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MRSA superbug found in supermarket

pork raises alarm over farming risks

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Fiona Harvey, Mary Carson,Maggie


O'Kane and Andrew Wasley-Thursday 18 June 2015

The discovery on UK shelves of pork contaminated with a livestock strain


of MRSA prompts calls to curb misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming
Pork sold by several leading British supermarkets has been found to be
contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA that is linked to the
overuse of powerful antibiotics on factory farms, a Guardian investigation
has revealed.
Livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, has been
found in pork products sold in Sainsburys, Asda, the Co-operative and
Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested by the
Guardian, nine eight Danish and one Irish were found to have been
infected with CC398.
CC398 in meat, which poses little risk to the British public, can be
transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with
contaminated livestock or people, although it can be killed through cooking.
Many people carry the bacteria without any signs of illness, but some have
developed skin complaints, and the bug can cause life-threatening
infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning. Experts warn that the
superbug has emerged as a result of antibiotic use in intensive farming and
there is evidence that the UK could be at risk of a wider health crisis unless
the issue is tackled by the authorities.
The superbug CC398 is a variant of the more commonly known MRSA found
in hospitals and is endemic in pig farms in some European countries,
particularlyDenmark, Europes biggest pork producer and a key exporter to
the UK. The Guardian tested 74 Danish pork products and 25 British, and
one from Ireland.
CC398 is linked to intensive farms, where the density of pigs crowded
together becomes a flashpoint for disease, and farmers become reliant on
antibiotics to keep animals healthy and alive. This has led to the emergence
of CC398, which is resistant to antibiotics.
Two thirds of Denmarks pig farms are currently infected with CC398, where
it is spreading rapidly: 648 people were infected with CC398 in 2013; in
2014, 1,271 people contracted the bug. Of those infected two people died
as a result of the infection, and many suffered serious blood poisoning.

None of the British pork tested by the Guardian was infected with CC398,
but a similar study carried out by the Alliance to Save Antibiotics, a
campaign group which includes the Soil Association, did identify the
superbug in pork from British farms. In findings due to be published on
Thursday, the Alliance identified the bug in a pork sausage and in a packet
of pork mince purchased in the UK. Fifty-two samples of pork from
supermarkets in Bristol, Cambridge, London, Northumberland and Surrey
were tested by the University of Cambridge on behalf of the Alliance. The
findings confirm that CC398 has now spread from British farms into the
domestic pork supply chain.
A leading microbiologist has warned Britain to see the situation in Denmark
as a warning. [It] is an epidemic [thats] out of control in Denmark,
Professor Hans Jrn Kolmos, a microbiologist at the University of Southern
Denmark told the Guardian. [Britain] should be worried about it, you
should look at our problems. We should have intervened seven years back
when we saw the first cases. Dont think that this is a problem that will
solve itself just by closing your eyes, he said.

The bug has been identified in a pork sausage, confirming the spread of the
infection from British farms. Photograph: Alamy
A Guardian film made during the investigation into infected pork also
reveals how CC398 has already crossed the species barrier in the UK. A
little-reported study by the University of Edinburgh, published in 2014,
found the bug in the umbilical cords of two newborn babies in Scotland.
The Scottish study is thought to be the first confirmation in the UK that the
bug has travelled from livestock to humans in Britain, though researchers
were not able to explain how the superbug spread and there is nothing to
suggest the babies became ill as a result of coming into contact with
CC398.
Dr Melissa Ward of Edinburgh University, the studys lead researcher, told
the Guardian: We were not able to trace the exact source of CC398 for the
individual humans in our study. MRSA bacteria can live on the skin of
humans and animals, often without causing any symptoms. The bacteria
can spread from person to person, and between animals and humans, by

close contact such as touching, she said.


But Ward said the findings emphasise the need for strict biosecurity
measures in the food production industry and the importance of infection
control measures in hospitals, as well as responsible antibiotic usage in
both veterinary and human medicine.
Six products purchased from Sainsburys stores were found to contain the
superbug five Danish gammon steak and one gammon joint while an
Asda Danish unsmoked gammon steak, a Co-operative Danish unsmoked
back bacon pack and a Tesco Irish unsmoked gammon steak were also
contaminated with CC398.
In response to the Guardians findings, Sainsburys, Asda and the Cooperative said that while they believed there was little risk to consumers
they were investigating the sources of contaminated pork.
Sainsburys said its staff routinely test our own products for a range of
microorganisms and take advice from all the relevant authorities, and
reiterated that CC398 could be eliminated through cooking.
Asda said: As a responsible retailer we take any concerns over food safety
seriously and work closely with our suppliers to ensure we have secure
measures in place to guard against any potential issues.
The Co-operative said it was investigating the findings with our Danish
bacon supplier, who is at the forefront of research into LA-MRSA CC398.
Tesco declined to comment.
The Guardians investigation has established that the spread of CC398 in
Denmark is being fuelled by the sectors reliance on a large number of
casual workers who unknowingly contract the superbug and then pass it on
to others in the wider community. The UKs livestock sector also relies on
many casual workers who may move from farm to farm. According to
Danish union leaders, workers receive little or no training relating to MRSA.
A group of Romanian workers in Denmark who were interviewed as part of
the Guardians investigation say they knew nothing about MRSA until after
they started working at farms. One former farm worker infected with the

bug said: I was three months on the farm, [and] I got some spots on my
scalp, also on my chest and I thought first its from the dust and the
conditions.
[Eight months later] I was in Romania on holiday and I visited the doctor
and they took some examples from my skin and they said I have MRSA.
The Danish government has pledged to tackle spiralling CC398 rates by
reducing the amount of antibiotics used in pig production by 15% by 2018,
and to improve biosecurity by strengthening hygiene training of pig-farm
workers. Despite this, Dan Jorgensen, Denmarks minister for agriculture,
admitted the situation was a catastrophe because the authorities dont
even have the most basic knowledge of how widespread MRSA is.
The FSA said: There are no known cases of people contracting LA-MRSA
CC398 from eating meat in the UK. Even on the continent where LA-MRSA
CC398 is much more prevalent there is no clear evidence of food being
linked to infection in people. Previous research has found LA-MRSA in meat
on sale in the UK and we are working with experts from across government
to better understand the potential risk to public health.
As part of this we will be consulting our independent expert advisory
committee on the issue later this month. In the meantime, consumers
should be aware that any risk of contracting MRSA through meat is very low
when usual good hygiene and thorough cooking practices are observed.
Posted by Thavam