A Kansas State University epidemiologist will use a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for improving food safety in beef and dairy cattle systems in the U.S. and Canada.

H. Morgan Scott, a professor in K-State’s department of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, will collaborate on the project with researchers from the 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 progress and achievements of the integrated project will be evaluated by K-State’s office of educational innovation and evaluation.

"Our overall goal is to identify, evaluate and implement practical interventions for managing antibiotic resistance in beef and dairy cattle systems," Scott said. "We focus on the longstanding problem of resistance emergence, dissemination and persistence among enteric bacteria. If pathogenic bacteria resistant to antibiotics enter the food chain, treatment of humans can be complicated."

Scott said researchers will use a variety of methods to assess, and then improve, the quality of education and extension materials, such as veterinary curricula and commodity specific prudent-use guidelines.

"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. "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.

"We want to employ molecular microbiology to discover the mechanisms underlying several paradoxical responses of resistant strains to antibiotic selection pressures," Scott said. "Next it will be critical to field-test practical interventions designed to effectively manage antibiotic resistance levels in production, as well as near-slaughter phases of beef and dairy cattle systems."

Scientifically proven interventions will be shared with interested parties and decision makers in the cattle industry, who will be encouraged to further evaluate those methods in their production systems, Scott said. Decision makers also will be warned of ineffective interventions.

Scott said collaborating with other schools and working outside the research lab are important parts of the project. He and his lab students will visit feed yards and dairy production facilities to work directly with cattle.

"We plan to develop an integrated model to assess the temporal dynamics of antibiotic resistance and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to mitigate its dissemination in cattle systems," Scott said. "This model will be available for education and extension purposes as a very effective demonstration tool. We also hope this will greatly enhance detection of early-resistant E. coli, and we will be able to better estimate animal-level prevalence of resistance carriage through enhanced surveillance. We expect that our new approach will yield earlier detection and characterization of resistance to critically important antibiotics."

Scott said the ultimate goal of the project is to come up with solutions that can be used quickly and effectively industrywide.