
Hospitals have special guidelines for treatment of MRSA-patients. These guidelines include extra protection and isolation to prevent the spread of the bacteria.
Special treatment costs a lot of money. The Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research estimates that the total costs for treating patients with livestock-MRSA are approximately 43 million kroner (5,8 million euros) per year.
In Herning regional hospital in mid-Jutland, approximately 70 percent of all the MRSA-cases are livestock-MRSA, when the national average is 43 percent. This is because the hospital is located in the most intense farming area in Denmark.
// In Herning regional hospital a nurse Birgit Bjelke puts on extra clothes for protection when treating MRSA-patients. //
In April 2015 the Danish government released a four-year action plan to fight against the rapid spreading of MRSA from pig farms into the community.
The action plan includes reducing the use of antibiotics for pigs by 15 percent by year 2018, hygiene measures for everyone who works in piggeries and strengthened research in infection routes of pig-MRSA.
In pig farms the workers have to take good care of their hygiene. Clothes have to be changed every time entering and leaving the stable.
// Work clothes at a pig farm, Kobberbølgaard, in Vejle mid-Jutland, Denmark. //
// Two pigs are separated from others because of their aggressive behavior at Kobberbølgaard-farm, in Vejle mid-Jutland, Denmark. //
Consumers have a big responsibility in preventing MRSA-bacteria from spreading.
Everything comes down to the fact that people are use to consuming very cheap meat. Producing cheap meat means growing farm sizes and a growing amount of antibiotics. And that leads to an increasing number of resistant bacteria.
If we want to go back to small farm sizes and raising pigs without antibiotics, consumers have to be ready to spend more money on the pork they eat.
Farmer Søren Søndergaard thinks that the Danish pig industry is in crisis. The global markets of pig production have made it difficult for Danish farms to compete against some of the lower cost producers in the world.
“Most of the farms in Denmark still have to quit, cause there’s too much pork on the European market”, Søndergaard explains.
In this situation Søndergaard thinks that it will be very difficult to try to cut down the consumption of antibiotics by 15%, which is the government's goal.
“We must use the absolutely minimum of antibiotics, but we also have to treat sick animals. It’s a constant struggle to find this balance”, he explains.
// Farmer Søren Søndergaard discusses with his employee at a sow stable in Kobberbølgaard, in Vejle mid-Jutland, Denmark. //
MRSA can cause a variety of infections from wounds and abscesses to serious infections such as blood poisoning.
For a healthy person a risk of getting a serious infection of MRSA is minimal. In total five people have died due to an infection of livestock-MRSA in Denmark, when 300-350 die in normal, non-resistant staphylococci infection every year.
Currently antimicrobial resistance kills 700,000 people every year, and it’s estimated that in 2050 resistant bacteria will kill 10 million a year worldwide if they are not tackled.
Reducing both human and veterinarian use of antibiotics is the only solution for reducing all resistant bacteria.
// A positive sample of MRSA-bacteria at the laboratory of Herning regional hospital in mid-Jutland, Denmark. //
// A dead piglet in trashcan at Kobberbølgaard-farm, in Vejle mid-Jutland, Denmark. //