Parable Farm, Inc.

What's In Your Beef?

New term you need to know: "byproduct feedstuffs"

There seems to be no end to cost-cutting measures in the modern feedlot. To further lower the cost of feed, which accounts for 60 percent or more of the total cost of raising cattle, many cattle are fed "byproduct feedstuffs." Our cows eat fresh pasture and dried grasses, the natural diet of all ruminant animals. If you’re buying meat in a supermarket, here is what the animal that meat came from probably ate.

• An unnatural diet based on corn and soy.

• Sterilized city garbage from local landfills. Feedlot operators drive to the manufacturing plants or municipal landfills and load up their trucks.

• Candy (with the wrappers) and bubble gum. In New York State, chewing gum is used as a cheap feed supplement. The novel practice was recommended in a 1996 study in the Journal of Animal Science. The study concluded that stale chewing gum— still in its aluminum wrappers! — can "safely replace at least 30 percent of [cattle] growing or finishing diets without impairing feedlot performance or carcass quality."

• In other parts of the country, cattle are being finished on stale pizza dough and candy bars.

• According to a May 21, 2007, article in The Wall Street Journal, reliance on junk food has shot up in recent years because the cost of feed corn has doubled due to the increased use of corn for ethanol production. According to the article, one farmer now feeds his cattle a ration that is 17 percent stale candy and 3 percent stale "party mix." Another feeds a 100 percent byproduct diet, including French fries, tater tots and potato peels.

• Some byproduct feedstuffs are high in protein and are considered a welcome addition to a high-grain diet. This list includes chicken feathers, salvaged pet food, ground-up laying hens (known as "spent hen meal") and urea, a non-protein source of nitrogen synthesized from ammonia and carbon dioxide that is widely used as fertilizer. Urea can sicken cattle if not mixed carefully with feed. The USDA does not require producers to tell you what the animals were fed.

• Floor sweepings from plants that manufacture animal food, bakery, and potato wastes, or a scientific blend of pasta and candy.

Life on the Pharm

• Approximately 80% of all antibiotics sold in the country go to livestock and other animals

• People who are exposed to farm chemicals have a much greater rate of Parkinson’s Disease, according to recent studies. Whether they are farm workers who are applying the chemicals or people who happen to live nearby, exposure to chemicals such as paraquat or the fungicide "maneb" increases the risk of Parkinsonism by 75 percent. There is no cure for this progressive disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, mood, and behavior.

• Buying food that’s pesticide-free is good for you and for people in farming communities.

 A quick word about poultry, since we also sell chickens

• Few people realize that the European Union has banned the import of all US poultry since 1997. This month, EU agriculture ministers voted to continue the ban despite aggressive pressure from the United States. The issue? The standard practice in the US poultry industry is to wash the carcasses in chlorinated water to kill bacteria.

• The USDA hopes to save $85 million over three years by laying off 1,000 government inspectors and turning over their duties to company monitors who will staff the poultry processing lines in plants across the country. The poultry companies expect to save more than $250 million a year because they, in turn, will be allowed to speed up the processing lines to a dizzying 175 birds per minute with one USDA inspector at the end of the line, nearly double current speeds with 2 fewer inspectors. Cutbacks at the USDA have coincided with a significant rise in salmonella outbreaks.

Are hormone implants safe?

• Nine out of 10 U.S. calves are treated with hormonal growth promoters. You can assume that most of the beef in your supermarket contains hormone residues.

• The FDA has approved five hormone implant growth promoters for cattle. Three of them — estradiol, progesterone and testosterone — are naturally occurring hormones that are identical to those found in humans. Zeranol and trenbolone acetate are synthetic hormones that mimic natural ones. In addition, melengestrol acetate is approved as a feed additive. Some implants contain a mix of these various substances.

• Many consumers and advocacy groups are calling for a ban on these growth-promoting implants. They point to research showing that even trace amounts can promote tumor growth.

• At the Ohio State University, cancer researchers mixed human breast cancer cells with trace amounts of Zeranol, one of the five hormones used in U.S. cattle. Zeranol caused a significant spurt in tumor growth, even at levels 30 times lower than levels the FDA maintains are safe.