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NPA responds to 'disappointing' Daily Mail LA-MRSA claims

27th Oct 2016 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has responded to the latest sensationalist claims in the Daily Mail seeking to link poor practice on pig farms to the potential spread of the LA-MRSA bug to humans. 

ListerIn the article, entitled 'The sick truth about our meat revealed: Pork pumped full of antibiotics. Chickens with E.coli and supermarket meat with MRSA', the Mail claimed farmers 'unnoticed by consumers', have been manipulating and re-manufacturing the meat we eat to maximise profit - 'leaving a legacy of problems that we are only now starting to understand'.

It said this included over-use of antibiotics, which has 'bred resistance in the very bugs they were intended to counter — among them a strain of superbug MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) called Livestock Associated MRSA CC398, which can be fatal in the weak, sick or elderly'.

LA-MRSA has already killed at least six people in Denmark, where it is now endemic in the national pig herd and has now spread to the UK, including recently being identified it in packs of supermarket mince, the report continued. 

NPA response

The NPA had responded to requests for comment ahead of the articles publication but its comments were largely ignored.

In a letter for publication to the newspaper, NPA chairman Richard Lister expresses concern at this and describes the series of articles the Mail is running on farming as 'disappointing', particularly the 'misleading and inflammatory' headline to the article described above.

He addresses some of the unsubstantiated claims made in the article and goes onto outline steps being taken by the industry to reduce and refine antibiotic usage on farms. He also explains how antibiotics are used on farms, that is primarily to treat sick animals.

Acknowledging LA-MRSA is an 'important topic', he goes onto cite the views of various scientists who recently put the true risks to humans associated with the bug in context.

"We look forward to seeing greater balance in future articles," he concludes.


The full letter can be read below: 

Dear Sir,

Your series of articles on the ‘Truth about meat’ were very disappointing, particularly as the headline ‘Pork pumped full of antibiotics’ is misleading and inflammatory.

The pig sector takes its responsibilities seriously and is working hard to record, reduce and refine antibiotic usage, particularly through the National Pig Associations Antibiotic Stewardship Programme and the online e-Medicines Book.

We are concerned that you chose not to use more of the information supplied by us in researching your article to give a better balance.

Antibiotics are used to treat sick animals, control the spread of disease and to prevent symptoms emerging so as to maintain animal health and welfare.

Despite the claims made, only 35% of antibiotics sold in the UK are actually used in livestock husbandry.  The total amount used is almost impossible to estimate as only sales information is available at present rather than actual usage data.

LA-MRSA is an important topic but it is necessary to put the livestock angle into perspective.

Prof Mark Woolhouse, FMedSci, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, has gone on record as saying: “Livestock acquired MRSA is a well-known, but rare, food safety risk. It has been found in food animals, in food and occasionally in people for many years. It must be taken seriously but it has shown no sign of causing a pandemic.”

Nicola Williams, Professor of Bacterial Zoonotic Disease at the University of Liverpool, has said: “Current data does not suggest that livestock-associated MRSA is common among UK pig herds. Even if herds are infected with significant levels of the bacteria, the extent of contamination of meat with MRSA will be much lower than compared to food-poisoning bacteria such as Salmonella, so the risk of transmission to people will be lower.”

We look forward to seeing greater balance in future articles.

Yours Sincerely

Richard Lister

Chairman, National Pig Association

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