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USDA pans Ont. firm’s E. coli vaccine

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s review of an Ontario firm’s vaccine to reduce E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle doesn’t support a license for the product at this time, the manufacturer said today.

Bioniche Life Sciences of Belleville, Ont., said it plans to submit more statistical analyses and rationale to USDA in the weeks to come, but if the department won’t budge, Bioniche said it will have to take on further studies of its product in 2008.

USDA based its decision on its statistical treatment of results from a field use study conducted by the University of Nebraska last year, Bioniche said in a release.

This news comes the week after a cattle operation with sites in Ontario and Saskatchewan became the world’s first to use the vaccine on its animals, under a permit granted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The vaccine remains under “conditional authorization” from CFIA, which means cattle producers can apply through their veterinarians to the agency for a permit to use the vaccine while it’s under review here in Canada.

CFIA granted the conditional use in 2006, after which Bioniche stepped up its production. The Ontario government recently provided $2 million to help the company ramp up production to commercial levels.

In its release announcing USDA’s decision, Bioniche stressed that there remains a “pressing need” for reducing E. coli 01157:H7 shed into the environment by cattle, “as proven by the recent U.S. recall of 21.7 million pounds of ground beef due to potential E. coli 0157:H7 contamination… and further produce-related outbreaks/recalls.”

E. coli 0157:H7 is one of the more toxic E. coli bacteria from cattle’s digestive systems, causing abdominal illness in people and, in about 15 per cent of cases, kidney damage or renal failure.

While often called “hamburger disease” for its association with meat contaminated at slaughter, the bacteria can also spread through contaminated fruit or vegetable crops fertilized with poorly composted livestock manure or irrigated with infected water, or through poor hygiene during food handling or preparation.

The beef recall to which Bioniche referred is now considered the second-largest beef recall in U.S. history.

Topps Meat Co., the New Jersey hamburger company whose ground beef patties are at the heart of the recall, announced today that it’s going out of business effective immediately. Billed as the largest U.S. maker of frozen hamburgers, Topps said in a release that it “cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large.”

News reports say U.S. officials have so far linked 30 cases of E. coli-related illness, but no deaths, to the meat products now being recalled.

Bioniche (BNC:TSX) was trading at 76 cents at 2:49 p.m. Toronto time, down from an opening price of $1 and yesterday’s close of $1.16.

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