Farmers' leader defends use of antibiotics in herds
Farming leaders in the region say they are prepared to examine practices involving antibiotics in the face of mounting pressure over the emergence of a new strain of MRSA in cow's milk.
The discovery of the drug-resistant superbug has raised concerns about the use of antibiotics on farms posing a health risk to the general population.
Two leading charities have now called for an end to excessive use of the drugs, which can promote the growth of resistant bacteria.
Specialists in the Westcountry said consumers should have "no concerns" about dairy products, as 99 per cent of British milk is pasteurised, which kills the MRSA.
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However, the Devon county chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU) yesterday said: "If there is a problem, we'll have to look at it."
The original claims were made by scientist Dr Mark Holmes, who said dairy farmers were forced to use the drugs by "tremendous financial pressure" from price-cutting supermarkets.
He said that in order to maximise milk yields, farmers had to drive their cows "hard", resulting in health problems and greater use of antibiotics.
Devon NFU chairman David Horton, a dairy farmer from Roborough near Plymouth, said: "There's a suggestion it's the big bad farmer's fault because he's trying to get some profit. My farm assurance strongly encouraged me to use an antibiotic to stop pain and suffering and prevent miscarriages.
"This was deemed by science to be the best practice. If science now suggests there's a problem with this perhaps we should look at alternative ways of protecting our cows – I'm sure science will lead the way.
"The MRSA bug is completely killed by pasteurisation, making milk safe for everybody drinking it. Of course if there's a problem then we'll have to look at it."
Both the Soil Association and charity Compassion in World Farming have strongly condemned the over use of antibiotics on dairy farms.
They want to see a ban on routine use of the drugs and a review of the Government's decision to allow continued advertising of antibiotics.
MRSA – methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – is a drug-resistant form of a common bug that can cause lethal infections if it gets into wounds.
Scientists have identified it in about 50 swab samples from people in Scotland, England and Denmark.
Rob Newbery, chief dairy adviser at the NFU, said: "In the interests of human and animal health, and animal welfare, it is important veterinary medicines are administered as little as possible but as much as necessary.
"Any antibiotic or veterinary medicine being administered to a food producing animal has strict conditions of use, including milk and meat withdrawal times and in general, under European law, would only be available under prescription."