July 2015: So, do we have an LA-MRSA problem in the UK, or not?

It’s certainly not the first time, and I’ve a feeling it definitely won’t be the last, but I need to turn my attention once again to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), or to be precise, livestock-associated (LA) MRSA. According to the newspapers, especially The Guardian, this is now rife in UK pig herds. But is it?

If there’s one thing for sure, the research that The Guardian used to make the claim is inconclusive. Yes, two samples of meat products out of 52 said to be made from pork of British origin tested positive for LA-MRSA, but the study felt the need to state: “as the two infected samples contained processed pork (sausages and minced pork), [the researchers]can’t rule out that the meat packing plants from which the MRSA from this study originated also handle imported meat. If this were the case, it’s conceivable that cross-contamination might have occurred between non-UK to UK sourced meat.”

It would have been nice if they’d added that the UK is barely 50% self-sufficient in pork anyway, just to reinforce how likely it is that imported pork would also be processed in the same plant.

The research was carried out by the University of Cambridge, with funding from the Medical Research Council and additional support from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics (a collaboration between Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association, and Sustain), so it has to be considered credible.
There’s a fairly balanced report about the study on the University of Cambridge website (http://goo.gl/8DC0fG), although you really have to wonder how, considering the possibility of cross-contamination, Dr Mark Holmes of the university’s Department of Veterinary Medicine felt able to say with any confidence: “This does suggest that MRSA is established in our pig farms.”

He redeemed himself, however, by noting: “The public shouldn’t be overly worried by this as sensible food precautions and good hygiene should prevent its spread. It’s also usually pretty harmless and only causes health problems if it infects someone in poor health or gets into a wound.”

So, we’ve got a bug that may, or may not, be in a significant number of British pigs. And if it is, it’s of no danger to anyone who uses an ounce of common sense in their day-to-day life.

Hardly sounds like the stuff of newspaper headlines to me!

Danish election
As this issue of Pig World went to press, a new Danish government was undergoing the process of making ministerial appointments after a change of administration.

While former agriculture minister Dan Jørgensen kept his parliamentary seat, the centre-left party he represents is no longer in power.

With a centre-right government now setting the agenda, I’ll be watching with interest to see what, if anything, survives from Mr Jørgensen’s plans to reform pig production in his home country, and across Europe. Without his reforming zeal, the UK’s welfare lead could be safe for some time to come.

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About The Author

Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s spent his career in agricultural journalism.