Want it or not, says Animal Factory author David Kirby in an April 9, 2010, Huffington Post article - you're likely to get it. "Poultry excrement is loaded with urea, which bovine stomachs are adept at converting into lean, ready-to-grill protein," he writes. "We feed chicken manure to cattle because it's cheap; and because we produce far too much of it to properly dispose of as fertilizer."
In the 1960s and 70s, writes Nicolette Hahn Niman in Righteous Porkchop, “agribusiness researchers came to regard all kinds of poop as acceptable cattle feed (and poultry and pig feed too)." The Food and Drug Administration was not especially bothered by this. Check out chapter 2 of their 1980 document Feed from Animal Wastes for a complete run-down on how to feed chicken poop to cows, cow dung to chickens, etc.
Ah, but that was 30 years ago. In the meantime we've had all kinds of scares: BSE ("mad cow disease"), salmonella and campylobacter, e coli ... surely the FDA has tightened its rules since then?
No, actually, the FDA and the USDA don't see anything wrong with second-hand poop. And if you think government regulators work hard and earn their salaries (think banking, Wall Street, oil spills, etc.), you probably feel quite confident that our food is safe. It won't turn your stomach to learn that many imported Chinese shrimp dine on chicken feces dropped from cages hanging above their ponds (see this L.A. Times article), or that after a temporary U.S. ban on feeding poop to cattle (2003-2005), the FDA concluded that the practice is perfectly safe and allowed it to continue (see instructions, "Feeding Poultry Litter to Cattle," on the University of Missouri Extension website).
You won't be troubled by the fact that the rendering industry - the business that provides all that delectable manure to the animal feed companies - disliked the ban on bottom feeding and filed these comments with the FDA, arguing that there's no reason to lock the barn door if the horse hasn't been stolen, providing laughable arithmetic computations to try to prove that BSE is not a danger, and engaging in a little jingoism: "It is our firm conviction that we must refrain from erroneously emulating the European legislation and instead pursue policies, which closely reflect the true state of affairs in this country." And you won't worry over the fact that the FDA listened to them.
Kirby describes the FDA response to agribusiness in 2004, and the government's lackadaisical attitude then and now:
In 2004, the FDA proposed banning poultry litter in cattle feed, to avoid the spread of BSE. It was already outlawed in Canada. But days later, the agency postponed its change, citing "troubling feedback" from the agricultural sector. Some foreign countries balked at buying US beef, but the Bush Administration held firm, refusing to commit to a deadline...
I imagined that the Obama Administration would complete the work left undone by Bush and enact a universal ban on feeding beef products to cattle. Instead, I discovered that Obama's FDA had ratified what his predecessor proposed: Doing nothing.You might want to check out the stats on agribusiness influence and lobbying. It doesn't look like we'll have an abundance of poop-free meat anytime soon.
Meanwhile, if you don't like the idea of eating second-hand poop, all you have to do is avoid shit-eating factory-farmed animals. The ascetically inclined may choose veganism. The rest of us can look for meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs at the farmers' market, or that bear at least one of these labels:
- 100% organic
- 100% grass fed
- animal welfare approved