Discovery of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus on a Canadian hog farm has prompted calls for increased surveillance by the U.S. government. Campaigners want more measures in place to track the incidence of the deadly bacteria. The “super bug” is prevalent in the environment and farms are a prime site.
In the swine industry, employees’ and animals’ close proximity appears to be a critical factor. The risk of transmission from animals to people may be increased. Infection is usually transmitted through open wounds.
The National Pork Board is already funding MRSA studies on farms. However, many feel that US officials should be doing their own research. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, MRSA caused 94,000 serious illnesses and 18,650 deaths, in 2005.
U.S. swine industry commentators say that the fact that MRSA was detected in Canada doesn't mean U.S. herds do not also have the problem. Many believe it is the indiscriminate use of in-feed anti-bacterial drugs - primarily as growth enhancers - which has contributed to the evolution of super bugs. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated that 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are in feed additives for livestock and poultry.
Researchers have not yet proved that antibiotic use has caused the MRSA in the Canadian pigs. Even so, the situation likely will boost support for a bill to phase out the non-therapeutic use of such drugs in farm animals. MRSA has caused a public outcry in the health sector and increased scrutiny of health care protocols and hygiene practices. Livestock producers and food manufacturers want to ensure this does not happen to the meat sector.
MRSA cannot be transferred in meat, as long as it is cooked thoroughly and handled hygienically. U.S. consumers are being assured that there is no reason to boycott Canadian bacon - a family favorite - because curing and adequate cooking will kill any potential contamination.