USDA scientists at College Station, TX have discovered that providing sodium chlorate in the drinking water or feed of livestock will reduce the intestinal concentrations of bacteria harmful to humans.

The research is significant because it may lead to alternatives to antibiotics in animal agriculture now used to reduce or eliminate disease-causing pathogens.

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The findings by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food and Feed Research Unit at College Station are being published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Animal Science.

The organic compounds could be used to check pathogen growth in pork and beef.

The researchers say sodium chlorate has been used in agricultural applications for over 100 years.

“To date, the body of literature suggests that chlorate salts are active against human pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7; that chlorate salts are very well tolerated by most species of animals; and that chlorate is metabolized in food and laboratory animals to a single, non-toxic metabolite,” the researchers wrote.  “Collectively, these results suggest that chlorate salts could be developed into a useful and safe feed or water additive for use in livestock.”

In previous research, a team led by microbiologist Robin Anderson mixed a chlorate-based compound with cattle feed and water, and found the compound was highly effective against E. coli.  It was also shown to reduce Salmonella in broiler chickens and turkeys.

Previously used as a herbicide and food preservative, the agricultural industry has looked for other uses for sodium chlorate for the past century.  In 2000, USDA researchers proposed using it against enterobacteria in food animal production.

“Specifically, when orally dosed in livestock, chlorate reduced the fecal shedding of common enteropathogens of the Enterobacteriaceae family, ” the researchers explained. “This was a revolutionary discovery, especially in an age and society where much emphasis is placed on food safety, bacterial antibiotic resistance, and curtailing use of feed-grade antibiotics. 

“Recently, much progress has been made in testing the antimicrobial efficacy of sodium chlorate in various food animal species. Subsequent results have prompted the food animal and feeding industries to consider large scale and strategic use sodium chlorate in pre-slaughter management of food animals. However, application of any new chemical entity to food animal production carries with it a responsibility to understand adverse reactions that intended and non-intended exposures may have in target and(or) non-target animals and an understanding of the pathways of elimination that occur after exposure.”

In their article, the Texas-based scientists ” discuss the published data regarding the efficacy, metabolism and toxicology of chlorate salts in target (livestock) and non-target species.”