Hey, remember that apocryphal anecdote where the French could not afford bread and Marie Antoinette was all, “let them eat cake,” and now everyone laughs and laughs because the thought was so comically backward? In totally unrelated news comes a report that ranchers are struggling to afford corn feed in this time of drought, shortages, and rising commodity prices. So they’re feeding their cows candy instead.
Mayfield, KY-based WPRI dropped the story of United Livestock Commodities a few days ago, but it’s just now beginning to pick up steam. United Livestock Commodities owner Joseph Watson has been dealing with skyrocketing corn prices by feeding his herd of 1,400 cows a substance made primarily of wholesome and nutritious secondhand candy, because it’s cheaper and it's fattening and why not:
"It has a higher ratio of fat than actually feeding straight corn," Watson explained. "It's hard to believe it will work but we've already seen the results of it now."
Watson mixes the candy with an ethanol by-product and a mineral nutrient. He says the cows have not shown any health problems from eating the candy, and they are gaining weight as they should.
"This ration is balanced to have not too much fat in it," he said.
A diet of candy, an “ethanol by-product,” and mineral nutrients (in other words, we’re pretty sure vitamin supplements)? Sounds legit. It also sounds like, to follow that logic, one could just as well feed cows – or even people – a steady diet of vitamin-soaked cardboard and they would still grow and not show any overt outward health problems. But cardboard might not give a cow that rich fatty marbling we crave, right?
But wait, what kind of candy could these cows possibly be eating that’s cheaper than corn? Don’t worry, it’s just “salvage” candy purchased at a discount because it’s no longer fit to be bought and eaten by humans:
The packaged candy comes from various companies at a discounted rate because it is not fit for store shelves.
"Salvage is a problem for a lot of these companies and they're proud to have a place to go with it," said Watson.
So not only are we asked to process the fact that candy, which is ostensibly a treat and a luxury item, has somehow through a blend of discounts and subsidies and perhaps alchemy become cheaper than basic commodities. But then there’s the fact that these are cows destined for slaughter, processing, and ultimately human consumption – and here they are being fed not just junk food, but junk food that’s no longer deemed fit for human consumption. Obviously there’s no way that this could possibly go wrong in the long run.
It seems to be an issue that speaks to a lot of problems in the industry, from the troubling costs of commodities to debates over the value that’s placed on livestock nutrition and welfare. Here’s to hoping that this story is simply an anomaly, and not the beginning of a trend.