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Dr. Thakur Recipient of USDA Grant

Dr. Siddhartha Thakur, assistant professor of swine health and reproduction in the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology, has received a three-year, $592,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study the occurrence of Salmonella in pigs that haven't been given anti-microbial drugs either for treatment or growth promotion.

Dr. Thakur, a member of the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, will take samples from pig populations, their environments, and pork processing plants to determine the strains of the Salmonella pathogen that these pigs may be exposed to, as well as the rate of infection in these environments.

Anti-microbial free pigs, or ABF pigs, haven't been given anti-microbial treatments that speed growth and kill certain pathogens. Pork producers are increasing their stock of ABF pigs in response to increasing demand from consumers for "naturally grown" pork. Some of the ABF pig farms also raise their pigs outdoors instead of in barns, which can open new avenues for possible Salmonella contamination.

"Salmonella is responsible for most of the bacterial food-borne illnesses in the U.S.," Dr. Thakur says. "It affects up to an estimated 1.5 million people per year in this country alone, so it's vital that we protect our food supply from Salmonella contamination."

The grant is part of the USDA's National Integrated Food Safety Initiative. Dr. Thakur and colleague Dr. W.E. Morgan Morrow, an animal science professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, believe that the information from the study will both help protect the general population from food-borne illness, and enable pork producers to better prevent and control outbreaks.

"It will be a win-win situation for the farmers of North Carolina, who will receive information vital to the health of their farm animals, and for the consumers who can be certain that their food supply is safe," Dr. Thakur says.

--Tracey Peake

Posted May 21, 2008