GAO Reports Ways to Reduce E. coli

Pre-slaughter interventions have been identified that could reduce E. coli in beef cattle.

Published on: Mar 13, 2012

The U.S. beef industry has recalled over 23 million pounds of beef since 2006 because of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli bacteria. Health and Human Services and USDA play a role in reducing STEC, and USDA says that interventions before slaughter offers an opportunity to improve food safety.

For pre-slaughter interventions, USDA exercises responsibilities for licensing and regulating STEC vaccines. However, USDA’s approval requirements for these vaccines are unclear, according to some industry representatives. Specifically, USDA’s general guidance does not address some of the unique challenges faced by manufacturers of animal health products seeking STEC vaccine approval.

For example, the guidance does not explain that, if studies conducted in the laboratory are insufficient to demonstrate efficacy, the manufacturer would also need to demonstrate that the vaccine is effective in a field setting such as a feedlot.

In an attempt to give USDA ways to clarify ways to reduce STEC before slaughter the Government Accountability Office conducted a study. They reviewed interventions that may reduce STEC before slaughter; USDA's role in approving STEC vaccines; the tests to detect STEC; and practices other countries have used to reduce STEC. They have issued a report for the Secretary of Agriculture of their findings.

The American Meat Institute voiced support for the process.  

"We are always supportive of streamlining the process to put out food safety interventions or animal health interventions," AMI Director of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren said. "There are times when that process can be very burdensome. Our packer processors want to put out the safest product possible and many times they've done all they can do in plants. So we are looking more and more at on farm and the delays in that process are burdensome and so any way we can streamline that process, make it more efficient, and get good products out there faster; it's another tool in the toolbox. "

In the report to the Secretary of Agriculture, GAO did recommend that USDA provide more specific public guidance on the license approval requirements of STEC vaccines.

"We support that type of approach," Booren said. "And we would be encouraged if FDA, APHIS and USDA work with producers for these types of vaccines to make this more streamlined."

Another recommendation for executive action was that the Secretary of Agriculture explore practices employed by other countries that are not currently used in the United States for reducing STEC in cattle and consider whether the identified practices can inform U.S. efforts.

To view the GAO report, click HERE.