Staph a. resistant strains of MRSA in pork-new crisis?

Is there antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria is in the 762 million pounds of Canadian pork that’s imported into the U.S. each year?

No one seems to know. However no one at the USDA is actually looking either. Sort of out of sight out of mind-no problem. Dr. Monina Klevens, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined the cases of the disease reported in hospitals, schools and prisons in one year and extrapolated that “94,360 invasive MRSA infections occurred in the United States in 2005; these infections were associated with death in 18,650 cases.”

Earlier his year, Dr. Scott Weese, from the Department of Pathobiology at the Ontario Veterinary College told those attending the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases at the CDC that there was a problem. He and his colleagues had found MRSA in 10 percent of 212 samples of pork chops and ground pork bought in four Canadian provinces.

“I think it is very likely that the situation is the same in the U.S.,” he told me in a phone interview.

“Any pathogen or hazard that’s transmitted through the foods we regulate is a potential issue for us, and so you know, certainly we are aware of the study (Weese) did,” Goldman told me during an interview at a recent food-safety meeting in Seattle.

“There is no indication MRSA has been identified in swine going into the retail market. Not in this country. Not in swine or other livestock being sold for food in this country,” the doctor added.

But, none of the USDA labs that he runs are checking for MRSA in imported meat.

“We just don’t have a test for it,” Goldman said.

So, do we have MRSA in our American grown pigs?

The Food and Drug Administration says it doesn’t know.

Mike Herndon, an agency spokesman, said FDA scientists have been “following the emergence of MRSA from humans and animals in Central Europe and Canada and are monitoring the situation very closely.”

The FDA is aware of Weese’s study, but “we do not yet have similar data with regards to the MRSA situation among food animals and retail meats,” Herndon said.

There is no indication that FDA has tested meat for MRSA.

But the FDA and USDA eagerly pointed to a group called the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System as the protector of food and humans from foodborne bacteria. The coalition of scientists from several federal agencies primarily target salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli.

But the group does not currently screen for MRSA.

The National Pork Producers Council in Washington is sure there’s no problem. They told me “there is nothing to worry about; MRSA (in pigs) has not been found this side of the border” and “USDA and CDC has given our pigs a clean bill of health.”

A CDC spokeswoman told me that she could find “no indication we made that statement.”

Interestingly, the pork lobbyists have said their industry would oppose any attempt to test all livestock for MRSA, calling the testing “unnecessary to protect public health.”

Whereas our government apparently doesn’t see the need nor have the ability to see if pigs in the U.S. are carrying MRSA, Dr.Tara Smith, an assistant professor for the University of Iowa department of epidemiology, and her graduate researchers have done what is apparently is the first testing of swine for MRSA in the U.S.

They swabbed the noses of 209 pigs from 10 farms in Iowa and Illinois and found MRSA in 70 percent of the porkers.

Today, in Boston, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Abby Harper, one of Smith’s graduate assistants, presented the results of a study that she and Michael Male did on 20 workers at the Iowa swine farms.

Harper reported that 45 percent of the workers carried the same MRSA bacterium as the pigs.”

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