Debate over MRSA threat on UK farms
Published:  14 January, 2013

A UK vet has raised concern over a claim made by the Soil Association that the “superbug” MRSA ST398 has been found on UK farms.

According to a statement released by the Soil Association, MRSA ST398 had been found in some UK farm animals, warning that the virus was an epidemic in European and North American pig herds.

Policy advisor for the Soil Association Richard Young explained that MRSA ST398 had been found at the abattoir level in 61% of Spanish pigs; 60% of German pigs; and 39% of Dutch pigs. Meanwhile, a study of pigs in the American Midwest found the bug to be present on 49% of the animals.

The Soil Association also claimed there was potential for the bug to spread to the poultry sector within the UK and Young noted that the bug had never been found in UK food animals previous to this. He highlighted the need for the bug to be monitored and said a high level of antibiotic resistance in UK animals had made it difficult to treat the bug.

However, according to Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) James Marsden, the bug was not a new issue in the UK and the overuse of antibiotics in food animals was not an issue either, as farmers were responsible. Marsden claimed that, although the bug was present in the UK, it was not a major problem and that people came into contact with it more often than realised and one in four people had it on their skin.

In response to Marsden, Young said: “If true, it would have meant that the emergence of MRSA in livestock was less significant, since people would be frequently colonised by the bacteria anyway.”

However, both Marsden and the Soil Association did agree the bug should be monitored and the Soil Association made it clear that MRSA ST398 was not an epidemic in the UK. Marsden said: “In the UK we have only just started monitoring for MRSA ST398, so one must bear in mind that absence of detection in the past does not mean it was not present in the past.”

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