Junk food for pigs and cows

A very strange thing is happening right now in livestock operations in the United States. As corn becomes a hot commodity for ethanol production, livestock producers are replacing some of their animal feed with products that would look more at home in the candy aisles of supermarkets. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, producers are feeding their cows and pigs an odd assortment of junk food, including hard candy, trail mix, licorice, chocolate bars, French fries, and cheese curls, among other things.

Why would farmers mix sugary, salty, and high-fat foods into animal feed? Corn prices have jumped to $4 a bushel, twice the level of just a few years ago. And as corn prices go up, it means that farmers have to pay more to get their animals to slaughter weight. They have found, not surprisingly, that tater tots, peanuts, and chocolate chips can pack on the pounds. Some cattle producers have replaced 100 percent of their feed with discarded junk food.

More than half a century ago, the livestock industry started messing with animals’ diets, confining them indoors, and replacing their natural grass diet with a high-protein diet of grain. Why? Thanks to subsidies that encouraged overproduction, corn and soybeans were cheap. But today, with these inputs not quite as alluring, it’s somehow become cost effective to feed livestock—the very animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates—discarded junk food. That’s definitely not a step in the right direction