A Kansas State University epidemiologist has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve food safety by managing antibiotic resistance in beef and dairy cattle.

H. Morgan Scott, a professor in Kansas State University’s department of diagnostic medicine and pathology, said the research will focus on “the longstanding problem” of resistant enteric bacteria.

Antibiotics are commonly used to treat animals, but are also used as food supplements in the beef and dairy industry.  There have been increased calls for more regulation of the practices,  and growing concerns about whether pathogenic bacteria resistant to antibiotics are entering the food chain and may potentially affect human health.

“Threats to the continued use of several common agricultural formulations of antimicrobials are looming in the form of FDA guidance documents and draft federal legislation,” Scott said in the KSU news release.  “Having scientifically proven tools available to veterinarians and producers to counter bacterial resistance where and when it arises is essential to maintaining public trust in our abilities to manage threats to public health.”

The costs to animal agriculture will be tremendous if certain classes or uses of antibiotics are no longer available, Scott said.

“The use of antibiotics for treatment and prevention of bacterial infections in beef and dairy cattle is essential for producing safe and wholesome food for consumers, for maximizing the welfare of animals, and for sustaining profitability in animal agriculture,” he said.

The university reported that Scott will be working with researchers from University of Guelph, Angelo State University, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University, Cornell University, Colorado State University and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The research results, including effective and ineffective interventions, will be shared with industry principles.

Scott is also hopeful that the research will lead to improvements in the level of detection of early-resistant E. coli.