Fears over MRSA 'wildfire' spreading through livestock

A new strain of the superbug MRSA has developed among intensively farmed animals on the Continent, according to a claim by the organic certification body the Soil Association.

A new strain of the superbug MRSA has developed among intensively farmed animals on the Continent, according to a claim by the organic certification body the Soil Association (SA), which is calling on the government to test UK livestock and meat for the bug.

The SA claimed there is a serious human health threat in the Netherlands, where 40% of Dutch pigs and 50% of Dutch pig farmers have been found to carry farm-animal MRSA, and that it could spread to the UK. The new strain of MRSA has been blamed on high levels of antibiotics used in intensive farming.

In the Netherlands, farm-animal MRSA has been found in 20% of pork, 21% of chicken and 3% of beef on sale to the public. It has not yet been found in UK livestock or meat products, but the SA claims the government is not doing enough to investigate the risks in this country.

Richard Young, SA policy adviser, said: "This new type of MRSA is spreading like wildfire across Europe, and we know it is transferring from farm animals to humans with serious health impacts. Concerned scientists have referred to this as 'a new monster'. Fortunately, it has not yet been found in UK livestock or imported meat, but then neither the government nor the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are looking for it in live animals or meat.

"This is no time for official complacency, but a critical opportunity to prevent farm-animal MRSA getting a hold in the UK - so reducing risks to human health, costs to the NHS, already burdened by hospital-acquired MRSA, and avoiding another potentially devastating food-safety crisis."

The FSA responded to the report. Paul Cook, of the FSA's microbiological safety division, said: "The Agency is aware of this issue and we are keeping a watching brief on developments across Europe. However, this is already being considered jointly by a number of government agencies. Any possible emerging risk in the UK will be assessed, and appropriate action will be taken.

"We have only just received the report from the Soil Association, which we will examine in detail."

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