Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria in Pork

We have a new report of current research with some alarming news! Published January 12, 2012 from the online science journal PLoS ONE (that’s the Public Library of Science), this research continues the frightening story of dosing our meat supply continually with antibiotics.

The bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found at much higher rates (that is, in more meat products than ever before) in pork samples last year. ¹

What’s so scary about that?  MRSA is a bacteria that can cause serious human infections of the bloodstream, skin, lungs (pneumonia) and other organs, so we don’t really want to find ANY contamination. MRSA is resistant to most antibiotics currently available, so if you get this infection, the doctors will have a difficult time controlling and killing the bacteria.  MRSA accounts for about 280,000 infections and nearly 19,000 deaths each year in hospitals.  But infections from MRSA that people got in their communities and on farms (i.e., outside of the hospitals) have been increasing rapidly.²

Researchers from the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) collected pork samples from 36 retail stores like grocery stores and butcher shops in 3 states (Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey).  If you do not live in one of these states, don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet.  This is a random sampling of the meat supply in the United States, not just a condemnation of the meat industry in those 3 states. It could have happened (and probably will) in your state, too.

6.6 percent of 395 pork samples were contaminated.  That may not sound like a lot, but it’s double the number of contaminations found in the past. ¹

Unlike a lot of scientific reports, this one is very readable by the average person. Have a look at it yourself…the first references below is a link directly to the original report.

What does this mean?

Firstly, it means that our meat supply is becoming more and more contaminated.

Secondly, it means that bugs that are not killed by our repertoire of antibiotics are becoming more and more of a problem.

What are the Antibiotics Doing There in the First Place?

In 2009, the FDA collected antibiotic sales data from drug companies and found that a whopping 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. for any reason are used on animals.  With all the hospitals in the US giving antibiotics to patients to cure them of infections, there are more being used on farms!  They also found that nearly ¾ of the antibiotics were given in feed both to livestock and poultry that aren’t even sick. 4

Why would they do that? Well, industrial farms have been feeding antibiotics to animals who aren’t sick to get more growth in animals using less feed (a very capitalist thing to do), and to offset the infection risk from raising animals in too-close confinement (another very capitalist thing to do). Nevermind that the animals suffer in both these situations.  The following year’s data indicate that farm use of antibiotics in the U.S. keeps going up!

The IATP has been on this issue for over a decade.  Animals in close confinement spread diseases quickly, so industrial farmers feed them antibiotics all the time. The overuse of antibiotics in animal feed on industrial farms has caused many microorganisms to evolve over time to become resistant to many antibiotics.²

Now the chicken (or pig) may be coming home to roost.

Megan Bedard does a great job of enlightening us on this topic in “Farm Animal Antibiotics on the Rise:  A new report shows domestic food animals are getting increasingly doped up.”  See the last reference below for the rest of the citation or just click on the article title to read this article.

What Can We Do Now?

Maybe our way of producing meat for the table needs some re-thinking. As the large industrial farms edge out the smaller family farms, there is a price to pay.  Let’s hope it’s not your son or daughter or elderly mother or father who has to pay that price before we all wake up and change the way we raise animals for meat for the dinner table.

You can change the way you BUY animal products! Demand that grocery stores bring in more organic meats. Tell them that you don’t want meat laden with antibiotics or hormones.  At first they may be expensive, but you are voting with your pocket book when you buy meat that is much less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.  The more you buy, the more the store will demand it from suppliers.  Lobby for your interests if you value your health.

Costco now carries many organic meats at pretty reasonable prices, as Trader Joes always has. We are not endorsing Costco, but it is one place to buy these foods more reasonably if you can’t afford local farmers market prices. If your local Costco (or any other large or small grocery store) doesn’t carry them, demand that they do.  We complimented the manager of our local Costco because they carried so many organic products. He told us that his store carried more organic food than any other Costco in our state.

Even Walmart has committed to providing healthier food. Give them all feedback by telling them that you will leave all the meat from industrial farms in the cooler at that store; in other words, you won’t buy it!

Read more about how to avoid the garbage sold as food in supermarkets on Michael Pollen’s page on this web site.

For more information on the contamination of our food supply, see our Organic? page.

Don’t Believe This Crazy Stuff about Antibiotics?

Go find out for yourself!  Here are the original sources and others that discuss the same issues:


1.  O’Brien, Ashley, et. al., “MRSA in Conventional and Alternative Retail Pork Products,” PLOS One (Public Library of Science),, January 24, 2012.

2.  Ranallo, Andrew, “Antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria widely present in retail pork, new study says,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,, January 24, 2012.

3.  TedX Talk for more information:
IATP’s David Wallinga, MD, presented the TedX talk on January 20, 2012 on  “Raising Pigs, Raising Problems: Saying No to Antibiotics in Animal Feed,” at TEDx in Manhattan, January 24, 2012.

4.   Wallinga, David, “Stopping superbugs: Time for Congress and industry to catch up with American consumers,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,, January 24, 2012.  Originally published on 12/16/11 at Huff Post Green.


5. Megan Bedard, “Farm Animal Antibiotics on the Rise:  A new report shows domestic food animals are getting increasingly doped up,” Takepart.com, November 4, 2011.

About mary

Mary is a retired digital librarian and is a mother of boy-girl twins. She got her kids cooking early, when all they made was a mess! Today, they are both very proficient in the kitchen and are great cooks! It was a relatively painless process getting to where they are now. She shares her strategies in this website.
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