Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Increased Ethanol Production = Increased E. coli Threat

Minnesota Public Radio is reporting on a new study by the USDA:
  • 300 steers were fed corn
  • 300 steers were fed feed that contained 40% distiller's grain
"The study found E. coli in almost 15 percent of the samples from the distiller's grain group. That compares to 1.5 percent in the corn-fed group."
Distiller's grain is:
" ... basically what's left of the corn kernel minus the starch. An ethanol plant converts the starch to sugar and then ferments it." (Photo of wet distiller's grain below.)

This is not the first study to demonstrate increased levels of the very dangerous E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria in cattle fed distiller's grain.

Pretend you're a cattle producer, and ...
  • The price of corn is rising.
  • Your cattles' weights have been declining. (Marler said in January that fed cattle weights "are now below the 5-year average.")
  • And a relatively cheap cattle food is suddenly everywhere:
    • In 2006, 3.5 million metric tonnes (that's about 8 billion pounds according to Google's built-in calculator function) of distiller's grains were produced in North America, 98% of which came from spent grain at ethanol plants. That amount was expected to double by this year.1
    • "If you feed a steer corn, it costs about $132 to fatten it; if distillers grain is used, $75." (Marler)
What would you use to raise their weights in an environment where grain is being diverted to fuel production?

This foodborne illness threat doesn't apply to just beef. Produce ... lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers ... have been increasingly contaminated with cattle-sourced E. coli and other pathogens. I really don't want to entertain these guys in my gut, or have them multiplying in the guts of those I care about, if I can help it.
1 From University of Minnesota: Distillers Grains By-products in Livestock and Poultry Feeds. Great resource.
Photo of wet distiller's grain from Coaltec Energy.
Thanks to Marler for the tip.

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