MRSA strains found in UK supermarket pork
Published:  03 October, 2016

Pork purchased at two leading British supermarkets has been found to be infected with strains of MRSA. 

According to a Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism report, pork products bought at Asda and Sainsbury’s were contaminated with the bug. The two outlets had tested 97 samples of pork from British supermarkets, with three found to be contaminated.

The report also highlighted loopholes in import regulations that could allow live pigs infected with MRSA CC398 to be imported to the UK.

Emma Rose, the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: "It is hugely concerning that livestock Associated MRSA has spread from British farms into the domestic pork supply chain. If we are to have any chance of heading off this catastrophe, the government needs to put in place some basic measures to tackle the spread of LA MRSA and introduce immediate screening of the national pig herd, as well as strict testing of imported livestock and meat products. Crucially, we need immediate restrictions introduced to farm use of antibiotics most linked to LA MRSA - particularly the ‘critically important’ modern cephalosporin and fluoroquinolone antibiotics.”

In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Livestock-associated MRSA is not the same as MRSA strains that can cause healthcare-associated infections and if meat is handled and prepared properly the risk to people is low. Defra and the National Pig Association recommend that pigs imported to Britain are screened for LA-MRSA.

“The government is reviewing options for surveillance, which will be proportionate to the very low health risk posed by livestock-associated MRSA.”

The National Pig Association added that LA-MRSA is of “negligible risk to the health of the general public”, with the main risk being to agricultural workers with prolonged exposure to livestock.  The National Pig Association Imports Protocol, which is a requirement under Red Tractor Assurance and accounts for 92% of the pigs produced in the UK, also recommends that live pigs intended for import and the herds from which they originate are tested for MRSA.

A NPA spokesperson said: “There is no specific UK or EU legislation for the control of MRSA in companion animals or livestock. Government is constantly reviewing the range of surveillance and control options available for new and emerging disease situations, including those involving AMR, but clearly such measures must be demonstrably proportionate to the risk to human and animal health. LA-MRSA is considered to be of low risk to public and animal health and it is not a food safety concern.”

The NPA also played down the link between the findings and the use of antibiotics. 

“Presence of resistance to antibiotics in LA-MRSA cannot be directly attributed to malpractice in use of antibiotics in the country where it is detected, since LA-MRSA retains the resistance genes even when the bacteria may not have been exposed to the antibiotic.”

Asda declined to comment on the findings while Sainsbury’s said that MRSA CC398 was “very uncommon” in British pork and that it worked with farmers “to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly and are taking advice from leading industry experts”.