New 'superbug' strain spreading in meat, warns study

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Medicine

Retail meat from pigs, chickens and other livestock could be
infected with a "superbug" strain of methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a UK study released
today.

The prospect of MRSA in the food chain could spark off another consumer reaction against meat products, already suffering from a bad perception due to past outbreaks of bird flu, food-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In the Netherlands, the MRSA strain has been found in 20 per cent of pork, 21 per cent of chicken and 3 per cent of beef on sale to the public, the UK's Soil Association stated in the study. '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,"​ said Richard Young, a policy adviser to the Soil Association. The association warned that MRSA found in farm animals have already transferred to farmers, farm-workers and their families in the Netherlands, causing serious health impacts. About 40 per cent of pigs and 50 per cent of pig farmers in the Netherlands have been found to carry farm-animal MRSA, the Soil Association stated. Dutch scientists and government officials blame the MRSA new strain in farm animals on the high levels of antibiotics used in intensive livestock farming, according to the association. Despite an EU-wide ban on growth-promoting antibiotics added to animal feed, similar quantities of antibiotics are simply being prescribed by vets for disease prevention, the association stated. "It has not yet been found in UK livestock or meat products, but neither the government nor the Food Standards Agency are carrying out any surveys of the most likely carriers, live pigs, chickens and imported meat,"​ the Soil Association warned. The Soil Association has called on the UK government to begin such a testing programme for MRSA on retail meat and begin reducing the use of veterinary antibiotics - including banning advertising of all such products to farmers. Government should also immediately prohibit the prophylactic and off-label use of all antibiotics on farms that are defined as "critically important" in human medicine by the World Health Organisation, the association stated. In addition all farm workers and vets coming into the UK from countries where farm-animal MRSA has been found should be screened for the pathogen, the association stated. MRSA is already a high-profile, persistent problem in many UK hospitals under the country's National Health Service (NHS). "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,"​ said Young.

Related topics: Regulation, Safety