July 2015: Firefighting the MRSA headlines

One thing I love about this job is that I never know what’s around the corner and so I have to be prepared every day to adapt to new priorities as they present themselves.

Of course, sadly these days, many of those drop-everything situations are related to firefighting the fallout from whatever bandwagon the newspapers decide to jump on, or which campaign the anti-farming lobby has decided to launch this week. Honestly, if that lot spent half as much time engaging with the industry and seeking practical solutions rather than bombarding the public with horror stories about farming and meat-eating, we’d all get a lot more done.

Last month it was all about livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA). The first we heard about the potential for a story was when one of our members rang in to say that a reporter had just been found tromping about on his farm in her own wellies, way past the “high biosecurity unit – do not enter” sign. When accosted, she said she was environment correspondent for The Guardian doing a story on MRSA, and hot footed it before anyone could find out any more.

There’s no apparent reason why they chose this particular farm, but lucky for us it was an exemplary example of what a pig unit should look like, so no concern, just utter outrage at her bare-faced cheek.
What followed was a raft of phone calls by the newspaper to retailers, processors, the FSA, Defra and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. But interestingly enough, not the industry.

Needless to say the well-oiled machine that is the industry crises group sprang into action and by the end of the day, we had a joint statement from NPA, AHDB Pork, BMPA and Red Tractor ready for use.
We still didn’t really understand what the article was going to focus on or what information they had, but more than a week later the reporter finally contacted me through the NFU and more detail came to light. Retail packs of pork had been sampled and apparently LA-MRSA had been found.

In one set of tests looking at Danish, Irish and British meat, samples from Denmark and Ireland were found to be positive, while the UK meat was in the clear. However, a separate study published later the same week that looked only at British meat found two of 52 samples were positive – although these were both highly processed products and the researchers admitted they couldn’t rule out cross-contamination with imported meat in the processing plant.

No-one has ever been recorded as contracting LA-MRSA from eating a pork product, and it’s generally considered low-risk by health professionals and the Government. We are, of course, concerned it was found at all, so will be investigating further. It’s certainly something that we could do without.
We’re also working on guidance for people working on farms, but really general hygiene rules should apply. More information for those that are concerned can be found on the NPA website.

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk