Are we eating American beef raised on chicken manure? A commentary on behalf of the National Farmers Union Ontario.
When you think of cattle feed very few of us probably imagine chicken manure. Certainly it would be the last thing that would enter the mind of most of us from farmers to eaters. Some time ago the NFU was approached about the possible practice of feeding chicken litter to cattle in the United States, and potentially in other nations that export their beef to Canada. I say possible because it is really difficult for a farm organization in Canada to nail down what exactly is happening with this issue. Having spent a great deal of personal time trying to research this issue it has proven impossible to find the ‘smoking gun’ of how wide spread this practice is. Frankly it is going to take an enterprising news agency or journalist to follow this issue further. At this point it is hard to know where the truth really lies.
Here’s what we do know. Canada has banned this practice. The United States has not banned the practice of feeding chicken manure to cattle – quite the opposite in fact. You can find the following recommendation from the University of West Virginia (as an example) on the web by simply Googling ‘feeding chicken litter’:
The following rations are based on free choice feeding and is adequate for both dry and lactating cows. Because chicken litter is high in minerals, no salt or minerals need to be fed with this ration.
70% chicken litter
There are of course many concerns associated with eating beef fed on chicken ‘crap’. The more we learn about disease transfer – such as influenza viruses, the more we realize how at risk we are in our modern world. Chicken feed has as one of its ingredients cattle in the form of crude protein from meat and bone meal. In Canada we have banned the use of specified risk materials from all animal feed. However, in the United States this is not the case. While the FDA was on track to enact a ban on April 27th this has been delayed until at least June 26th and the American beef industry is asking for further delays.
So let’s step back and think about this for a second. It is a practice in the United States to feed chicken litter (manure) to cattle. SRMs – which have been connected to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) could conceivably be finding itself into the scattered feed in chicken litter. American cattle are potentially eating feed that could potentially be a link to BSE. That beef is potentially coming into Canada – and we Canadians do not want to seem to say – “uh isn’t something a bit odd here?” It seems more than likely that many of the other countries that are exporting beef to Canada, either in processed food or in straight forward cuts of beef may also be engaged in this practice.
As an eater I am shocked that a practice that could conceivably link our food directly to a variety of diseases being given a pass at our borders. It is equally shocking to consider the other nasty surprises that might be found in food that uses manure as a feed source. An organization like the NFU, or any farm organization really, simply does not have the resources to follow up on an issue like this. It is alarming to think we may all be inadvertently being exposed to this risk by the ignorance- wilful or otherwise- of our government. The NFU is hopeful that others with the resources necessary to follow the data will take up the challenge of either reassuring us this feeding chicken litter to cattle in America is not as widespread as it seems, or to expose this practice for the dangerous and foolish risk it is.
Grant Robertson is the senior elected official with the National Farmers Union-Ontario. As Ontario Coordinator Robertson is also a National Board Member of the NFU. Grant and his family farm near Paisley, Ontario. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org