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Senate Fails to Vote on Food-Safety Bill
WASHINGTON?The Senate failed to vote as planned Thursday on passage of a bill to overhaul the nation's food-safety system and grant new powers to the Food and Drug Administration, a delay that may threaten the legislation.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) blamed the delay on the insistence of Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) that the Senate consider an amendment to ban spending earmarks. Mr. Coburn demanded that senators publicly vote on the issue of earmarks, controversial legislation that lawmakers tuck into laws to pay for pet projects.
"This is not the time or the bill to debate on earmarks," Mr. Harkin said. "I hope he'll relent on this."
The delay resulted in the clock running out on the 30-hour time period senators had to debate and vote on the food-safety bill. The Senate then voted Thursday evening to pass another 30-hour period in which to vote.
Mr. Coburn said he was adamant that "a transparent vote on earmarks" must take place before any other legislation is voted on by the Senate.
If the Senate does approve the food-safety bill, Mr. Harkin said, the House has promised to pass it without making any changes and send it to the White House to be signed into law.
Traditionally, the House and Senate convene a conference committee to iron out differences after both bodies pass a bill, but lawmakers say there is no time for that because the lame-duck Congress finishes by the end of the year.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) suggested that he would agree to such a scenario, saying he looked forward to "the Senate passing a strong food-safety bill so that we can send it on" to President Barack Obama.
The bill, which has wide-ranging support from grocery stores, food processors, farm groups and consumer groups, would give the FDA the power to mandate food recalls and set new safety standards for food produced in the U.S. and imported from abroad.
Mr. Coburn's amendment wasn't the only roadblock for senators trying to push through the food-safety bill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) was the primary backer of a controversial amendment banning the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, which has been linked to some cancers, in baby bottles and sippy cups. On Wednesday, she withdrew the amendment from consideration.
Earlier Thursday, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) agreed to compromise on an amendment he was sponsoring to exempt small farms and food processors from new FDA oversight. That exemption would now be withdrawn if the farm is involved in a food-borne-illness outbreak.
Before the Senate went into recess Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said: "We're trying to work out something on food safety."

Residue Gets in Human Food from Animal Drug Misuse
by Dan Flynn | Nov 19, 2010
The Pastime Lakes Dairy located near Lakeview, CA apparently did not get the memo.
Here's the information Pastime missed:
"Cattle must not be slaughtered for human consumption within 4 days of the last treatment. Milk that has been taken during treatment and for 36 hours after the last treatment must not be used for food. Not for use in dry dairy cows. A withdrawal period has not been established for this product in preruminating calves. Do not use in calves to be processed for veal. Not for use in horses intended for food."
That's the "residue warning" on the label for flunixin meglumine, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory animal drug.
Tissue samples of a cow sold by Pastime for slaughter as food to American Beef Packers Inc. were tested by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and found to contain flunixin residue at higher than allowed tolerance levels.
According to a Nov. 8 warning letter sent to Pastime by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the USDA tests found 0.162 parts per million (PPM) of flunixin in the liver tissue. FDA's tolerance level for flunixin in the edible tissues of an animal is 0.125 PPM.
"Our investigation also found that you hold animals under conditions that are so inadequate that medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues are likely to enter the food supply," the warning letter said.
In an inspection conducted last September, FDA found Pastime Dairy was not following label instructions for both flunixin meglumine and tetracycline hydrochoride, an anti-infective agent.

"Our investigation found that you administered flunixin meglumine to a dairy cow without following the dose as stated in your veterinarian's prescribed labeling," FDA added. "Our investigation also found that you administered tetracycline hydrochloride via the uterus of cows without following the route of administration as stated in the approved labeling."

Pastime is a dairy cattle and milk production company founded in 1963.

Meet the Four Categories of Nanofoods
by Jill Richardson | Nov 22, 2010

Are you eating nanofoods? While it might sound like the latest diet trend among anorexics, the term refers to the use of nanotechnology - particles as small as a billionth of a meter - in food. And there's a chance that you're already eating them.

Nanofoods fall into four categories. First, and most obviously, there's the use of nanotechnology directly in a food that you eat. Second, there are supplements that use nanotechnology. And the last two categories, which are similar, are comprised of things you don't eat that use nanotechnology: food packaging and cookware.

In those cases, are nanoparticles ingested or not? And in all cases, is it safe?

By and large, nanofoods are an area of mystery to all. We don't know if it's safe, we don't know when and where we might be eating them, and we don't know when the FDA will decide it's time to regulate them.

Perhaps the best source of information on nanotechnology, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Technologies, maintains a database of consumer products around the world that use nanotechnology. For food, they list mostly supplements, plus several applications in food packaging (such as in McDonald's burger containers or plastic beer bottles), a few uses in cookware, and hardly anything for food.

However, other sources, such as a recent AOL News piece by Andrew Schneider, point to much more common uses of nanotechnology in food.

According to Schneider's account, an unnamed scientist at the USDA says that, "apples, pears, peppers, cucumbers and other fruit and vegetables are being coated with a thin, wax-like nanocoating to extend shelf-life. The edible nanomaterial skin will also protect the color and flavor of the fruit longer."

He goes on to tell of "engineered particles ... already being sold in salad dressings; sauces; diet beverages; and boxed cake, muffin and pancakes mixes." And most major food manufacturers have or contract with nanotechnology labs. If that's the case, Americans are eating nanoparticles already. But nanoparticles of what?

The name nanotechnology applies to nanoparticles of any chemical, but there is a world of difference between nanosilver, used for its antibacterial properties, and carbon nanotubes, which many fear resemble asbestos and cause similar harm. (Carbon nanotubes, thankfully, are not headed for our food; nanosilver might be, which is worrying.)

What are the risks and benefits of each type of nanoparticle, and how do we know if each one is safe?

To get an idea of how a nanoparticle may differ from larger amounts of the same element, let's look at silver. Silver, for the most part, is non-toxic to humans. If individuals ingest too much silver, they may suffer from argyria, a condition in which their skin has a blue tint. Aside from the aesthetic problems with argyria, it's not believed to be harmful to one's health. Additionally, silver is highly toxic to marine organisms.

Nanosilver is highly toxic to bacteria and fungi, making it a useful ingredient in, say; food containers that help food keep for longer (The Sharper Image sells some).

In studies, nanosilver shows the potential to wreak disastrous effects on the environment. An antibacterial agent may be great for your socks or your food container, but it's not something you want in any natural ecosystem - or even your garden!

And it comes as no surprise that nanosilver, like silver, is toxic to marine organisms. However, nanosilver is so small it can even penetrate minnow egg membranes and move into fish embryos. In humans, recent studies found nanosilver to be a neurotoxicant and toxic to human stem cells.

What does this mean for human safety if nanosilver is used in food packaging? Nobody really knows. And nanosilver is one of the most popular and most researched nanoparticles used to date. What about the others?

There are two questions at the center of the nano debate: First, is it safe? Second, does nanotechnology belong in organic foods? The EU addressed the first question, opting to go with the Precautionary Principle. In Europe, nanotech must stay out of food until it has been proven safe.

Canada merely took on the second question, saying that nanotech needs to stay out of organics. In the U.S. regulators are still looking at both questions, but--to date--have not taken action.

As a consumer, knowing that my food--even produce--might contain unlabeled nanotechnology is, in a word, terrifying.

Humans take risks every day but we like to know what those risks are, assess them, and then choose to take them. How do I know what type of risk I am taking if I eat a nanofood, and how do I opt out of taking that risk?

And for that matter, why should anyone be asked to take such a risk when no one is doing much safety testing of these new technologies?

76 million food borne illnesses last year. Really?

I have blogged on this before, but those politicians pushing for a change in food safety keep stating that ¡°Last year, 76 million Americans were sickened by a food borne illness and 5,000 died¡± and that ¡°our food safety system is a threat to the public¡¯s health¡±. They seem to be following the premise that to create change, first you must create a sense of urgency, as explained in John Kotter¡¯s book, ¡°Leading Change¡±.
As long as they keep trying to create that sense of urgency with shaky numbers, I will keep blogging away with some facts:
First Fact: Their numbers come from an article in the CDC¡¯s ¡±Emerging Infectious Diseases¡± journal published in September, 1999 and used data from FoodNet gathered from 1996-1998. That¡¯s a fact.
Second Fact: In the CDC¡¯s own ¡°Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report¡± (MMWR) of April 2010, they report that when comparing food borne infection rates from the same reporting time period as noted in the first fact, (that is: 1996-1998), to 2009, infection rates for Yersinia were down 53 percent, Shigella had decreased by 55 percent, Campylobacter was down 30 percent, Listeria 26 percent, Salmonella down by 10 percent, and our nemesis, E coli O157:H7, was down 41 percent and food borne illnesses from the O157 STEC were below the goal set in Healthy People 2010. And these are facts.
Third Fact: In the same MMWR report, the following statement is made: ¡°In 2009, a total of 17,468 laboratory confirmed cases of infection were identified.¡± Period. This, too, is a Fact.
It is necessary to point out these were the total cases of lab confirmed food borne illnesses indentified in the FoodNet surveillance population located in ten states and totaling 45.5 million people, or 15 percent of the US population. But even if we take 17,468 and multiply it times 6.6 to account for the other 85 percent of us, we still would only have 115,088 ¡°laboratory confirmed illnesses¡± identified. And that is a long way from 76 million. BTW, the 76 million is NOT a fact. It is a mathematical theory.
Lastly, I have blogged before about the fuzzy math that gets us from 100,000 laboratory confirmed victims to 76 million ill and how we get from 2,000 deaths from known pathogens to 5,000 deaths from food borne illnesses. But there two other quotes regarding the number of deaths that I want to leave you all to ponder, and they are the following statements made by CDC in the ¡°Emerging Infectious Diseases¡± article of 1999 that is so often misrepresented by those wanting change:
¡°Like illnesses and hospitalizations, deaths are also underreported.¡± (I do not portray this as a Fact). The authors go on to say ¡°first calculating the number of deaths among reported cases, then doubling this figure to account for unreported deaths..¡± Say what?
It has been awhile since I hung a stethoscope around my neck, but way back then we were still reporting every single death by filling out a death certificate that included the cause(s) of death.
I am not implying we cannot nor should not change, but let¡¯s make the changes based on facts, not political double speak.

Unbreakable, Unstoppable Jack DeCoster
By Myron Levin on November 22, 2010
Austin DeCoster testifying before the House oversight and investigations subcommittee.
Egg king Austin ¡°Jack¡± DeCoster is back in the news ? this time after a positive salmonella test triggered a recall of eggs from an Ohio producer he partly owns.
His name has been reviled since an outbreak of salmonella that sickened at least 1,600 people was traced to his Iowa farms, leading to the recall of about 550 million eggs.
This brings back memories.
DeCoster Egg Farms of Turner, Maine, was the focus of one of my first investigative stories when I was a green young reporter in the 1970s. For all I knew salmonella might have been a fish. My attention was drawn instead to the company¡¯s spiteful and kleptocratic management style, which included clawing back from workers a share of their poverty wages.
Jack DeCoster, I learned, was a truly self-made man. His father died in 1949 when Jack was in his teens, and he inherited about 100 hens. By 1977, when my stories appeared in the now-defunct Maine Times, he had 2.8 million laying hens, was the undisputed egg king of New England and one of the top suppliers in the U.S.
Religion was his one passion to rival eggs. He was a dedicated fundamentalist Christian who taught Sunday school and attended evening prayer meetings with his managers. He hired a band of evangelical Christian students as summer employees. When not busy in the egg barns, they ministered to workers under the acronym EGG(Experiencing God¡¯s Glory).
When it came to the company¡¯s treatment of workers, however, ¡°What would Jesus do?¡± was not the central theme.
The starting pay of $1.90 to $2.00 an hour was low even by poultry industry standards. Turnover was enormous. Employees had their paychecks dunned for breaking eggs and for other expenses and penalties, without prior consent or a protest mechanism.
At one point, DeCoster¡¯s generously arranged with a private foundation to provide jobs and housing to 19 Vietnamese refugees. The men were stuffed into three of the company-owned trailers that housed many DeCoster workers. In one instance, a Vietnamese worker who¡¯d put in a 66.5 hour week had his paycheck slashed from $169.58 to $26.27 by miscellaneous deductions.
DeCoster drivers who hauled eggs throughout New England and the Middle Atlantic states were given plenty of time to polish their driving skills.
After a driver complained about being forced to falsify his driving logs, a federal investigation found that the company routinely violated limits on the hours truckers can drive without rest. Prosecutors cited records showing that DeCoster trucks had been involved in eight major crashes resulting in two deaths and three serious injuries in less than two years.
In 1975, the company pleaded guilty to federal charges of failing to keep accurate logs, and paid a $2,500 fine.
The company¡¯s response was to work harder to avoid getting caught. It got the Department of Transportation to issue an agricultural exemption that allowed it to avoid reporting major accidents. It also stopped using the type of payroll cards that, by comparing against the falsified logs, led to it being caught.
Even so, federal authorities soon uncovered scores of new hours-of-service violations leading to new criminal charges in 1976. This time, the company was fined $14,000.
When it came to run-ins with authorities and Dickensian scandals, however, DeCoster was just getting started.
Branching out from Maine, he established major operations in Maryland and Iowa. In 1987, nine people died and hundreds more were sickened by salmonella-tainted eggs linked to DeCoster¡¯s Maryland business. For a time, health authorities in Maryland and New York banned sales of DeCoster eggs.
Back in Maine, DeCoster Egg Farms paid $2 million in 1997 to settle federal charges involving working and living conditions that Labor Secretary Robert Reich called ¡° as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.¡±
In 2002, the company paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against Mexican workers in working and living conditions.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, where DeCoster was producing eggs and hogs, he earned the distinction of becoming the first person deemed an ¡°habitual violator¡± of the state¡¯s environmental laws.
His Iowa business, DeCoster Farms, settled a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging supervisors with rape and other sexual violence against female employees, especially those of Mexican origin. Without admitting liability, the company agreed in 2002 to pay nearly $1.53 million.
But DeCoster topped himself in August when more than a half-billion eggs were recalled. In place of the scattershot coverage of past misdeeds, the news media turned on him with a vengeance and made the man, and his egg empire, national news.
DeCoster, now in his 70s, seemed chastened when he testified before Congress in September.
¡°We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs,¡± he told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. Speaking softly in his Maine twang, he added: ¡°I have prayed several times each day for all of these people for improved health.¡±
Lawmakers pointed to photos of rodents and manure oozing from a building at his Iowa farm. They quizzed DeCoster on what went wrong.
¡°We got big quite a while before we stopped acting like we were small,¡± he said. ¡°While we were big but still acting like we were small, we got into trouble with government requirements several times.¡±
Back in the 1970s, when I reported on DeCoster Egg Farms, they were already big. Seeing them lurch from scandal to scandal, bouncing back each time, I¡¯ve wondered how they get away with it. No doubt regulators, prosecutors and lawmakers have wondered the same thing.

Q&A: Why the Produce Industry Opposes Tester
by Helena Bottemiller | Nov 23, 2010
As part of our ongoing expert Q&A series, a conversation with Bob Whitaker, the Produce Marketing Association's Chief Science Officer:
After working with Congress to get comprehensive food safety legislation in the pipeline, the Produce Marketing Association joined 19 other big produce interest groups last week to oppose S.510, a bill they'd been actively supporting, over a deal to include an amendment proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to exempt small farmers and producers under certain circumstances. (See: Politics, Small Farm Deal Stall Food Safety Bill, Nov. 19)
Food Safety News had a chance to chat with Bob Whitaker, PMA's lead food safety expert, to discuss the group's opposition to the Tester amendment as part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
Q: I know your members include the big players in the produce industry, but does PMA have small producer members who have been concerned about the pending food safety bill?
A: We're a global organization. PMA has over 3,000 members worldwide, so we represent the entire supply chain--that can be anybody from a small grower up to a large retailer or food service organization, and everybody in between. We have small growers, large growers, processors, transportation people, retailers, distributors, harvesters, you name it.
Q: PMA has obviously been very engaged on the food safety bill, have you been actively working with staff on the Hill to express your views to the Tester-Hagan amendment from the get go?
A: We've been working for quite a while now for comprehensive food safety regulations for the industry. We were disappointed last week when the Tester amendment basically stayed intact and made exemptions possible. It leaves holes in the system and it doesn't do everything it could do to protect public health.
Q: Are you more worried about the economic consequences--if one small tomato grower has a problem, it could impact everyone--or do you think that the growing number of small farms is actually an increasing public health risk?
A: Well, I think what we'd like to see that everybody in the system has to have a food safety program. We've long advocated that producers have to take responsibility for the safety of their food, that they have to perform risk-assessments, and that we ought to try to use the best science we have available to us--and the best knowledge we have on each particular commodity and crop in each region--that's really what's most important to us, to have that baseline across the entire supply chain for food safety.
We want to see everyone in the produce industry have access to markets and, frankly, if you don't have a food safety program, whether Congress mandates it or not, you're going to find yourself with limited access to markets because more and more of the buying community is demanding that you have a food safety program--something that's written down, something you can look at, something you can actually verify. I think we're doing a great disservice to part of our membership, and to the industry as a whole, if we [exempt] a big block of the sector.
That's why we've been so active in trying to set up training programs for smaller or regional growers around the country. You can advocate that everyone needs a program, but you need to do the other part, you've got to take action. We've partnered with some of our members to begin training programs simply so we can talk to regional growers about what it takes to put a foods safety program in place, how do you do a risk-assessment, how do you get an audit. A lot of these things can be really daunting ... if you haven't done it before. But the overwhelming response we get from growers after these trainings is: 'that's not so hard, we can do that.'
Q: Do you think that between the trade associations and university extension programs, the infrastructure exists to provide the training necessary for small growers to get support putting food safety programs together?
A: I think there are a number of resources out there that are available to retail growers and smaller growers. You do have the trade associations, but more important than that you have the agriculture extension services at land grant colleges, you have regional and commodity groups, so you have smaller associations that might represent Washington apples, or the leafy green growers and shippers in Salinas, or the tomatoes in Florida--many of them in one fashion or another have offered food safety training programs or educational sessions. You also have third-party providers that can help with training programs.
About two weeks ago the FDA put a $1.2 million grant into Cornell University to take the work they've been doing on [Good Agricultural Practices] and spread it nationally. One of the things we try to do with our [PMA] training programs is making growers aware of these resources. There are a lot of online tutorials to help you work through personalized risk-assessments and best practices.
Q: Even with support from the resources you mentioned, it will take man hours and sometimes changing practices to comply with the new regulations, a lot of the concerns I hear from farmers are centered on cost and time ... some of the very small business owners think this will put them under. In your experience working with smaller growers, have you seen some positive transitions? Are the costs prohibitive?
A: You hear costs a lot. One thing you have to say up front, when you look at this, is that there are a lot of very small growers who are already doing this. I think there is plenty of evidence where growers have already made this a priority and they have been able to do so in a pretty innovative manner. There is a cost to this, there is no doubt about that. ,But it doesn't have to be overwhelmingly expensive. A lot of this is common sense. One thing I've seen many, many times: food safety practices are good business practices. Food safety costs are scalable. You can do a third-party verification audit for as little as a few hundred dollars.
People need to dive in and understand that this is food and you have to take responsibility for the safety of our food, to the extent that you can.
Q: What about the argument that locally sold food presents a much lower risk to consumers? If something goes wrong, it will be contained to relatively small region and to a relatively small number of consumers...
A: I look at that a couple different ways. Number one, everybody in agriculture understands that all production is local to someplace, and all production is fairly small. If you look at some of these larger grower-shippers, they are basically kind of accumulation points for small farmers that contribute into that grower-shipper and provide product. I would say that the least common denominator for our industry is a small farm. Number two, the pathogens don't know what size farm they're on. If practices are roughly similar and you're facing outdoor environments where you're producing food that may or may not have risks associated with them, and that may, or may not, have conditions that are controllable, it does not matter what size your plot of land is.
If someone gets sick, the consumer doesn't care if it's a small farm, a local farm, a big farm--they've suffered an injury. I think that given the science that we don't understand at this point and the very sporadic and random contamination events that we've seen, I don't think we want to leave any stone unturned to make food as safe as it can be.
Q: I don't know if you saw that Glenn Beck started talking about the food safety bill on his radio program--which has millions of viewers--and he talked about it increasing the cost of food. I wonder if you have any thoughts about how this kind of alarmism fuels the push-back against something that the food industry actually supports...
A: I always just go back to the basic premise: We're all consumers. When I go to the store and I buy food, in this case produce, I expect it to be safe. People have got to understand one thing: you have to think about the people you're serving. At the end of the day, we're pursuing improved food safety so that products can be as safe as they possibly can, every time. Consumers have to be confident that our products are safe. That is the bottom-line contract we have with our consumers.
When we see repeated recalls and positive tests, that hurts consumer confidence. When you think about food safety costs: can we afford not to do it? We make the healthiest, most nutritious products out there. If you look at FDA, USDA, CDC, all they want is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. When we have an obesity epidemic in this country we ought to be doing everything we possibly can to have positive messaging on produce. I weigh that against food safety costs as well.
Q: Are you confident that a compromise will be reached so that PMA can support the final version of the food safety bill?
A: I don't know. I think we're all kind of waiting to see what happens on the legislative side. PMA will continue to work with the legislative side and will continue to work with the FDA--whatever legislation comes out it will be up to FDA to write the rules--and we will certainly work with them to get the most comprehensive food safety rules we can.
Note: S.510 is expected to be taken up by the Senate the evening of Nov. 29.
The conversation above has been slightly edited for length and readability.

Cargill Likes O157:H7 Vaccine Trial Performance
by Dan Flynn | Nov 23, 2010

Vaccines administered by Cargill Meat Solutions to 85,000 head of cattle in the Fort Morgan, CO area this past May through August are showing potential promise for reducing E. coli O157:H7 in beef.

Cargill's large-scale tests of E coli O157:H7 vaccines, announced last January, were successful enough that the meat giant rolled out some of the results at a recent meeting of the food and feed safety committee of the U.S. Animal Health Association in Minneapolis.

"While we are pleased with the preliminary results, we are also eager to see completed analytical work currently underway by independent researchers at Kansas State and Texas Tech universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat Animal Research Center and the Beef Check-off, which should be available early in 2011," said Dan Schaefer, Cargill's assistant vice president for beef research and development.

Schaefer said Cargill saw a favorable immune system response to the vaccine just as it had hoped with no adverse reaction from the cattle. A second round of trials is planned for summer 2011 at a beef processing facility in the Midwest, which is supplied by mid-sized feedlots.

"We are determining the best way to proceed with this science-based, evolutionary process, which we hope will lead to validating the potential value of vaccine as another food safety tool for beef production," Schaefer added.

Cargill figures the effectiveness of the vaccine might be influenced by weather, geography, seasonality, animal and herd care management, vaccine doses, and other factors.

The control group also had a low level of E. coil O157:H7 while the vaccinated cattle were being processed at Cargill's Fort Morgan processing plant. Independent researchers are interpreting the data.

Researchers are trying to better understand the meaning and value of the reduction in E. coli O157:H7 in beef from vaccinated animals, compared with beef from those that did not receive the vaccine, according to Cargill.

The Minneapolis-based company said the vaccine trial involving the 85,000 head of Colorado cattle was the first pre-harvest intervention trial completed that monitored activity from the time of the vaccination through measures in the meat.

"The low level of E. coli O157:H7 in the beef from control cattle is something we need to take into consideration when we analyze the data to determine the vaccine's true impact and potential," Schaefer continued. "The scientist in me tells me much more research remains to be conducted before we can draw any meaningful conclusions about the long term efficacy of vaccine use to reduce any strain of bacteria potentially found in beef that could pose health risks to consumers."

The 2010 vaccine trials, which cost Cargill $1 million, used an E. coli O157:H7 vaccine developed by Epitopix LLC, based in Wilmar, MN. Cattle from 10 feedlots supplying Cargill's Fort Morgan plant were vaccinated with either one or two doses.

The 145-year-old Cargill is one of the top three beef producers in the U.S. The privately held company employs 131,000 people in 66 countries.

Connection between distillers grains and e-coli is anything but a foregone conclusion, say U of M scientists

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

New research at the University of Minnesota throws doubt on the connection between feeding cattle the ethanol byproduct called distillers grains and increased incidence of infection with E. coli 157:H7, a bacterium dangerous to human health. This E. colistrain, found in the gut of some cattle, spreads to meat and other foods by fecal contamination and has caused thousands of cases of food-borne illness and numerous deaths from instances where contaminated meat is not completely cooked, or raw contaminated vegetables are consumed.
U of M Professor of Animal Science Alfredo DiCostanzo, U of M Extension Assistant Professor Grant Crawford, and U of M Professor of Food Science and Nutrition Francisco Gonzalez-Diez pre-selected a group of 48 finishing steers and heifers with an initial E. coli O157:H7 infection rate of 50% (half of each sex). At initiation of the study, 20 still tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 (for initial positive percentages between 25% and 58%), and were fed one of four diets containing steam flaked corn and either 35% or 0% DGS and 10% or 0% glycerin to test how the bug reacts to distillers grains and glycerin. Within two weeks of beginning the study, the number of cattle that tested positive, regardless of diet, dropped down to two--suggesting that, under the conditions of this study (loose housed cattle with access to individual feeding bunks), distillers grains has no effect on E. coli O157:H7.
Cattle have now been on their respective diets for about 80 days and will go on for another few months--the typical length of stay in a feedlot. To date, none of the cattle have become re-infected.
The study, supported by Minnesota Agricultural Utilization and Research Institute (AURI), Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, was designed to examine what some have considered a foregone conclusion since Kansas State University school of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study in 2007 and found a significant increase of E. coli O157:H7 when cattle are fed distillers grains. A 2010 follow-up at the same experimental feedlot reached similar results, according to Prof. T.G. Nagaraja.
"Our result raises questions and shows that what some people are treating as a closed book may require a lot more investigation," said DiCostanzo. "Our suspicion is that the environment where the cattle are being fed and how they are being cared for plays a role."
Though the KSU feedlot tested a larger number of animals in feedlot conditions, DiCostanzo points out that the there may be key differences in the environment and facilities management between studies conducted at KSU and their study. Likely the KSU study was conducted on a concrete-surfaced facility where little manure accumulated permitting fresh manure to sit on the concrete for 12 hour periods. In the Minnesota study, cattle were fed in individual bunks though they spent non-feeding time together. The pens in Minnesota feature an outdoor concrete pad with a bedded manure pack indoors, which gets compacted over time by cattle activity and excretions. More bedding material is added periodically but the bedding is only fully removed about twice a year.
"Using individual bunks (12 cattle per treatment) is like having each animal eat off its own plate--it's a statistically similar approach to collecting pen samples representing each one individual," said DiCostanzo.
DiCostanzo and Crawford will soon undertake a further study, in which "fully rumen-developed young Holstein calves will be fed one of four diets containing either dry rolled corn (representative of Minnesota grain sources) or steam flaked corn (representative of Great Plains grain processing) with 35 percent distillers grains and solubles and either 10 percent or 0 percent glycerin," DiCostanzo said. "When calves are fully adapted to these diets, we will inoculate them with a high dose of a strain of E coli O157:H7 that we can quantify. Calves will be sampled weekly to detect this strain of bacteria in their feces. At 28 days on feed, calves will be sacrificed and tissue samples from the gastro-intestinal tract will be measured for the presence of this strain of E coli O157:H7. This study, albeit with non-naturally infected cattle, should prove whether diet has any effect on incidence of E coli O157:H7."

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