Are Cows Carrying A Strain Of MRSA?

UK - Compassion in World Farming is calling for an end to the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. A report released on Friday 3 June 2011 has found a new strain of the MRSA "superbug" in milk from British cows. This new strain is suspected to be linked to the overuse of antibiotics in dairy cows and there is a potential risk that the bacteria could be spread to humans.
calendar icon 6 June 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

Overuse of antibiotics encourages the disease bacteria to develop resistance to their own killers, and it is these disease-resistant bacteria which have hit humans hard, including strains of MRSA, E coli and salmonella.

Although pasteurising the milk should remove the risk of MRSA from reaching consumers who drink it, farmers working with the cows might come into contact with the bacteria and unknowingly pass it on to other people.

Dairy cows are being bred to produce huge quantities of milk to increase profitability. The most high-yielding cows are likely to be at more risk of developing mastitis – a painful infection causing swelling of the udders - that is treated with antibiotics.

Intensive, factory farming has caused a huge increase in the amount of antibiotics used. Large numbers of animals in cramped conditions cause the animals to become distressed, so they are more susceptible to illnesses. Couple this with close confinement, and you have the ideal conditions for the spread of disease. As increasing amounts of antibiotics are used to treat diseases in farm animals, the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections increases.

Michele Danan, Head of Public Affairs at Compassion in World Farming says: “There must be something awry in today’s farming systems if animals have to be treated with antibiotics on a regular basis. This can lead to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in both humans and animals. If their immune systems were not undermined by the stress of intensive milk production, routine use of antibiotics would not be necessary.”

Compassion in World Farming advises that if consumers are worried about the routine use of antibiotics in dairy cows, they should opt to drink organic milk. Organic cows are only given antibiotics when they are required, and not on a regular basis, like many non-organic cows. If an organic cow needs to be treated with antibiotics then the time period that the milk is not sold is substantially longer than the time recommended for a non-organic cow.

National Farmers' Union chief dairy adviser Rob Newbery said: “Consumers should be aware that pasteurised milk is completely safe; a fact backed up by the author of the report. They should continue to buy British milk with complete confidence as it is produced by highly trained dairy farmers and stockmen who take their role as food producers very seriously.

“Our farmers maintain excellent levels of hygiene through farm assurance standards, principally the Red Tractor, which sets rules for food production from farm through to pack. On top of food safety, the health and safety of workers and cattle are taken extremely seriously, through standards that demand suitable clean protective clothing and high levels of staff personal cleanliness before, during and after milking.

“It is important to remember that the health and welfare of cows are of paramount importance to the British dairy farmer – after all, a healthy cow is a happy and productive cow.”

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