Eat Beef? Think Twice

beefPeople who eat beef should think twice. They probably know cows are fed antibiotics, hormones, corn, wheat, all sorts of crappy stuff. But there is other junk cows are fed, some of it surprising–and deadly. For both cow and human.

According to OnEarth, feeding cows such junk can cause them to become infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, a fatal disease that attacks the brain and nervous system. This bovine disease can morph into the human variation of BSE, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The World Health Organization (WHO) states vCJD is rare but deadly; the disease was responsible for 175 reported cases in the United Kingdom and 49 cases in other countries between 1996 and 2011. The differences between vCJD and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are the age of the infected person and the extent of disease.

So, what junk are cows being fed? Well, sawdust is one. If that doesn’t sound awful enough, the sawdust is treated with nitric acid to strip it of a component called lignin so cows can easily digest the sawdust.

Another type of feed is candy. Bulk candy with wrappers. How difficult is it for a cow to digest candy wrappers? According to John Waller, an animal expert, cows can digest the plastic as well as anything else: “They probably would just pass through. I think it would pass through just like excess fiber would.” Plastic, however has no similarities to fiber, which is essential for proper digestion. Cows are fed all sorts of candy such as gummy bears, hard candy, marshmallows and chocolate. Any candy one can think of, cows have probably eaten it. This kind of feed is troublesome because candy has high sugar and fat content, thus making cows fatter, much like corn does. But when corn prices went sky high, candy became something ranchers could feed their cows.

A type of food fed to cows that can spread mad cow disease is chicken litter. When chicken coops are cleaned up and the feces scraped away, the contents are then fed to cows. The problem is not the feces itself but the contents, which usually contain feathers, antibiotics, vermin parts, heavy metals and most disturbing, bits of cow. When chicken coops are cleaned up, the uneaten chicken feed is also included, and what does chicken feed contain? Beef. The practice of feeding beef to cattle was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997, as this was discovered to be behind the spread of mad cow disease. But the ban hardly works if feeding chicken litter to cows is legal, when chicken feed includes beef parts. The ban does not extend to feeding beef to chickens or other poultry, either. Thus, the danger of cattle acquiring mad cow disease still remains.

Even more alarming is the fact there is no regulation on amount of chicken litter fed to cows. The responsibility of regulating chicken feed fell to the states in 1980. In a study conducted by Food Animal Concerns Trust, 21 out of 32 state agencies said they did not keep tabs on the amount of chicken litter fed to cattle under their authority. The FDA, however, estimates about one to two million tons of chicken litter are fed to U.S. cattle each year.

Ready for another surprise? Limestone is fed to cows because of its calcium content. The rock is ground up, and is considered a cheap form of calcium. Apparently, cows who ingest limestone as a supplemental feed were considered to have “desirable carcasses … with less fat and larger rib eyes.”

Cattle that live near coastal areas eat seafood parts, including guts. Seafood fed to cows include crabs, crawfish, and shrimp. The leftover fish parts are ground up into a meal; this is considered a cheap form of protein. The process of making fish meal is arduous, and involves cooking, pressing, drying and grinding. While this fish meal does not seem harmful, it is made with the preservative sodium nitrate with formaldehyde, which solidifies the fish during processing.

For those who eat beef, they should think twice. It may be wise to consume grass-fed, grass-finished or organic beef. Consuming this type of food means cattle are not fed any meat products whatsoever, and they eat vegetarian diets, as they are meant to.

By Juana Poareo

Mother Jones

On Earth

World Health Organization

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