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Are cows carrying a new strain of dangerous MRSA?

News Section Icon Published 03/06/2011

A new report released today (Friday 3 June 2011) has found a new strain of the MRSA "superbug" in British cows. The 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.

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.

Why are antibiotics used so much?

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 more and more antibiotics are used to treat diseases in farm animals, the risk of antibiotic- resistant  infections increases.

What we think

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."

What can you do?

Consumers worried about the routine use of antibiotics in dairy cows can 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.


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