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Most farmers recognize E. coli O157 threat

A survey of cattle producers in Canada finds that the majority is aware of the risks of E. coli and knows that implementing on-farm measures to reduce risk is key


Toronto – A recent survey of almost 400 cattle farmers across Canada has found that eighty per cent of them are aware that E. coli is a beef food safety risk.

The Canadian Food Safety Alliance (CFSA) reports that more than half of producers surveyed by Strategic Research Associates were aware of on-farm controls for E. coli O157.

More than two-thirds believe it is important or extremely important to implement on-farm measures to reduce the risk of contamination to beef and to the environment. Vaccination was the second-most frequent on-farm measure identified, after on-farm cleanliness.

Producers felt the government should bear the cost of on-farm controls to reduce the public health risk with three-quarters (76 per cent) of those surveyed indicating they would vaccinate cattle if the government provided it at no cost.

Post XL Foods

This latest report comes just months after the XL Foods’ beef recall, the largest beef recall in Canadian history, that involved more than 90 retail stores, 1,800 SKUs, and alerts in more than 20 countries around the world.

Two-thirds of the producers surveyed felt that the XL Foods’ recall had a major impact on the Canadian beef industry and one-fifth of producers felt that the recall had a significant impact on their own operation.

This cattle producer survey parallels a recent poll the CFSA conducted which found that, even months after the XL Foods’ recall, Canadians listed food safety as one of their top concerns, on par with concerns about the federal deficit.

Consumer priorities

The CFSA survey also found that Canadians cite an increase in inspectors and the vaccination of all cattle to prevent them from carrying E. coli O157 as priorities for fighting foodborne illness.

Both the recent cattle producer survey and the poll of Canadians clearly show that cattle producers and the Canadian public are equally concerned about the threat E. coli O157 poses to the beef industry and the public’s health.

The majority of E. coli O157-related illnesses come from indirect sources, such as, fresh produce and contaminated water. Ruminants, primarily cattle, are sources of E. coli O157, which can infect people either directly, through the consumption of contaminated meat, or indirectly, when manure is exposed in the environment and contaminates farm produce or drinking water.

Fast facts on E. coli

Some fast facts on E. coli from the CFSA:

E. coli O157 does not make cattle sick but a 2009 study found E. coli O157 on 52% of the farms surveyed in Ontario, confirming that cows are still widely regarded as the primary source of this bacterium that is harmful to humans.
• Approximately 100,000 cases of human infection with the E. coli O157 organism are reported each year in North America.
• The Canadian government’s approach to fighting E. coli O157 focuses primarily on the meat processing stage but this policy approach to dealing with the problem does not address the source of the pathogen on the farm.
• Canada is the only country in the world with a fully licensed vaccine to reduce shedding of E. coli O157 by cattle.