'Last April, Dairy Herd Management carried a story about the "hidden downside" of distillers' grains. It turns out that the popular by-product feed often contains antibiotics left over from making ethanol.

Here is that story.

Our sister publication, Drovers, has now posted the following story:

Something’s brewing in the ethanol industry, and it isn’t just corn mash.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) recently released a report titled Fueling Resistance? Antibiotics in Ethanol Production, that criticizes ethanol producers for for what they claim is unnecessary use of antibiotics. Ethanol plants commonly use antimicrobials to prevent bacterial outbreaks that can interfere with the normal fermentation process.

“The epidemic of antibiotic resistance threatens every one of us,” says IATP representative David Wallinga, M.D. “The best way to keep our existing antibiotics effective is to stop unnecessary antibiotics wherever they are used — in hospitals, in animals and in ethanol production.”

The report from IATP suggests that antibiotic residues in distillers’ grains, widely used in livestock feed, could lead to a buildup of resistant pathogens.

Phibro Animal Health Corporation, which produces Lactrol, an antibiotic widely used in ethanol production, took exception to the report this week. According to a company release, antibiotics are a widely used and critical tool for infection management in renewable-fuels production. Through the use of small amounts of antibiotics such as Lactrol, the United States renewable fuels industry eliminates the need to cultivate an additional 3.2 million acres to produce an extra 500 million bushels of corn.

“IATP's position, that use of antibiotics in the production process results in residues in distillers' dried grains in turn putting human health at risk is a stunningly broad conclusion not based upon fact or science,” the company insists. The Phibro release lists several key points left out of the IATP's report, including:

  • The proper use of antibiotics is a safe practice in both renewable fuels and in animal husbandry that preserves our precious agricultural resources such as land and water.
  • Since its introduction in 1993, Lactrol has remained a safe product for use in renewable fuels production and distillers' grain production. It has been sold under an FDA letter of no objection in addition to the regulatory discretion of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
  • In the past 3 months Lactorl alone has been sold to far greater than 55 percent of the current operating plants. The IATP report, on the other hand claims that 45 percent of current producers – about 170 plants – are able to operate without antibiotics.

The IATP report asserts there are no reporting requirements for antibiotic use in ethanol production, so no reliable numbers are available on how widespread the practice is. “In 2008, the FDA found residues from four types of antibiotics in dried distillers’ grains — the nutrient-rich residue sold as livestock feed that is a co-product of ethanol production. The agency has yet to make its findings public or take enforcement action against any ethanol facilities,” the group claims.

Phibro strongly objects to claim. The company says the FDA has acknowledged that the cited study used a methodology differs from the validated bioassay method that has been the exclusive detection method for virginiamycin in feed. Virginiamycin is the active ingredient in Lactrol, and also is used in animal-health products. “The methodology employed by the FDA in the study cited could not, for example, show that the residues found had any bioactivity,” the company statement claims. Phibro also refers to a recently completed study, utilizing the historical bioassay method accepted by the FDA, and found no detection of virginiamycin in any of the residues. These results were consistent with previous testing in 2005 and 2007, conducted by an outside laboratory and Phibro's own technical service lab in St. Paul, Minn. 

Phibro goes on to dispute the notion that antibiotics in general, Lactrol in particular, have escaped regulatory oversight. “Phibro continues working with the FDA in an effort to expand the regulatory approval of Lactrol on the basis of new data relating to the safety and efficacy of the product for species such as laying hens and dairy cows,” the company says. “Phibro anticipates submitting its Food Additive Petition for Lactrol in the Fall of 2009.

The Fueling Resistance? Antibiotics in Ethanol Production report from IAP is available on the group’s Web site.

Source: Dairy Herd Management and Drovers staff reports