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NPA responds to sensationalist LA-MRSA claims

3rd Oct 2016 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has responded to claims in the Guardian the UK is on the brink of another food scandal after meat produced from British pigs was shown to be infected with a livestock strain of MRSA.

On its website, the Guardian reports on tests on a sample of 97 UK-produced pork products from supermarkets, which showed three, sold at Asda and Sainsbury’s, were contaminated with the superbug strain which the Guardian claimed can cause serious health problems.

The Guardian, working with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), said it had also established that a loophole in import regulations is leaving an open door for MRSA CC398-infected live pigs from countries such as Denmark, where the disease is rife.

The paper claimed the findings have serious implications for human health as MRSA CC398 ‘is a potentially deadly bacteria which can be resistant to even the strongest antibiotics’.

While less harmful to humans than the MRSA bug that kills about 300 people in hospitals in England and Wales each year, it causes unpleasant persistent infections and can seriously harm people with compromised immune systems, the Guardian reported.

It is known to have been responsible for at least six deaths in Denmark, though that is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. People can contract the disease from infected meat, and from infected animals, the article claimed.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the ‘sensationalist’ report needed to be put in context.

The NPA has issued the following detailed response to the claims:


  • 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. Last year the VMD/Defra published guidance for those who work with livestock and in abattoirs:
  • Defra and the National Pig Association recommend that anyone importing breeding pigs to Britain should have them screened for LA-MRSA. The NPA Imports Protocol, which is a requirement under Red Tractor Assurance (92% of the pigs produced in the UK), recommends that live pigs intended for import and the herds from which they originate are tested for MRSA.
  • The Government is currently reviewing options for increased surveillance of LA-MRSA, which will be proportionate to the very low health risk.
  • 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.  
  • Presence of resistance to antibiotics in LA-MRSA cannot be directly attributed to malpractice in use of antibiotics. This is because the LA-MRSA retains the resistance genes even when the bacteria may not have been exposed to the antibiotic.

Zoe said: “The key point to make here is that LA-MRSA poses a negligible health risk to the general public.

“Nonetheless, we as an industry need to ensure we do everything we can to minimise the introduction of LA-MRSA into the UK pig breeding herd as these stories can be reputationally damaging.

“We therefore strongly urge anyone importing breeding pigs to Britain to have them screened for LA-MRSA.”

Click here to see NPA's LA-MRSA briefing