British-produced pork tests positive for MRSA

Strands of superbug MRSA has been found in British-produced pork. 

According to research commissioned by The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, and carried out by Cambridge University, samples of pig meat produced in the UK and bought in supermarkets have tested positive for MRSA.

Two samples of British pig meat out of 52 bought from English supermarkets tested positive for MRSA. One sausage sample had two different MRSA strains, and a third strain was found in pork mince. Genetic analysis (whole-genome sequencing) of the bacteria showed that the three strains were of livestock-origin and of a type called ST398. The samples that tested positive were found in different supermarkets in different parts of the country.

The study also indicated that consumers eating pork twice a week may be exposed to MRSA every three months. MRSA strain ST398, can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with contaminated livestock or people.

Cóilín Nunan, principal scientific adviser to the Alliance, told Meat Trades Journal that there was no doubt the MRSA originated from an animal rather than being passed on by a human. “The strain on these British-produced products is definitely of pig origin and is clear evidence that this strain is spreading throughout the pig industry.”

Nunan called on the government to step up testing for the superbug and for the industry to limit the amount of antibiotics used. “We want more responsible use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. Other countries that have reduced the use of antibiotics have seen a reduction in human cases. Also, considering we’ve found positive samples of MRSA, the government should be doing more testing. It has done the bare minimum when it comes to testing while we have been urging them to do more for the past decade.”

A Guardian investigation also found pork sold by several leading British supermarkets has been found to be contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA.

According to the investigation, livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, has been found in pork products sold in Sainsbury’s, Asda, the Co-operative and Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested by the Guardian, nine – eight Danish and one Irish – were found to have been infected with CC398.

Representatives from various meat industry bodies issued a joint statement on the subject: “It is important to state there is no record of Livestock-associated (LA)-MRSA being contracted by humans from eating meat.  In the past, MRSA infection has primarily been associated with hospitals. 

"More recently, a different type of MRSA has emerged, livestock-associated (LA)-MRSA, which has been reported in pigs, poultry and cattle in many countries.  

“(LA)-MRSA causes little to no disease in livestock animals and, to date, only two cases of (LA)-MRSA have been recorded in pigs in the UK. We are aware it is more prevalent in a number of countries in the EU and across the globe.  This is not an unexpected finding bearing in mind the movement of livestock and goods across Europe.  Livestock keepers are advised to observe good husbandry, hygiene and biosecurity practices, including adherence to principles of responsible antibiotic use.”

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