Although not a general threat, a new strain of MRSA has been found in the milk of British cows, scientists said today.
Experts have ruled out any general threat to the safety of milk or dairy products, but they point to “circumstantial” evidence of the bacteria passing between cattle and humans.
The discovery has fuelled controversy over intensive farming methods and the way antibiotics are used to protect livestock.
The Soil Association called for a total ban on routine use of the drugs, which is said to promote the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
Helen Browning, 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.
“In the relentless drive for increased per animal productivity, and under acute price pressure, dairy systems are becoming ever more antibiotic dependent. We need to get farmers off this treadmill, even if that means that milk has to cost a few pennies more.
“That would be a very small price to pay for maintaining the efficacy of these life-saving drugs.”
Dr Mark Holmes, the Cambridge University veterinary scientist who led the research, and his team stumbled on the new MRSA bug while investigating mastitis, a serious and potentially lethal disease which affects dairy cows.