Friday, November 7, 2008

Need another reason to spurn ethanol?

Ethanol from corn is under assault from all sides these days, blamed (unfairly, I think) for food shortages, decried (fairly, I think) as an inefficient use of resources. Now we have news from the Washington Post that it may be the reason for an increase in E. coli poisoning:
Last year scientists noted an uptick in the prevalence of potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in beef products. Frequently found in the digestive tracts of cattle, the bug can wind up in ground beef during the slaughter and grinding process.

There were 21 beef recalls in the United States in 2007, compared with eight the year before. About a third of the recalls were prompted by reports of human illness, while none of the 2006 recalls were.

This year, meat inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have continued to see more contaminated beef samples. Through mid-October, they had recorded 50 percent more than at the same time last year.

Officials have assumed that these numbers reflect an overall increase in the prevalence of the E. coli strain in cattle, but no one has been able to explain why the dangerous bacteria have become more abundant.

Now scientists are looking into a possible explanation -- one that's related to alternative fuels and the economics of farming.

The link is distillers grain, the stuff left over after starch is removed from corn. With corn prices up, cattle ranchers rely more heavily on distillers grain as feed. The relationship isn't clear, however, with some studies confirming it and others showing the opposite.

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