Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.

About that corn-based ethanol…
10 December 2007, 5:19 am
Filed under: Corn-based Ethanol, Eating Science, Food and Energy, Food Safety, Meat

Or maybe it’s bash-on-ethanol day here at Law for Food. According to the Food Law Profs Blog, some CAFOs are feeding cattle corn that is a by-product of ethanol production, and that this practice is leading to increased E.Coli presence in the cattle’s digestive tract. I don’t pretend to be a scientist, but my guess would be that the ethanol is produced by fermentation, and that the fermentation lowers the pH of the corn by-product, and that the corn by-product lowers the pH of the digestive tract so as to create an optimal environment for E.Coli to breed.

I don’t think I need to remind readers that quite a lot of meat has been recalled in the past tweve months.


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Increased Ethanol Production Part of E. coli “Uptick?”

A few weeks ago I continued my posts on the question of the “Uptick” in E. coli O157:H7 cases by asking this question:

Is this an explanation? What is the change? I understand that perhaps with the increase in the price of oil there has been an increase in ethanol production and waste products – eaten by cows?

I found this interesting article put out by Kansas State University – Feeding cattle byproduct of ethanol production causes E. coli O157:H7 to spike.

According to the K-State Press Release – Ethanol plants and livestock producers have created a symbiotic relationship. Cattle producers feed their livestock distiller’s grains, a byproduct of the ethanol distilling process, giving ethanol producers have an added source of income. But recent research at Kansas State University has found that cattle fed distiller’s grain have an increased prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in their hindgut. The growth in ethanol plants means more cattle are likely to be fed distiller’s grain, therefore harboring E. coli O157:H7 and potentially a source of health risks to humans. Research by K-State in the next few years will focus on finding out why E. coli O157:H7 is more prevalent in cattle fed a distiller’s grain diet. It could be something that changes in the animals’ hindgut as a result of feeding distiller’s grains, or maybe the byproduct provides a nutrient for the bacteria.

Perhaps the increase in the price of oil, leading to more ethanol production, leading to more E. coli O157:H7 in cow’s guts, in combination with a less experienced slaughterhouse workforce, has increased the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in hamburger, leading to the increased recalls and illnesses? See – Crackdown Upends Slaughterhouse’s Work Force. Go, K-State!

As good colleges do, there seems to be a bit of a rivalry between K-State and Big Red. BILL HORD
 of the WORLD-HERALD BUREAU reported that, 
” Kansas E. coli research is puzzling to UNL.”

A Nebraska research team studying E. coli contamination reported Thursday that its studies do not support Kansas findings that byproducts from ethanol contribute to the prevalence of a toxic strain of the pathogen in cattle. The team of scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has seen no increase in the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle fed distillers grain, the byproduct, said Terry Klopfenstein, an animal science professor at UNL.

In football this year the score was 73 to 31 – Nebraska won

A KSU press release on the research was met with nationwide media attention, said KSU pathobiologist T.G. Nagaraja, whose voice mail box was full Thursday. “I knew it would generate some attention, but I did not realize the extent to which it has,” Nagaraja said in an interview Thursday.

Jerry W. Kram of Ethanol Producer’s Magazine wrote: “Study finds DDG-E. coli link.” Although the post was on December 7, the interview appears to have been done before the controversy over the findings surfaced. In the conclusion:

The paper discussed two hypotheses to explain the increased prevalence of the pathogenic bacteria. One is that using distillers grains lowers the amount of starch and increases the amount of fiber in the cattle rations. That changes the environment of the cattle’s digestive tract which allows the pathogen to gain a competitive advantage over other intestinal flora. Another hypothesis is that there is some component of distillers grains that promotes the growth of E. coli O157. There is some evidence supporting this idea from in vitro experiments.

The conclusions of the paper stated that the implications of these observations were very serious because of the increasing role of distillers grains in the cattle industry due to the rapid expansion of ethanol production.

Comment by Bill

Thanks for the research, Bill!

So as I said I’m not a scientist, so I’m not able to comment on why there appears to be a causal link between distilled grain and E. Coli O157:H7, beyond armchair hypotheses like the one I gave last night.

I’m curious to know, too, how the ethanol grain by-product differs from, say, bourbon grain by-product or silage. Thanks again for the research. I’ll be keeping an eye on these things.

Comment by lawforfood

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