To date, there have been a reported 64 cases of people infected with E Coli 0157 bacteria from Godstone farm in Surrey and four petting farms have now been closed (either by health officials or voluntarily).
So far there are no known links between the four farms and one petting farm has two different strains of the e coli bacteria.
This outbreak isn’t a uniquely British problem or a new one.
In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC ) in America published recommendations for reducing the risk of transmitting E coli and other human pathogens at animal exhibits following e coli outbreaks.
Canada is also currently dealing with outbreaks of e coli following the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver.
But are the dangers of health risks at petting farms being blown out of proportion or should under 5’s be banned by the Government from touching farm animals?
In a statement the UK Health Protection Agency said “only about 1 in 50 of all cases are associated with outbreaks linked to petting farms”.
The worst recorded outbreak of e coli in the UK was after a church lunch in Strathclyde in 1996 when 20 people died.
E coli 0157 infected 950 people in England and Wales last year, yet we didn’t hear talk of new government regulations for slaughter houses, supermarkets or restaurants.
E coli is actually present in the intestines of both animals and humans and comes in many strains (only some of which are harmful). The bacteria is found in faeces (poo to you and me) and can live outside the body.
The majority of infected humans usually contract the bacteria by drinking infected water, milk or food. The problem we have with petting farms and small children is that animals tend to lie in their own poo … children then stroke the animals and their contaminated hands are put on or in their mouths.
Needless to say when it comes to young children getting sick we shouldn’t take any chances … but, I have to ask myself whether the old saying “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” comes into play here.
I can’t help but wonder whether the “clinical” conditions children grow up in these days contributes to a lower immune system.
Can you remember eating mud pies when you were a kid? I certainly can and we petted animals without an anti-bacterial shower.
I’m not advocating allowing your children to walk along the street eating animal poo but I do believe children should be allowed to be children in a supervised environment.
When I was a kid we fell off swings and bikes, we piddled behind bushes, we played with animals and of course we ate mud … our mothers simply made sure we washed our hands before eating or drinking.
I would hate to think that children will be legislated away from animals. Many children only know what an animal looks like if they’ve seen it in a book and certainly have no idea about how these animals behave.
It’s obviously a difficult time for farms with petting animals, particularly if they diversified from traditional farming to a petting farm.It seems heartless to talk of a business suffering when children are getting sick but more rural livelihoods are at stake and I would like to think we, as a nation, will not respond with a knee jerk reaction.
If I had a toddler I would still be visiting petting farms, being aware of the risks I would ensure the child doesn’t put dirty hands in their mouth … but don’t parents do that anyway?
My personal feeling is that children should be out in nature, collecting leaves, splashing in puddles, getting dirty and petting animals. Children need to build up a strong immune system and that will not happen if they live in a clinical environment, we just need to be aware of the dangers and take all necessary precautions.
I do hope parents will still take their children to petting farms and allow their children the joy of feeding and petting the animals. When you see a young child meeting farm animals for the first time it really is a pleasure to watch, they get so much pleasure from touching the animals.
Hopefully the health organisations will produce guidelines to build confidence among parents but I hope we don’t go down the road of legislation for petting farms.