A new issue-brief by The Pew Charitable Trusts argues the best way to reduce Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli O157:H7 contaminations in meat and poultry products is to take a farm-level preventive approach pairing probiotics/prebiotics with vaccines while taking exposure-reduction measures like worker biosecurity protocols to decontaminate uniforms and tools, limiting access to animal housing, and adequate housing and veterinary care.
The issue-brief follows last year’s call by the Government Accountability Office for the USDA to take more aggressive action on foodborne pathogens.
Scandinavian nations taking a farm-first approach, the report stresses, have achieved a high degree of Salmonella reduction in meats. Sweden completely eradicated Salmonella among 4,033 poultry carcasses in 2017 and less than 1 percent of poultry flocks in Norway and Finland had Salmonella contamination in 2016.
“No single pre-harvest intervention completely eliminates contamination risks,” the report states, “however, reductions in contamination can have substantial public health benefits even if residual bacteria remain. Successful pre-harvest programs are typically based on a combination of interventions. For example, exposure-reduction strategies and pathogen surveillance are used in conjunction with vaccines and probiotics.”
Jim Dickson, PhD, professor, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University says the report wasn’t groundbreaking.
“I think that the recommendations are reasonably important, but I do not see that there is anything new in this brief,” Dr. Dickson tells Food Quality & Safety. “I think that the industry is paying attention to the ideas in this brief, and in fact has been doing so for some time. There is a lot of interest in probiotics, fermentation byproducts, and direct fed microbials, all as replacements for antibiotics. The industry certainly recognizes that healthier and safer animals are also more efficient to produce.”
Dr. Dickson says the results from Sweden, Finland, and Norway are encouraging, but those countries also deal with minuscule volumes of livestock compared with the U.S.
“The United States produced 50 percent more poultry than the entire EU, according to the Economic Research Service,” he says. “While we may learn some lessons from these countries, I do not know if all of their procedures and processes are necessarily scalable to our production volume.”
What’s important, he mentions, is to recognize that the ideas in the brief aren’t new ones that we need to convince farms to adopt, since they’re already widely adopted in many places.
“Many slaughter establishment require that the animals delivered to them meet certain specifications,” Dr. Dickson says, “such as the BQA or PQA programs (Beef or Pork Quality Assurance). I really don’t know what percentage of the total number of animals are produced under these programs, but it may vary by species. For example, the poultry industry is concentrated in large processing operations, as there are relatively few small and very small establishments under federal inspection. The large establishments may be acquiring live birds on contract, where they have more control over the animal husbandry practices.”
Farmers know that healthy animals are better for everyone—and for bottom lines, Dr. Dickson says, and regardless of the Pew Trusts brief, they’re pursuing ideas like probiotics and biosecurity protocols on their own.