Back in 2007, amid a boom in US corn-based ethanol, researchers at Kansas State University released a sobering study involving distillers grains—the mash that’s left over after corn has been fermented and distilled into ethanol. As various government programs ramped up ethanol production—and with it the price of corn—the livestock industry was increasingly turning to distillers grains as a cheap corn substitute. But the Kansas researchers found that the stuff seemed to cause a spike in a particularly dangerous-to-humans form of E. coli in the cows’ guts.
“Distiller’s grain is a good animal feed,” the study’s lead researcher said in a press release. But its tendency to boost the potentially deadly E. coli 0157 strain “is likely to have profound implications in food safety.”
And the USDA? Well, it’s still acknowledging the E. coliproblem. In fact, it turns out that the department’s own researchers at a lab in Nebraska have been studying the issue since 2007 and finding that, yes, distillers grains do ramp up E. coli 0157 in the guts of cattle. And last week, lead researcher James Wells reported the latest results toFood Safety News and Iowa Farmer. Yet again, they found that the higher the content of distillers grains in cows’ diets, the higher the level of the notorious pathogen in the cows’ hide and manure.