A recent study done at Kansas State showed a increase in E. Coli in cattle fed distillers grains versus cattle fed a diet that didn't contain distillers grains. Several small studies have been done and have shown inconsistent results. But the media really jumped on this one and suggested a link between distillers grains and recent increases in the numbers of E. Coli related recalls.
All the while a much larger study has been underway by the USDA Meat Animal Research Center.
The large scope of the research being conducted at the Meat Animal Research Center sets its work apart from research at universities and other labs in the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
"The uniqueness of what we do is in the sample size," Koohmaraie said. "We really don't speak unless we have confidence in the data. A bug like E. coli 0157:h7 is really problematic if you don't design the experiment properly."
One of the lab's current projects will test whether feeding cattle distiller's grain — a byproduct of making the gasoline additive ethanol — has any effect on the level of E. coli and the quality of meat produced.
The Nebraska Corn Board suggested the distiller's grain research last spring, and the lab agreed because more and more feedlots are using the ethanol byproduct, Koohmaraie said.
The research involves 600 cattle. Half are being fed a traditional grain feed and half are being fed distiller's grain. The research will wrap up in June after the cattle have been sold for slaughter and samples of their carcasses have been collected.
USDA Project Description