News of the WeekMicrobiology

Cattle Diet Linked to Bacterial Growth

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Science  11 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5383, pp. 1578
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5383.1578b

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On page 1666, a research team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cornell University offers findings that support a novel explanation for the increased numbers and virulence of E. coli outbreaks over the past decades: diet changes among beef cattle. Since the Second World War, cattle diets have shifted from hay to starchy grain feed. The team has shown that the digestive systems of cows fed hay generate less than 1% of the E. coli found in the feces of grain-fed animals, and that bacteria from the grain-fed animals are much more resistant to acid, making them more likely to survive in the human stomach and cause infection. The finding suggests that switching cattle to hay a few days before slaughter could limit the frequency of dangerous E. coli outbreaks.