By Guest Blogger Jason Johns

We’ve previously discussed ongoing research concerning safety of distillers grains previously. An article on distillers grains and E. coli in Distillers Grains Monthly (Third Quarter 2008) suggests that the scientific debate continues, and questions remain unanswered.

Conflicting studies have now been released by Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska regarding the link between distillers grains and the presence of E. coli O157:H7. In December 2007, KSU released a study showing that E. coli O157:H7 levels were approximately two-fold higher in cattle fed dried distillers grains. In reaction to the KSU findings, researchers at Nebraska revisited their findings from an earlier distillers grains feeding trial and arrived at a conclusion different than that of KSU.

Nebraska researchers found E. coli O157:H7 produced at statistically significant levels between diets low in distillers grains and those high in distillers grains.  However, neither of those diets produced E. coli O157:H7 at levels statistically significant from the control diet.  The Nebraska data also showed that diets low in distillers grains may help animals to shed the microbe in feces.

Apart from the studies, the article explains that much remains unknown about the effects of distillers grains when introduced into cattle diets. For example, researchers do not know why cattle respond differently when fed dried distillers grains-spiked steam-flaked corn and dried distillers grains-supplemented dry-rolled corn. Researchers are also unaware of how distillers grains produced from different sources–sorghum, barley, and so forth–may affect cattle differently.

Hopefully, we will learn more in October 2008, when Nebraska plans to make available a study involving 480 cattle and high levels of distillers grains. Until then, it appears the link between distillers grains and the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle remains unsettled.