Every fifth pack of pork carries MRSA

An analysis of pork products in Denmark’s supermarkets found that every fifth pack is contaminated with MRSA. Just five years ago, a similar analysis found the bacteria in just five percent of products.

Every fifth pack of pork carries MRSA
One of every five packages of pork contains MRSA. Photo: Thomas Vilhelm/Scanpix
TV Syd asked the Danish Food and Veterinary Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) and the Techinical University of Denmark’s National Food Institute to analyze 100 packages of pork chops, roast pork, tenderloins and other pork products. The MRSA 398 bacteria was found in 21 of the 100 packages. 
All of the pork was produced in Denmark and the samples also included organic pork products. 
Hans Jørn Kolmos, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark called the findings “deeply alarming”.
“Swine MRSA can be spread through meat and this is a much bigger problem than salmonella or campylobacter, because the bacteria is much more robust. It cannot be removed by just soap and water and it can survive weeks in the joints of a kitchen table’s wooden boards or on a cutting board,” Kolmos told Politiken. 
Yvonne Agersø, a senior researcher at the National Food Institute, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings of the analysis. 
“We have seen a clear increase in the number of pigs with MRSA and that is naturally reflected in the fact that there is more swine MRSA in pork,” she told TV Syd. 
The 21 percent of pork products containing MRSA is a massive increase over just five years ago. A similar analysis in 2009 found the presence of MRSA in just five percent of pork products. That number had increased to ten percent by 2011. 
Kolmos has been a very vocal critic of the response to the MRSA outbreak by the Fødevarestyrelsen and the Danish Health and Medicine Authority (Sundhedsstyrelsen), saying that the government agencies “have massively failed”
Fødevarestyrelsen has an official position that MRSA cannot be transmitted to humans through pork consumption.
“MRSA can be present in pork but all epidemiological studies show that meat is not the source of MRSA-infections or infections caused by non-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in humans,” the agency states on its website.
Nevertheless, the increase of MRSA in the Danish pig population has caused Norway’s largest retailer to consider a stop of all imports of Danish pork

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Denmark raises fence on German border to prevent swine fever

In a bid to protect its pork industry, Denmark began building a fence on Monday along its border with Germany to keep out wild boar infected with the African swine fever virus.

Denmark raises fence on German border to prevent swine fever
Work begins on Denmark's 'wild boar fence' on the border with Germany. Photo: Frank Cilius/Scanpix 2019

The 70-kilometre fence is a precautionary measure and expected to be completed in the autumn.

“The fence and our increased efforts to hunt wild boar will break the chain of infection so there is less risk of African swine fever spreading to Denmark,” Environment and Food Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.

There are “11 billion good reasons to do everything we can to prevent African swine fever reaching Denmark,” he added, in reference an estimated potential cost to Denmark of managing an outbreak.

The virus is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs and wild boar that almost always ends in death within days.

It was first spotted in Poland in 2014 when infected wild boar entered from neighbouring Belarus.

Belgium reported its first case in September near the borders with Luxembourg and France, prompting it to carry out a preventive pig slaughter and set up an exclusion zone.

No cases have been reported in Germany.

The Danish wild boar fence has previously received criticism from environmental organisations, who have decried it as ineffective and of greater symbolic than practical effect.

A farmers’ association representative said that the fence was one of a number of measures that would provide reassurance for agricultural workers.

“This is part an insurance policy against African swine flu. You would also insure your house against fire, even though it will probably never burn down,” Mogens Dall of the LandboSyd association told Ritzau.

Denmark is one of Europe's main pork exporters, raising 28 million pigs per year across some 5,000 farms.

Pork accounts for five percent of Danish exports, or 30 billion kroner (four billion euros) in 2016.

In France, the army was in early January called in to help hunters cull thousands of wild boar near the Belgian border. A fence is also in the process of being raised.