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A new study published in the scientific journal Veterinary Microbiology should cause the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take notice. The study's findings suggest the agency might start looking at confined hog operations as a possible source for the deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus (MRSA).

The study (unfortunately not available for free) is the first to show the antibiotic-resistant MRSA in North American hog farms and hog farmers (MRSA had already been found at European hog farms). Researchers found MRSA at 45 percent of the Ontario farms they studied and in nearly one in four pigs. Also, one in five pig farmers they studied carried MRSA.

There were almost 100,000 MRSA infections in 2005, and nearly 19,000 deaths in the U.S., according to a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), which includes IATP, points out in a press release that HIV/AIDS killed 17,000 people that same year.

"Last summer, when we raised the MRSA issue, the FDA told us that it had no plans to sample U.S. livestock to see if they carry MRSA," says David Wallinga, M.D., director of IATP's Food and Health program, in the KAW press release. "Given the latest science that hog farms may generate MRSA, we need Congress to give FDA and other relevant agencies the necessary funding and a sense of urgency. Sampling needs to be done as soon as possible."

For the last five years, IATP and KAW have been working to eliminate the inappropriate use of antibiotics in food animals because the practice is increasing the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and threatening the ability of doctors to treat humans. Alex Koppelman of Salon writes a great piece explaining the link between antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA and the way confined food animals are raised. Earlier this year, IATP's Wallinga co-authored one of six studies in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives outlining the role of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance.

As the science advances, it is becoming clear that CAFOs have an enormous price tag that isn't fully calculated when we step into the supermarket checkout line to buy our meat and poultry.

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