Friday, 21 December 2012

Superbug MRSA ST398 found in British cattle

As you can see the important Soil Association are now weighing in with criticism of Defra

Strong stuff for them.

In case anyone notices a similarity with what the writer has been saying, we are not members of the Soil Association, and have never to our knowledge been in touch.

If they have been reading our blog, using it to inform and going back to check the sources, that's just fine by us.

This blog is a duty call, not an attempt to make money or drum up personal publicity. The price of freedom (and public health) is eternal vigilance. The writer was just the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right man in the right place, at the right time: it depends on your point of view.

Anyway, Defra, the responsible Ministry, are going to have to react by doing something constructive, even if it is only burning all the evidence and running.

They won't do that.

They are British civil servants, standing at their posts when all about them collapses.  They will dig their heels in, shuffle their staff, change their name and lose all the evidence; the standard for the Ministry with many scandals.  It will be found in a century or two, when the remnants of civilisation has forgotten us all..

The full Soil Association media release with all the sources and contact can be found here

Superbug MRSA ST398 found in British cattle

21 December 2012

The Soil Association is calling for the government to investigate
British farm animals carrying MRSA and act to stop the overuse of
antibiotics in farming. 

This follows new research from the University of Cambridge [1]
revealing the first cases of MRSA ST398 have been found in UK
livestock. First found in pigs in the Netherlands in 2003, MRSA ST398
has since become epidemic in European and North American pig
populations [2] and has spread to poultry and cattle. It has not been
found in British food animals before. However, very little testing has
been carried out compared to other EU countries [3].

The superbug can cause serious and occasionally deadly infections in
humans and is becoming a cause of mastitis in cows [4][5]. The high
level of antibiotic resistance makes this infection difficult to
treat, and the Cambridge scientists say their finding is therefore ‘of
significance to both veterinary and human health’.

Scientists tested 1,500 samples of bulk milk and found seven cases of
MRSA ST398 in milk from five different farms in England, Scotland and
Wales. Although there is no direct threat to human health from
consuming milk, because pasteurisation will kill the bacteria,
research from other countries has shown farmers, vets and abattoir
workers are at increased risk. In the Netherlands, ST398 now accounts
for 39% of human MRSA cases. [6]

Although this study only tested bulk milk, it is likely many calves on
affected farms will also carry MRSA ST398. According to recently
published Defra research, over three quarters of British dairy farms
feed waste milk containing antibiotic residues to calves [7]. This is
milk produced during the withdrawal period, after a cow has been
treated with antibiotics, and is legally unfit for human consumption.
Defra showed that 21% of waste milk samples contained residues of
cefquinome, a modern cephalosporin [8]. Modern cephalosporins are the
antibiotics most suspected of favouring the growth of MRSA ST398.
Waste milk can also contain residues of other antibiotics associated
with MRSA spread.

If calves are affected, then any meat from these animals may also be
contaminated. The emergence of MRSA ST398 in cattle could also lead to
British pigs and poultry becoming affected, if this is not already the
case. Defra has refused to test British poultry for MRSA, despite the
Soil Association calling for such surveillance since 2007 [9].

Richard Young, Soil Association Policy Adviser said; “This should be a
wake-up call for Defra. The European Food Safety Authority recently
called on all Member States to carry out regular monitoring of
poultry, pigs and dairy cattle for MRSA, but unlike other countries,
the UK continues to ignore this request. We are lucky independent
researchers identified this problem at an early stage. We are calling
for comprehensive surveillance to be established before it gets out of

Defra must also urgently deal with the problem of waste milk
containing high levels of antibiotic residues being fed to calves.
There is strong evidence this has contributed to the spread of other
superbugs, like ESBL E. coli, and it is also likely to make the MRSA
problem on dairy farms much worse. We are keen to work with the
industry to address this challenge and call for a ban on feeding
calves waste milk from cows that have recently received antibiotics,
unless the milk can be treated to destroy antibiotic residues and kill
resistant bacteria while ensuring the resulting milk is still
sufficiently wholesome to be fed to calves.

We also need much stricter controls on the use of the modern
cephalosporins. These antibiotics are classified by the World Health
Organisation as critically important in human medicine, yet they
continue to be used routinely on many cattle and pig farms. There has
been a 400% increase in the use of these antibiotics on British farms
over the last decade and similar increases have occurred abroad. Many
scientists believe this to be the main reason for the growing MRSA
problem in livestock.”

Recent Dutch research has shown that people living in rural areas of
high livestock density are also at increased risk of becoming carriers
of MRSA ST398. This found that a doubling of the density of cattle
increased the odds of being a carrier by over 75% [10]. Occasional
hospital or nursing-home outbreaks of MRSA ST398 have also occurred in
the Netherlands, showing that the bacteria can spread from person to

Although Cambridge scientists had previously found a different type of
MRSA in British cattle [11], the emergence of MRSA ST398 has potential
to spread far more widely in British farm animals, based on what has
occurred abroad. This is partly because the ST398 strain has the
ability to acquire much higher levels of antibiotic resistance than
most other MRSA strains, and the seven cases found in this study were
resistant to between three and five families of antibiotics. Cases
abroad have been resistant to up to 11 families of antibiotics [12].

A small number of cases of MRSA ST398 infections in humans in Scotland
have already occurred, and earlier this year it was revealed in the
minutes of a Defra meeting that human cases have also occurred in
Northern England, but no details were provided [13].

Although MRSA ST398 can cause serious infections in humans, it is
currently considered to be less virulent than ordinary hospital MRSA.
However, scientists have warned that it has a greater ability than
most strains for acquiring new virulence genes which would make it a
greater threat to humans [14], and very recent American research has
found the first-ever cases of MRSA ST398 in pigs with the highly
virulent PVL (Panton-Valentine leukocidin) gene [15]. PVL MRSA can
sometimes cause necrotising fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease which
can require infected tissue to be cut away.


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