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Are humans endangered if cattle dine on chicken manure?

cows August 23, 1997
Web posted at: 1:52 p.m. EDT (1752 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As federal food safety inspectors search for the source of E. coli bacteria that contaminated ground beef from a Nebraska processing plant, a serious new threat to the U.S. beef supply is being overlooked, according to an upcoming article in U.S. News and World Report.

Increasingly, American cattle farmers feed their herds chicken manure, which health officials warn could contain dangerous bacteria that ends up in ground meat eaten by humans, the magazine reports in its September 1 issue. The waste that is mixed with livestock feed is a less expensive alternative to using grains and hay.

The practice is increasingly being used by cattle farmers in regions where there are large poultry operations -- and thus a ready supply of cheap manure -- such as California, the South and the mid-Atlantic states.

The U.S. News article cites as an example Dardanelle, Arkansas, farmer Lamar Carter, who recently bought 745 tons of manure from local chicken houses to feed his 800 head of cattle.

"My cows are as fat as butterballs," Carter said. "If I didn't have chicken litter, I'd have to sell half my herd. Other feed's too expensive."


Heating manure to 160 degrees kills bacteria

Chicken manure often contains campylobacteria and salmonella bacteria, which can make humans sick. Intestinal parasites, veterinary drug residues and heavy toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury are also often present in the waste, the article says.

The article points to a scientific study, soon to be published in the journal Preventive Medicine, that warns about the potential dangers of recycling chicken waste by feeding it to cattle.

"Feeding manure that has not been properly processed is supercharging the cattle feces with pathogens likely to cause disease in consumers," Dr. Neal Barnard, author of the study, warns in the U.S. News article.

While it may sound distasteful, this can be safe if the manure is heated to 160 degrees to kill the bacteria. But, the study says many farmers don't take that precaution.

There are no accurate statistics on how common the practice of feeding chicken manure to cattle is, the magazine report says, but with a recent ban on the use of slaughterhouse byproducts -- imposed because of the "mad cow" disease scare -- there is a shortage of cattle feed filler.

Until the ban, about 75 percent of the 90 million cattle in the United States were fed slaughterhouse wastes that included blood, bones and viscera.

Millions of euthanized cats and dogs, collected from veterinarians and animal shelters, have long been rendered into livestock feed each year, the article says.


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