Oh good Lord. The Wall Street Journal is reporting (short “preview” only, though a bit more is clipped here) that ethanol mandates and subsidies (government support for the corn-based biofuels industry, in other words) have driven the price of industrial-grade American corn so high that it’s no longer economical for farmers to feed their livestock with the stuff.
Corn has been the foundation of much livestock feed for decades, partly thanks to different government subsidies that glutted the market and drove the price down so low that farmers who raised animals almost couldn’t afford not to use it. It’s high-energy, low-priced feed that fattens animals up to market weights fast, though research suggests that animals getting low-quality nutrition end up as low-quality food for humans. Michael Pollan treats this at some length in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but here’s a quickie version:
We have come to think of ”cornfed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue; we shouldn’t. Granted, a cornfed cow develops well-marbled flesh, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have learned to like. Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat, since it contains more saturated fat. A recent study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass-fed livestock not only had substantially less fat than grain-fed meat but that the type of fats found in grass-fed meat were much healthier. (Grass-fed meat has more omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6, which is believed to promote heart disease; it also contains betacarotine and CLA, another ”good” fat.) A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with cornfed beef. In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals. Yet the U.S.D.A.’s grading system continues to reward marbling — that is, intermuscular fat — and thus the feeding of corn to cows.
Anyway, now that corn is expensive, farmers are finding alternatives. According to the Journal, one of them is human junk food:
“Pigs can be picky eaters,” Mr. Smith says, scooping a handful of banana chips, yogurt-covered raisins, dried papaya and cashews from one of the 12 one-ton boxes in his shed. Generally, he says, “they like the sweet stuff.”
I don’t know — maybe raisins and papaya and cashews make higher-quality pig feed than corn does. But chocolate syrup and expired cookies and candy bars and “uncooked french fries, Tater Tots and hash browns” can’t possibly. Ick.
I wonder what we’d feed animals if governments weren’t busy screwing up the agriculture markets so badly. I bet it wouldn’t be old candy bars.