Thursday, April 9, 2009

ethanol raises eyebrows over antibiotics

According the The Associated Press, ethanol's main byproduct--which is sold for livestock feed--has been linked to heightened rates of E. coli in cows. What gives?

The enzymes, yeast, and sugar needed to create ethanol also can produce a lactic acid which compromises the fuel. To combat this, producers use penicillin and another antibiotic called virginiamycin to kill the bacteria. But this treatment can produce "superbugs," which become immune to antibiotics. This can threaten the effectiveness of healthcare among humans--raising eyebrows as to whether these superbugs can travel through the foodchain and affect us.

While the foodchain might be in danger, restricton of these antibiotics also has repurcussions down the economic chain:

Distillers grain is a major source of low-cost livestock feed. Any restrictions on its sale and use as feed will hurt the profit-scarce ethanol industry and the livestock farmers who rely on it.

Charlie Staff, executive director of the Distillers Grain Technology Council, said distillers grain is one of the few dependable moneymakers left for the ethanol industry.

"If they didn't have distillers grain as a revenue, many more of them wouldn't be able to operate," said Staff.

Meanwhile the regulatory process continues to play out. The FDA will test more distillers grain samples, and expects to issue a final report this summer.

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