Food safety cooperative VeriPrime has proposed a pilot program that would test the preventive effectiveness of E. coli vaccines in cattle and expand their use. “We’re looking to reduce E. coli in beef and E. coli in the environment as well,” said veterinarian Scott Crain, VeriPrime founder and CEO. The five-year on-farm intervention would begin by vaccinating calves and introducing probiotics into cattle feed, followed by monitoring of E. coli levels. “If the vaccine proves itself in the production setting in large groups, we would then expand to larger and larger groups,” Crain said. “If, at the end of the day, it continues to perform, we would give the vaccine to mother cow and the calf on the ranch prior to leaving the farm.” But Crain is concerned that even if half of the industry were to vaccinate their cattle, co-mingling of vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals along the production chain would counteract any benefit. The dilemma then becomes, “How do you install this program in a fashion that you can prove that it works and that, in the end, it is applied by the entire or the majority of the industry,” Crain said. Studies have suggested that implementation of an E. coli vaccine could reduce human illnesses by as much as 83 percent, but because cattle are asymptomatic carriers for the zoonotic disease, ranchers bear the cost of the vaccine without seeing much direct benefit. Consumer advocate group STOP Foodborne Illness has thrown its support behind the program, advocating for intervention at the earliest point in the production chain. “By reducing the incidence of these deadly pathogens in food animals, illnesses and deaths from contaminated food will be prevented,” said STOP spokesperson Nancy Donley in a statement. “How many more people have to be sickened or die before a vaccine that is promising in other smaller studies is finally implemented in a formal five-year trial program?”