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Study Finds Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Retail Pork

January 20, 2012

TRENTON, N. J. – Researchers say they have found that a serious antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is becoming more prevalent in retail pork products. David Wallinga, senior adviser on science, food and health with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), says samples were collected at stores in New Jersey, Iowa and Minnesota.

"We found the highest amount of MRSA in pork of any study to date – in fact, more than twice as much MRSA as in any previous study."

Of the 395 pork samples collected from three dozen stores, Wallinga says about 6.5 percent were found to be contaminated with MRSA. The IATP has not yet named which brands of pork tested positive, but says those details will be coming.

When asked to comment on the study, the National Pork Board referred calls to Dr. Peter Davies of the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota. According to Davies, proper cooking and handling of raw meat can reduce any potential risk - and he says this new report isn't a "game changer," based on what he's seen in studies from other countries.

"The Dutch have done a risk assessment study on what it means and they've essentially come to the conclusion that, although we can't be 100 percent certain, all the evidence suggests that it's not actually of much importance at all in terms of public health."

However, Wallinga believes the findings do pose an issue for public health. He says many people are sickened, and some die each year, because of MRSA.

"I'm not saying if you go out and buy a piece of pork you're going to die – but what I am saying is that it's in our food supply, and we ought to be taking action."

Wallinga says the IATP is recommending more testing by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so consumers will have the information they need when making decisions about food for their families.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD