FYI: Ethanol Fuel is NOT Linked to E. Coli


Before we get too far, I want you to know that ethanol does not increase E. coli contamination. I know, I know: Mother Jones recently published an article that ethanol production is linked to E. coli contamination, and (for better or worse) Mother Jones is usually a go-to. I get it, and I’ll get back to that.

First, I want to remind you that it’s easier to fool someone than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.

With that in mind, I sympathize with everyone who believed that report in Mother Jones. Ethanol has taken a serious beating in the press. From sea to shining sea in the US, you’ll hear opponents of ethanol bark craziness about the fuel damaging engines, reducing fuel supplies, voiding warranties, etc., etc. and almost everyone making those claims read them somewhere or has a friend who has a cousin who’s a mechanic who told them some common ethanol tale of woe and despair. The problem, of course, is that most of the ethanol “facts” you read about in mainstream hysterical, sensationalist media are much more crap than fact.

Remember that whole “food vs. fuel” nonsense from a few years ago published by the AAPS, which turned out to be a group of GOP-funded AIDS-deniers that I called “a malicious, racist, and homophobic bunch of douchebags” who claimed that biofuel production was causally related to some 200,000 global deaths each year? If you don’t, feel free to read up on it again.

What about that Libertarian clap-trap against ethanol mandates that go on and on about cutting ethanol subsidies and “letting the market decide” on a fuel? I’d be all for that … if oil wasn’t much more heavily subsidized than ethanol, that is.

That thing about engines getting damaged by ethanol use? The federal government doesn’t seem to think ethanol is fundamentally damaging, and my own experience in motorsports and high-end street tuning is that E85 works just fine, thanks!

SO, taking all of the negatives you see about ethanol in the press and hear about during snake-handling sessions at the local tent revival into account, it’s easy to understand how Mother Jones might get this one wrong … and FuelsAmerica did a great job of pointing out just how wrong!

I’ve included text from their original article, below. You should definitely check it out.

Fact Check: Tom Philpott and DDGs

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones recently published a sensationalist, irresponsibly reported blog post insinuating that ethanol production is linked to E. coli contamination. This post ignored public health trends, as well as a wealth of peer-reviewed data on the safety of DDGS, and cherry-picked one study that did not demonstrate a causal link.

There have been a number of peer-reviewed independent studies on food safety that have addressed the issue of distillers grains, a co-product of ethanol production, and they all come to the same conclusion: using DDGs, a high quality animal feed, does not have the health impacts that Philpott alleges. Most importantly, a new study out of Kansas State University (Dec 2012), the same university that published a study in 2007 that the article cites, corrected their previous work, saying:

“There were no significant differences in the concentration of E. coli O157:H7 between animals receiving DDGS and the one receiving only steam-flaked corn. Neither the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 positive samples, nor the concentration of the bacteria in the positive samples, were affected by the presence or absence of DDGS in the diets. These observations concur with the absence of statistical differences in the colonization rate and prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the gastrointestinal tract between the two groups of animals. There was no relationship between the use of DDGS in the diet and the level of E. coli O157:H7 shedding in cattle in this study.”

There are a wealth of additional, recent peer reviewed studies highlighting the fact that there are no e. coli health risks associated with DDGs:

(May 2013) published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, the study says: “DDGS had no effect on the STEC O157 prevalence in cattle populations.”

(Jan. 2013) published in Journal of Food Protection, the study says: “Feeding diets containing DDGS had no effect (P > 0.05) on the intensity or duration of fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7 compared with the standard barley grain finishing diet.”

(Dec. 2012) published by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, the report says: “Neither corn distillers grains, nor soy glycerin, in steam-flaked corn-based diets supported shedding of E. coli O157:H7.”

(Feb. 2012) a study by Canadian Dept. of Ag published in the Journal of Animal Science says: “Inclusion of DDGS in cattle finishing diets had no effect on fecal shedding (P = 0.650) or persistence (P = 0.953) of E. coli O157:H7.”

There are more studies to cite, but suffice it to say Philpott selectively picked an old study to create a sensationalist story where there is none.

A quick look at public health trends supports the truth outlined in the above studies: E. coli incidences found in ground beef sampling have dropped by more than 90% in the last decade. This is the same timeframe that DDGs production has increased many times over:

DDG chart

DDGs are not only safe, they are among the highest quality feed available. They are an export item for the US, helping to support economic growth, and they are a key to meeting the rising demand for livestock across the globe. Don’t let an irresponsible journalist trick you into believing otherwise.

Source: Fuels America.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.