British Supermarkets Stocking MRSA Variant Pork

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The Law Of... ensuring food is safe to eat

A study into meat safety has revealed that British pigs have been infected by a livestock variant on the deadly MRSA virus.

The Law Of... ensuring food is safe to eat

With reports suggesting that the MRSA strain has been found in supermarkets before, the latest revelation is the first time that British livestock has been implemented, with previous findings focused solely on imported meat.

The report could signal the start of another UK food crisis and with the potential fatal implications of eating contaminated meat; there have been calls for swift action before the situation spirals out of control.

Discussing who is liable for the safety of these products, Dawn Rose – Solicitor on Simpson Millar's Personal Injury team – explains how regulations may be implemented to stop the spread of infection.

MRSA Variant In UK-Produced Pork

The study, which was completed by The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BJ), tested a sample of 97 UK-produced pork products from a range of supermarkets.

Three of the products tested, all sold at Asda and Sainsbury's, were found to be contaminated by a livestock strain of the MRSA virus.

In a similar investigation last year, The Guardian found that British supermarkets were stocking pork products contaminated with the same strain of MRSA, a superbug called LA (livestock-associated)-MRSA CC398.

That investigation isolated imported meat as the cause of the contaminated meat on our supermarket shelves, however the recent revelation shows that the virus has spread to British pigs.

MRSA CC398 is less harmful to humans than the MRSA strain that kills around 300 people in UK hospitals every year, but it is known to have had fatal consequences in Denmark, killing 6 people since 2012.

In most instances, the MRSA variant found in pork causes persistent infections and can seriously harm people with weak immune systems. The majority of those infected will suffer a nasty skin infection, which is disfiguring, unpleasant, and highly infectious.

Like most foodborne germs, MRSA CC398 is killed through thorough cooking; however it can cause infection through cross-contamination as a result of poor hygiene, especially if food surfaces are not cleaned after coming into contact with contaminated food.

Resistant to antibiotics, MRSA CC398 is one of many superbugs emerging in food products as a result of intensive farming and an overuse of antibiotics in food animals.

Danish Imports Risking Infection

It is expected that livestock from Denmark could have caused the contamination of British livestock, as the virus is rife among Danish pigs.

Some reports suggest that MRSA CC398 can be found in two-thirds of Danish pig farms and is seen as a major public health crisis, with 12,000 people having contracted the virus.

When a previous study found contaminated pork products in British supermarkets, almost all of them were imported from Denmark.

While it is impossible to confirm how British livestock have become compromised, it is likely that imported pigs may have spread the virus.

British livestock has remained free of MRSA CC398 until now and the only way the virus is spread is via animal-to-animal contact on farms.

It has been found that one regular Danish supplier of pigs to the UK have been compromised by MRSA CC398; this supplier has imported 122 pigs since 2012.

Under current rules, there are no screens or checks for infection when livestock is imported into the UK, as the government claims that there is a relatively low risk of serious injury and illness.

Who Is Liable For Damages?

With the multiple importers, manufacturers, and distributers involved in the production and sale of food products identifying liability for damages can be a confusing process.

Under UK liability law, those who have been injured or taken ill because of an unsafe product are eligible for compensation.

The Consumer Protection Act ensures that every process involved in the supply of goods and services must ensure that products are safe to consumers.

In this instance, the following parties could be seen as liable for damages in instances of infection:

  • The producer of the food, i.e. the pig farmer
  • The importer of the food or livestock, as they provided contaminated livestock
  • The retailer, as they sold the infected product to the consumer

For illnesses related to MRSA-infected pork, the basis of a compensation claim would depend on the amount of damage done by the infected food and the circumstances of the infection, namely how the food was prepared and the precautions taken against infection.

Taking Precautions To Avoid Dangers

As foodborne germs can be killed through thorough cooking, those compromised under liability law may try to avoid blame, however the Consumer Protection Act states that user error is not a complete defence for unsafe products causing harm.

The Guardian's report has led to calls to the government to implement stricter checks and regulations against imports of food products and livestock, as the virus could be kept under control at this early stage and rejecting infected products could save a spread of the disease amongst the British population.

In Denmark, MRSA CC398 was slowly established over a period of a decade, there are fears that the same pattern could be repeated in the UK.

Advising on the precautions that could stop the spread of this potentially fatal infection, Dawn said:

"This shocking report highlights the need to promote responsible farming on an international scale, as it highlights how easy it is for diseases to cross borders."

"With the nasty nature of infections in humans, this livestock strain of MRSA should have been tackled before it reaches our supermarket shelves, but it seems as though British livestock has now been compromised."

"Like most claims under product liability, identifying who is to blame for an infection in a consumer could be confusing."

"If somebody is infected from pork purchased at a supermarket, there could be two or three points of liability, whereas if someone contracted the virus in a restaurant who stock infected meat there could be a further question of liability to those preparing and serving the food. In this example the restaurant's liability insurance will cover the diner but the insurer will likely look to recoup their payments from the producer of the infected pork."

"As common sense would dictate, consumers should ensure that they are preparing all meat products correctly, but with this added danger they should take extra care to wash their hands thoroughly after handling raw meat and should clean down all surfaces involved in the preparation of pork."


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