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Feasibility of Introducing Methods, in the UK, for Reducing Shedding of E. coli O157 in Cattle

Scottish Agricultural College
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The objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of introducing currently available methods to reduce E. coli O157 shedding in cattle on UK farms. Measures aimed at doing this may provide pre-slaughter control to reduce human cases of infection arising through food chain contamination of the slaughter process, or contamination of fresh produce. It should additionally offer benefits by reducing risks to humans from environmental exposures, including those arising through direct animal contact at open farms or in the rural environment.

The first part of the study involved a review of published data on the cost, practicality, evidence for adoption and efficacy of various on-farm controls. This information was used to examine the potential of controls to reduce E. coli O157 shedding in cattle on UK farms, to estimate the costs associated with their implementation, and to calculate the possible public health benefits that would result from their uptake across the UK.

Practicality and efficiency are important criteria for the adoption of on-farm controls. However, the major issue with on-farm controls is that cattle do not exhibit signs of infection from E. coli O157. Therefore as there is no production loss, such controls convey no direct benefit to the farmer or producer.

There therefore needed to be an understanding of farmers' intrinsic behaviours that underpin their motivations for adopting improved on-farm controls.

Intrinsic patterns of behaviour are also influenced by the extrinsic demands that may be driven by:

  • producers or retailers for market gain
  • legislators or the industry seeking to implement or encourage controls for the public good

The second part of the work therefore aimed to identify both the intrinsic and extrinsic factors which impact on the attitudes of farm owners, including open farm managers and food producers, to on-farm control of E. coli O157.

Finally, stakeholder engagement was undertaken to share the intelligence obtained from the above objectives, but also to seek their views on the implementation of controls.

More information

Background: E. coli O157 is a relatively rare but significant gastrointestinal pathogen in the UK. Complications of the infection can lead to renal damage and death. E. coli O157 is shed in the faeces of ruminant animals. It has been implicated in outbreaks of human disease via the cross-contamination of foods and direct contact with the faeces of affected animals.

The public inquiry into the September 2005 outbreak of E. coli O157 in South Wales recommended that the feasibility of identifying 'supershedder' cattle on farms should be explored as a potential means of reducing the likelihood of spreading the pathogen to other cattle.

The routine testing of livestock may not be a cost-effective or practicable means of preventing 'supershedders' entering the slaughterhouse. As a result, measures aimed at reducing shedding in the entire herd, prior to slaughter, could be easier to administer while providing a similar level of control.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
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Escherichia coli
Prevention and Control