British News reports a new strain of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found in British milk. The new strain, MRSA ST398, has been identified in seven samples of bulk milk from five different farms in England. The discovery, from tests on 1,500 samples, indicates that antibiotic-resistant organisms are gaining an increasing hold in the dairy industry.
The disclosure comes amid growing concern over the use of modern antibiotics on British farms, driven by price pressure imposed by the big supermarket chains. Intensive farming with thousands of animals raised in cramped conditions means infections spread faster and the need for antibiotics is consequently greater.
Three classes of antibiotics rated as “critically important to human medicine” by the World Health Organisation – cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and macrolides – have increased in use in the animal population by eightfold in the last decade.
The more antibiotics are used, the greater the likelihood that antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, will evolve.
Experts say there is no risk of MRSA infection to consumers of milk or dairy products so long as the milk is pasteurized.
The risk comes from farmworkers, vets and abattoir workers, who may become infected through contact with livestock and transmit the bug to others.