Yet another win for pasture-based farms

The small-farm-warrior, big-city-writer Mark Bittman wrote yesterday in the Times about the newly released disturbing (and unsurprising) results of a study conducted a couple of years ago in North Carolina on hog farms. North Carolina is the second biggest pork producing state in the US (Iowa being no. 1). The study wanted to determine and compare the existence of MRSA and MDRSA in workers at confinement hog farms and workers at pasture-based farms. Nick and I were two of those studied representing workers on the latter. Our noses were swabbed and we answered some very detailed questions about our sanitation efforts when dealing with livestock. From the above photo I think you can see, we would get quite close to our pigs. In fact this photo is from hours after a sow had farrowed in the stables adjacent to our home. Nick and I had a slow afternoon on the farm and sat there, at her rear watching each baby piglet slip out, gain near immediate control of their legs and make their way around to the large display of milky teats. 

Pigs that live in confinement (literal concrete slabs, and sometimes cages for sows) receive routine prophylactic antibiotics to keep them alive when their living conditions and feed would otherwise kill them. Prophylactic treatment is preventative. The antibiotics are given assuming that the pig will get sick. Otherwise you could treat pigs therapeutically after an animal shows signs of sickness.

When hogs are treated prophylactically they can develop a strain of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics administered. This bacteria is commonly known as MRSA.   The study shows that workers at these confinement farms are more likely than workers at pasture-based farms to carry this drug resistant bacteria. Typically antibiotics are administered therapeutically or not at all on pasture-based farms.

Bittman writes a much more cohesive overview of this study as did Maryn Mckenna for Wired last week. I recommend reading both.

It is scary stuff. The pigs we grow in the most inhumane conditions we can fathom get sick from their living conditions. We pump them full of antibiotics to keep them from dying. We do this so often that the pigs become hosts to MRSA and it appears from this study that MRSA is then passed on to farm workers from close contact with the pigs. If the workers have it, its only a matter of time before they pass it onto their household members. And then that shit spreads. Very hollywood.

Just another reason to stop supporting factory farms. Start supporting farms where the workers can kiss a pig on the nose without fear of a staph infection.


  1. Love your blog. Thanks for the great perspective on farm life. I dream of it one day.

  2. for real, this is scary shit. amen for real farms and pig nose kisses.

  3. Thank you for sharing this information. I don't live in America but I'm soon moving to the biggest pork producing region in France and I am sure this applies there too. Unfortunately. Our decision to move there was to have a better life where we do things for ourselves and not for a big corporation who exploit people to make money. And we'll have the extreme luck to be close to farms, and have access to healthy great products. Our dream is to actually farm ourselves. Your blog made me aware of so many things we just decide to ignore about our food and probably influenced our choice on farming. We dream about lovely dairy goats. How I love those creatures!

  4. Let's hope that someday his reaches and convinces all people on this planet!!!
    Think about your food and were it comes from, guys!!!!
    I love your blog and I wish your little farm was just around my corner ;-)!!!

    Gisela from Munich/Germany

  5. We currently have a pig waiting for us in the freezer of my husband's father....thankfully we have a farmer-dad who can raise the pig for us (on a very small, hobby farm) all we have to do is pick it up when it's done. It's not only homegrown, the meat is delicious and so much tastier than supermarket pork.

  6. Oh my goodness baby pigs =]
    I just found your blog and I will be following now. I think that this is a great article. We have been getting a lot of our meat from a butcher that actually supplies a lot of the "fancy" restaruants in downtown Atlanta. Yet it is less expensive than general grocery stores. And it actually tastes like meat should. The first time I had a pork chop from there I was like omg it is like I have never ate a pork chop before.


  7. i work in the air filtration industry and one of our largest growing segments is agriculture - namely - pork farms

    we have opened up plants and sent sales teams into china - since pig farming is huge.

    i work in finance, so i never feel truly connected to our business practices, but lately it's been weighing heavy on my heart that i work for a company that, while perhaps doing a better thing by trying to filter out airborne disease, we are ultimately supporting factory farming.

    thank you for sharing this

  8. thanks for sharing, great articles!

  9. amen. i saw the documentary "fresh" a few years and the most moving part of the film was a hog farmer who had been stabbed in the leg by one of his hogs' tusks. he almost lost his leg because he contracted either mrsa or mdrsa (can't remember) and after that experience he realized the way he was farming pigs was completely awful and inhumane and unsafe (by pumping them full of antibiotics all the time). he killed off all of his pigs because he didn't feel right about selling the meat for people to eat and started all over with new (and fewer) pigs and he barely (if ever) has given them antibiotics. incredible story. thanks for sharing, kate!

  10. Thank you for sharing! And oh what I would do to kiss those little piggies on the nose!

  11. It's so disturbing how our country eats and most people don't bat an eye. I look forward to a day when I can raise my own pigs, but in the meantime I am very picky about where I get my meat! Thanks for sharing.

  12. This is EXACTLY why we've taken the plunge to raise our own pigs this year. And yours are beautiful, BTW, what kind? Ours are Berkshire X's. Cheers.

  13. Thanks for highlighting this, I hope all my Blog readers will stop by here and read it too. We really do need to spread the word.

  14. Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me!
    I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.


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