Dirty jobs? Try being a veterinarian

Patty Khuly writes in today’s USA Today that while the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs features revolting trades, no profession rivals the average veterinarian’s for the variety of revolting, fetid, infectious crap we have to deal with on a daily basis.

Though some have got it bad (consider the hands-on shelter worker or the bovine reproductive specialist) and some manage better than most (the radiologist, perhaps?), we all get treated to a fair bit of repulsive fare whether we like it or not.

As a mixed animal veterinarian in suburbia (dogs, cats, chickens and goats), my work is routinely disgusting. Picking through feces and vomit, for example, figures routinely in my daily

Below are the top 10 most digusting things we veterinarians and veterinary technicians must subject ourselves to.

1. Maggot picking.
This is the worst, so I’ll mention it first just to get it out of the way. In my opinion, wounds infected with maggots rival anything else I have to deal with. It’ll surely put you off rice for at least a month. (If you can stomach this, one the nine that follow are fairly easygoing.)

2. Bovine/equine reproductive examination.
Ahhh … the full-arm rectal of vet school lore. We all have to do it, but I never really minded it. It’s better than standing bare-armed in a three-sided barn when the 10-degree wind blows … though it does take some getting used to.

3. Fecal material sampling.
How many times a day do I stick something up a pet’s bum and then gently prise the stuff onto slides and into plastic containers? Ten? Twenty? Who knows, but it’s gross.

4. Dentistry for severe periodontal disease.
Never underestimate the force with which the foulness of an oral cavity can hit you — across three masks, even. If you need further inducement to consider this the revolting job that it is, factor in the pus, blood and spray of bacterial filth contaminating the air around you. Hence, goggles are a must lest you risk suddenly contracting a novel strain of especially aggressive pink eye.

There’s more. I sent the story to a veterinarian colleague, who said her personal favorite was looking through dog vomit for all the stuff the dog ate. … did he puke up all the pieces of the tennis ball (and puzzling the slimy pieces back together to find out) or is there still some in there?

She also said she loves her job.

Cow urine irritates eyes of 50; dairy pavilion closed at Australian fair

The dairy cow pavillion at the Royal Adelaide Show has been closed down after almost 50 people suffered serious eye irritations, with organizers blaming stagnant urine.

St John Ambulance volunteers were called to the Dairy Cattle pavillion about 4pm yesterday after some people reported irritation to their eyes, treating 30 people at the scene, AdelaideNow said.

Last night another 20 people went to the emergency department of the Royal Adelaide Hospital where their eyes were washed.

A spokesman for the Royal Adelaide Hospital said 17 people went to the emergency department overnight with eye irritations and had their eyes flushed.

Show chief executive John Rothwell said it was the first time in the event’s history that such a problem had occurred and its exact cause was unknown.
Health authorities have been to the show grounds to investigate and hope to have some answers by this afternoon.

Abuse is shocking and it’s all on video; Ohio dairy farm worker charged with animal cruelty

Billy Joe Gregg Jr. – a man with not two but three first names and of course, it’s Billy Joe – an Ohio dairy farm worker has been charged with 12 counts of cruelty to animals after a welfare group released a video it says shows him and others beating cows with crowbars and pitchforks.

He’s in jail, pondering his 15 minutes of fame.

Associated Press reports the County sheriff’s office says Gregg was fired from Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City on Wednesday.

Conklin calls the mistreatment shown on the video "reprehensible." Chicago-based Mercy For Animals says the undercover video was shot between April 28 and Sunday.

The video is available at:

It is graphic and disturbing.

Lowering loads: food safety starts on the farm

Every time some government type says there are more cases of E. coli O157:H7 and other dangerous bacteria in the summertime because people barbeque more, I cringe. It’s one of those blame-the-consumer comments when the reality is more complicated. 

Most food safety interventions are designed to reduce or eliminate pathogen loads – to lower the number of harmful bugs from farm-to-fork. A piece of highly-contaminated meat can wreck cross-contamination havoc in a food service or home kitchen.

Elizabeth Weise writes in USA Today today that animals carry higher levels of E. coli O157:H7 and friends during the summer months, and summarizes efforts to lower bacterial loads on animals entering slaughter plants.

Jerold Mande, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, said last month,

"To take the next big step forward on food safety, we need to do more to have fewer pathogens on food animals when they arrive at the slaughterhouse gate.”

Jim Marsden of Kansas State University said that microbiologically, the biggest "bang for the buck" is cleaning the bacteria off the hide or the carcass to keep it from coming into contact with the meat.

Weise writes that a number of possible interventions are in the works. Each, it is hoped, might take down the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 by a factor of 100. Below is the edited list.

Vaccines: Gut warfare

Probably the most hopeful are vaccines that lower the amount of O157:H7 in cattle’s guts. Two are furthest along, one from a Minnesota company called Epitopix and one by a Canadian company called Bioniche Life Sciences. Epitopix’s vaccine has received preliminary approval from the USDA and is being tested in the USA. Bioniche’s vaccine was approved in Canada last year and is in the approval process in the USA. In addition, scientists at the USDA’s National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, have developed two more vaccines.

Field trials of the Epitopix vaccine showed that 86% of vaccinated cattle stopped shedding O157:H7 bacteria in their feces. Of those that still were shedding bacteria, there was a 98% reduction in the amount, says Daniel Thomson (left, photo from USA Today), a veterinarian and professor of Production Medicine at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., who has studied the effectiveness of vaccine for the company.

The issue for cattlemen will be the costs of the two or three shots necessary to create immunity and the wear and tear on the cattle caused by bringing them in to be vaccinated. Going through the chute that holds them still while they’re given the shot, necessary to safeguard workers, can cause some cattle to become agitated.

Phages: A spray of bacteria fighters

Cattle walking through a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses called phages sounds more science fiction than feedlot, but it’s actually in use across the USA. In cattle, a phage that is specific to E. coli O157:H7 is sprayed on the animals one to four hours before they’re slaughtered. "They like to have them soak," says Dan Schaefer, director of beef research and development at in Wichita. Cargill is testing the spray at one of its plants.

Probiotics: ‘Exclusion’ cultures

Basically these are bacterial cultures much like those in yogurt, given to cattle in their feed. They’re called "competitive exclusion" cultures because they out-compete the bad bacteria and exclude them in the animals’ guts. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin, spent years investigating them.

One for E. coli O157:H7 "worked really well for a while and then it stopped working for a while," he says. Doses required are often higher than those claimed by the companies that sell them, he says. Currently these aren’t approved by USDA or FDA as E. coli reduction methods, so the companies that market them can’t make any specific claims for them.

Sodium chlorate: A ‘suicide pill’

This chemical is used in part to do environmentally safe paper bleaching. But administered in extremely small amounts, it also plays a deadly trick on E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella.

In the oxygen-free environment of a cow’s gut, these bacteria are able to obtain energy from nitrogen. But they can’t tell the difference between nitrogen and chlorate, so if there’s chlorate present, they try to use that. This turns the chlorate into bleach, killing the bacteria from the inside without harming the animal.

Grain vs. high-quality hay

Research in Texas, Kansas and Idaho has shown that switching cattle from grain to a more expensive diet of high quality hay before slaughter may lower E. coli O157:H7 rates, though the findings have not always been consistent.

From an epidemiologic standpoint, it’s clear that these pre-slaughter interventions lower the E. coli O157:H7 burden in the cattle, says Guy Loneragan, a professor of animal science and expert in O157:H7 in cattle at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.

The question is whether investing money on the ranch and feedlot will save money at the packing plant.

Hinting at food safety – marketers play games but invoke consumer concerns

I shop at Dillons in Manhattan (Kansas), owned by Kroger. I’ve gotten to know the staff, we talk food safety stuff, and I’ve really enjoyed the few times I’ve chatted with Gale Prince, who used to be head of food safety at Kroger.

But I don’t understand the press release Kroger sent out today about its new line of salads which includes new technology on the packaging that enables customers to learn where the produce was grown as part of Kroger’s "Quality You Can Trace" program.

I don’t really care where it was grown. I do care if it was grown in cow shit.

The Kroger’s Fresh Selections are the only salads with HarvestMark technology sold in the U.S. today. Each bag carries a 16-digit code shoppers can enter at HarvestMark.com to learn more about the salad’s origin, packing location, ingredients, date and time the product was packed.  Customers can also offer their feedback on the product.

The PR BS goes on to say,

"Kroger continues to be a leader in offering customers innovative food safety tools and resources," said Joe Grieshaber, group vice president of Kroger’s meat, seafood, deli and produce departments.  …  Food safety is a top priority at Kroger.  Our partnership with HarvestMark makes it easy for customers who are interested to learn more about the food they purchase for themselves and their families. 

This has nothing to do with food safety. A food safety program for leafy greens would provide at retail – or at least through a url – practices on irrigation water testing, soli amendments and human hygiene programs for the workers. Market food safety directly and stop dancing.

Left, is a bag of Dole spring mix, purchased at Dillons. Included on the package is a salad guide that says taste, 4, on the mild to bold scale, and texture is 2 on the tender to crunchy guide.

The label also says the spring mix pairs well with balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled goat cheese, julienne sliced sun-dried tomatoes and a pinch of Mediterranean herbs. It’s thoroughly washed, preservative free and all natural. And Kosher certified and has a recipe for Balsamic vinaigrette.

I want to know if it has E. coli and is going to make me barf. Don’t eat poop. And if you do, cook it.

Killer cows

Cows can be dangerous.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported last week that from 2003-2007, cattle were the primary or secondary cause of death for 108 people.

During the same period, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska accounted for 16% of the nation’s approximately 985,000 cattle operations and 21% of the nation’s cattle and calf herd.

To better characterize cattle-caused deaths in these four states, investigators reviewed all such deaths occurring during the period 2003–2008 that were detected by two surveillance programs, the Iowa Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (IA FACE) and the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health (GPCAH). This report summarizes that investigation, which identified 21 cattle-related deaths. These deaths occurred throughout the year, and decedents tended to be older (aged ≥60 years) (67%) and male (95%). Except in one case, the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head or chest. Circumstances associated with these deaths included working with cattle in enclosed areas (33%), moving or herding cattle (24%), loading (14%), and feeding (14%). One third of the deaths were caused by animals that had previously exhibited aggressive behavior.

To reduce the risk for death from cattle-caused injuries, farmers and ranchers should be aware of and follow recommended practices for safe livestock-handling facilities and proper precautions for working with cattle, especially cattle that have exhibited aggressiveness.

E. coli O157:H7 and cattle diet – it’s messy

“If only” is often how statements begin by food safety wannabes who are sure they have stumbled upon a vast conspiracy meant to subjugate society.

If only Monsanto didn’t genetically-engineer seeds …

If only products like milk were served raw and natural …

If only cattle were fed grass, there would be no E. coli O157:H7.

When someone makes such proclamations, or says they speak fact, usually with an air of authority, I immediately think that person is full of it. People who say “trust me” are immediately untrustworthy.

Megan Jacob, Todd Callaway, and T.G. Nagaraja of Kansas State University write about the dietary interactions and interventions affecting Escherichia coli O157 colonization and shedding in cattle in an upcoming issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. It’s not a movie, not a blog, not a pulp fiction, so they sorta have to get it right. And they do, when they write:

“The specific mechanisms responsible for increased or decreased E. coli O157 shedding or survival are not known … results of studies are conflicting or not repeatable, which speaks to the complexity of the hindgut ecosystem, variation in animal feed utilization, and variation within feed products.”

The complete abstract is below.

Escherichia coli O157 is an important foodborne pathogen affecting human health and the beef cattle industry. Contamination of carcasses at slaughter is correlated to the prevalence of E. coli O157 in cattle feces. Many associations have been made between dietary factors and E. coli O157 prevalence in cattle feces. Preharvest interventions, such as diet management, could reduce the fecal prevalence and diminish the impact of this adulterant. Dietary influences, including grain type and processing method, forage quality, and distillers grains have all been associated with E. coli O157 prevalence. In addition, several plant compounds, including phenolic acids and essential oils, have been proposed as in-feed intervention strategies. The specific mechanisms responsible for increased or decreased E. coli O157 shedding or survival are not known but are often attributed to changes in hindgut ecology induced by diet types. Some interventions may have a direct bacterial effect. Frequently, results of studies are conflicting or not repeatable, which speaks to the complexity of the hindgut ecosystem, variation in animal feed utilization, and variation within feed products. Still, understanding specific mechanisms, driven by diet influences, responsible for E. coli O157 shedding will aid in the development and implementation of better and practical preharvest intervention strategies.

India to launch cow urine as soft drink

India’s Hindu nationalist movement is preparing to market a new soft drink made from cow urine.

Om Prakash, the head of the Cow Protection Department of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s biggest and oldest Hindu nationalist group, said the drink – called "gau jal", or "cow water" – in Sanskrit was undergoing laboratory tests and would be launched "very soon, maybe by the end of this year".

"Don’t worry, it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too."

In 2001, the RSS and its offshoots began promoting cow urine as a cure for ailments ranging from liver disease to obesity and even cancer.

Bovine super-shedders and E. coli O157:H7

Chuck Dodd, a veterinarian in the U.S. Army, currently disguised as a graduate student in Food Science at Kansas State University who spends a lot of time collecting poop (right below, exactly as shown), writes that researchers have now concluded that some cows present a greater risk for beef contamination by shedding higher concentrations of Escherichia coli O157 in their feces.

Some food safety researchers, including me, have begun to label these cows as super-shedders. But that may be a witch hunt, or in this case, a super-shedder hunt.

Escherichia coli O157 remains a significant cause of foodborne illness in the United States. From 1982 to 2002, there were 350 reported outbreaks of E. coli O157 in which 8,598 people became ill. Almost 1,500 were hospitalized and 40 died. During this period, 41 percent of food-related E. coli O157 outbreaks were associated with the consumption of contaminated ground beef. Ground beef that came from cattle. Cattle that may have been shedding very high levels of E. coli O157 in their feces.

Cattle do not get sick if they carry E. coli O157 in their feces. A cow with E. coli O157 looks just like any other cow. In order to discriminate, the feces must be tested. Test methods have improved and now the organisms can be detected at lower concentrations in the feces. The numbers of organisms can also be estimated; hence, food safety researchers are able to separate the super-shedders from the low-shedders. Cattle can also be identified that are not carrying E. coli O157.

Studies have shown that E. coli O157 in cattle feces or on cattle hides is correlated with the detectable presence of E. coli O157 on the carcass. Carcass contamination likely occurs during the hide removal and evisceration process; this leads to the contamination of individual beef products sold at retail. In order to mitigate the risk of E. coli O157 contamination in ground beef, the beef industry employs pre- and post-harvest interventions. Yet some bacteria still make it through the harvest process.

Researchers are now scrutinizing cattle because their feces may have a super-sized dose of E. coli O157. Their theory: if the beef industry can detect and mitigate super-shedders, they can mitigate contamination of beef.

But is super-shedding super-bad? Maybe not.

Cattle with higher concentrations of E. coli O157 in their feces probably pose a higher risk for the eventual contamination of beef; however, the fecal shedding of these organisms comes and goes. Fecal shedding may depend upon host immunity and the environment (neither of which are the cow’s fault). What if a super-shedder on Saturday becomes a low-shedder on Sunday? What if a super-shedder is simply having a bad E. coli day? Does a high fecal concentration of E. coli O157 overwhelm the interventions that exist from farm-to-fork?

Researchers have asked whether the variation in fecal shedding “arises from the inherent stochasticity in transmission dynamics or is a signature of underlying heterogeneities in the cattle population.” Translation: are the differences in fecal shedding simply random or is it because cattle are simply different? Apparently, the fecal shedding of E. coli O157 varies by animal and by day.

Admittedly, due to the transience of E. coli O157 in cattle, a steer may shed a lot on the day of harvest. Nevertheless, if transience is real, then some days cattle may pose a high risk, low risk, or negligible risk.

The new super-shedder hunt may lengthen the path in preventing foodborne illness due to E. coli O157. Some cattle carry E. coli O157 and some don’t. There may be some benefit in knowing which cattle are shedding more than 100,000 E. coli O157 per gram in their feces on a given day, but will this knowledge prevent beef contamination? Perhaps, if it is the day of harvest.

Dog or beef for dinner?

I think it’s funny the way my roommate from India always asks before taking food from anyone if it contains any beef.

If the answer is yes, she tries hard to hide her face of disgust and politely says, “No thanks.”

It is not surprising. Indians consider cows to be sacred and magical, more than what we think of our pets.

I imagine the same reaction in American tourists when scanning the dog section of a restaurant menu during their trip to the Olympics.

The Beijing Catering Trade Association banned dog meat from the Menu of all the 112 designated Olympic Restaurants, to avoid this reaction of dog-loving tourists.

It is a big disappointment for those who were daring enough to try this treat they would never be able to consume in their own countries.

However, it is probably not going to affect the residents, since they don’t tend to eat dog meat during the hot months of summer anyway.

All this fuss about banning dog meat in Beijing during the Olympic season makes me wonder if officers should be more concerned about food safety rather than scaring off a few tourists.

In the end, isn’t killing a dog for its meat the same as having beef for dinner? My Indian roommate would probably agree.