Natural compounds may offer an alternative to certain antibiotics in the future for treating young animals that are susceptible to bacterial infections, thanks to work by USDA scientists.

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food Safety and Feed Safety Research Unit in College Station, TX, have invented a new method that involves using chlorate (sodium or salt) and nitro compounds to significantly reduce or eliminate intestinal bacterial pathogens in animals such as piglets and calves. Nitro compounds are organic substances that contain one or more nitro groups, which consist of three atoms—one of nitrogen and two of oxygen—that act as one.

Chlorate and nitro compounds have proven to be effective against the foodborne pathogens Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7. Salmonella alone causes more than 1.3 million cases of human foodborne disease each year, at a cost of $2.4 billion. Salmonella and certain E. coli strains also cause considerable losses to the swine and cattle industries due to enteric or intestinal diseases of newborns.

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