Antibiotic-Free Meat Might Still Be Contaminated with Drug Resistant Bacteria


Drug-resistant microbes persist in pork labeled as pesticide- and antibiotic-free.

Pesticide- and antibiotic-free meat fetch premium prices, but a recent study has shown that there is still a prevalence of one of the world’s most dangerous drug-resistant microbe strains in retail pork products labeled as such.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the drug-resistant variant of the harmless S. aureus bacterium and has killed 18,000 people in the USA every year. 76,000 more are sickened by it and most cases are linked to a hospital stay, where the combination of other sick people and surgical procedures puts these patients even more at risk.


Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, in Iowa City, studies the movement of bacteria between animals and humans. The study was published in PLoS ONE and she tested a variety of different pork products with her colleagues. 395 packages were tested from 36 different stores in New Jersey, Iowa, and Minnesota.

They found that 64.8% of the samples were positive for staph bacteria and 6.6% were positive for MRSA. Rates of contamination were similar between conventional and antibiotic-free raised pigs.

The source of MRSA is difficult to find. Transmission of resistant bugs might occur between antibiotic-using and antibiotic-free operations, especially if they’re near each other. It could also come from the workers themselves.

Reference: “Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Strain ST398 Is Present in Midwestern U.S. Swine and Swine Workers” by Tara C. Smith, Michael J. Male, Abby L. Harper, Jennifer S. Kroeger, Gregory P. Tinkler, Erin D. Moritz, Ana W. Capuano, Loreen A. Herwaldt and Daniel J. Diekema, 23 January 2009, PLoS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004258

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