Soil Association calls for antibiotic controls as MRSA found on British Farms

The Soil Association is calling for the end of routine antibiotic use in dairy farming following publication today (June 3) of a study on the discovery of MRSA in British milk.

A new type of MRSA bacteria was discovered by scientists from Cambridge University in samples of milk taken from cows with mastitis. It is the first time that MRSA has been found in farm animals in the UK.

Collaborating scientists from the Health Protection Agency and the Scottish MRSA Reference Laboratory, who have published their findings in the same paper, subsequently found that the same type of MRSA had already been the source of infection in a number of people in England and Scotland. There is evidence that the new MRSA is being transmitted from cattle to people and the scientists involved have called their discovery ‘potentially of public health importance’.

The Soil Association says that MRSA has emerged on dairy farms because of the routine use of antibiotics to deal with the health problems associated with the extremely high levels of milk being produced per cow.

The organic charity says there are particular concerns around the use of antibiotics known as modern cephalosporins — drugs that are widely used on farms and strongly suspected of promoting MRSA in both humans and farm animals. Scientists from Liverpool University have called for a ban on their use in dairy farming, saying there is “no welfare case” for their use since they simply act as a “prop for sub-optimal management and welfare”.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Soil Association to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has revealed that the veterinary use of modern cephalosporins has more than quadrupled over the past decade, despite calls from the World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency and the former Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to restrict, or even ban their use on farms.

Commenting on the new research, Helen Browning OBE, director of the Soil Association said:“This new evidence confirms our long-held view of the importance of absolutely minimising the use of antibiotics especially those closely related to antibiotics used by people. This requires excellent husbandry, and much reduced stress on our animals.

The Health Protection Agency has told the BBC that the the risk of becoming infected with the new MRSA strain is “very low”. A Department of Health spokesman added: “From the available evidence, we understand this new form of MRSA is rare in the UK and is not causing infections in humans.