Fight Against Pre-Harvest Pathogens in Beef Highlighted

“Imperfect” but potentially effective technologies to control foodborne pathogens in beef pre-harvest are now available to government and industry, according to experts at a Nov. 9 meeting on pre-harvest pathogen control convened by the FSIS, the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, and the Agricultural Research Service. But can they be usefully implemented?

A number of vaccine technologies have demonstrated a significant impact in reducing levels of E. coli 0157 and Salmonella bacteria detected in bovine feces pre-harvest, said Guy Loneragan, PhD, professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, who presented the opening address at the meeting. For example, Epitopix/Pfizer Animal Health’s SRP vaccine has shown a 40% to 60% reduction in Salmonella levels in feces in various commercial studies—and even more in so-called “high shedders.”

“These technologies have repeatable and predictable, if imperfect, efficacy. Even given that imperfect efficacy, if we have broad adoption of these technologies, we can have quite a meaningful public health impact. But how can we develop an environment that fosters their adoption?”

The burden cannot be placed solely on producers, Dr. Loneragan said. “We have to find ways to pull these technologies through the system, not just at the packing plant level but at the retail level as well. Retailers need to develop a coordinated plan with packers, suppliers, and producers to share the costs and rewards of these technologies.”

At the meeting, industry representatives and other experts also suggested that more open testing of the vaccines in the marketplace is needed—and called for the FDA and USDA to expand licensure. “Right now, we have one vaccine that’s conditionally licensed,” said Dr. Loneragan. “But the conditional license comes with real barriers to adoption, such as a 60-day slaughter withdrawal. If there were a full license for these vaccines, sponsors could do studies that could show support for a shorter withdrawal period, which is much more practical. There has to be a mechanism by which the vaccines can move forward to full licensing and the industry can look at them in a more open and complete way.”

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