Saturday, 22 January 2011

Secret tests on British pig farms for MRSA

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The tests were secret, but the quite extraordinary row, detailed in the Guardian, between the organic farming Soil Association and the libel lawyer Carter-Ruck, has revealed that British pig farms, perhaps at the insistence of the supermarkets, are testing for the presence of MRSA.

The story is bizarre. Britain's infamous agriculture ministry, Defra, finally took a few dust samples at the insistence of the EU and claimed that, almost alone amongst pig farming nations, British pigs did not have MRSA.

Not unnaturally the British Pig Executive (BPEX) and the National Pig Association repeated and relied on the claims. They did not use them for promotional purposes, merely as part of an effort to prevent importation of live pigs from the continent on health grounds.

If British pigs really are free of MRSA, it should be a cause of national celebration, of congratulations to the industry - and as a reason for paying more for British pork.

But MRSA, of the strain found in pigs, has been known to be present in Britain and in children, since at least 2004, and the pig herds have been known to be sick with a whole range of diseases for more than ten years.

The Soil Association has long publicly complained about the situation and the quantities of antibiotics used in British pigs. Unlike other countries, reliable figures of antibiotic use in pigs seem to be a state secret.

The Soil Association were opposing an application, with the planning authorities, from a farming group to build a new large pig farm at Foxton and received a letter from the applicant's libel lawyers marked "Not for publication or Broadcast." The story is detailed in the Guardian here

To cut a long story short, the Soil Association published the letter, claiming intimidation. The offending letter confirmed that the applicants have tested their farms for MRSA and were found to be free.

So the inevitable did happen, nobody felt they could rely on the government assurances and have been doing their own testing in secret. We do not know the results, except in this one case.

It is quite obvious that some criminal investigations currently still under way, and on which the writer is under written instructions not to comment, will eventually be extended to cover the faking of tests and records by government employees.

Somebody has to make some effort to protect Britain's children from the results of veterinary corruption.

Expect high profile arrests in a story that will astonish and horrify Britain. There are some things you cannot get away with in a civilised society and this is one of them.