Candy for Cows. How Healthy Is That?

December 4, 2012 in Food Economics, Foodland, General, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

Where is nutritionism going? I can honestly say I don’t have a credible guess; every time I think that I’ve seen the new high of nutritionism’s excesses; it raises its ugly head even higher.

While surfing the net I stumbled upon a CNN Money story about the poor cash-strapped farmers who are feeding their cattle candy. I follow the logic of saving $155 per ton on using candy over corn. I feel that I’m a fairly compassionate individual, but it’s a real challenge for me to muster up enough empathy for this scene. I believe also that I understand the old axiom ‘waste not, want not,’ but call me picky the sight of cattle eating ground up chocolate candy bars took me over the top.

Certainly, if you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know that I already question eating red meat frequently or in large amounts. But the video of the article Cash-strapped farmers feed candy to cows, did something to me on a very visceral level – it was very uncomfortable.

I’m not sure if the quote of a livestock nutritionist in the article was supposed to sooth my unrest, but it didn’t help at all. "It has been a practice going on for decades and is a very good way to for producers to reduce feed cost, and to provide less expensive food for consumers," said Ki Fanning, as if practices which have gone on for decades and save money are automatically good; in this case, good for people and cows.

Let’s not get off on a long discussion of why the cattle seem to be doing such a great job of gaining weight (fat) so that they can be slaughtered cheaper and faster. But I do want to take a tiny digression of this blog to point out that the candy bars are being ground up wrapper and all.  Did you see all the bits of wrappers mixed into the hay? Am I being picky again? Are the colors and plastic bits that proceed through the intestines of cattle and cows a possible contaminant of milk and meat? Indeed, I am not a livestock nutritionist, but I understand a little about mammal nutrition. I would encourage you human animals to skip the wrappers when you eat a candy bar.

Let’s just say that with me, it’s a given, that eating chocolate bars, gummy worms, ice cream sprinkles, marshmallows, hard candy bits, powdered hot chocolate, crumbled cookies, many breakfast cereals are not leading to optimal nourishment in either man or beast.

Another livestock nutritionist, Chuck Hurst, said that the candy provides “the same kind of energy as corn.” That wasn’t terribly reassuring for me either. Yes, it’s true that eating candy is a few processing steps away from eating straight corn; in addition however, some of the candy has fat that is not in the corn. All in all, it leads me to the question: Were cattle and cows really designed to eat government-subsidized corn? Or were they domesticated animals that have evolved to forage grass and plants?

It seems to me that providing meat cheaply and abundantly, and maximizing marbling with fat through all kinds of tricks against nature encourages us, and has encouraged us for a long time, to eat a diet high in animal protein. There are strong studies that have shown the correlation between eating red meat and the escalation in diabetes, heart disease, cancer and so on. A little suggestion is, that if we didn’t feed the cattle candy, then maybe the cost of meat would rise and we would find ourselves financially forced to consume meat less frequently. There could be an unexpected and pleasant surprise for our health.

In addition to the increased price of grass fed beef, the fatty acid profile is much better in grass fed beef as reported in A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. There are more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids and a healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Also, the concentration of stearic acid, the only saturated fatty acid that has a net neutral impact on serum cholesterol, is higher in grass fed beef. I guess that the bottom line is that if you decide to eat beef, you should have the knowledge that grass fed beef has significant benefits. Certainly, grass fed beef is not generally the tender melt-in-your-mouth meat that candy/corn fed and exercise-restricted beef is.

To be sure that you understand that nutritionism is alive and well, in another article that was published on November 29, 2012 in Science Daily called People Not Hooked On Fish Could Get Their Omega-3 Through New Dairy Products, Study Suggests.  It’s upon an article published in the Journal of Dairy Science, on November 2012, reporting on a study of fortifying milk with omega-3 fatty acids. They reported that Virginia Tech researchers have tested the addition of fish oil into milk and dairy-based beverages. The researchers are very happy because this is a way to claim that people who can’t/won’t abide fish will get the health benefits of omega-3s by drinking fortified dairy products.

Since the 1930s milk has been fortified with vitamin D to solve a prevalent problem of those days - rickets, so I guess adding omega-3s to milk seems to be a brilliant goal. But one little caveat is that the consumption of milk is down considerably during the past 25 years or so. The USDA reported that 76% of adolescents stated that they drank milk in 1977-78, while only 48% reported doing so in the 2005-06 report. These numbers are a meaningful representation of how much milk was drunk by adults, since it was reported that children 2 – 11 drank about twice as much as adults.

It seems to me that nutritionism has brought us a long way into confusion and disinformation. Originally, when the first nutrients were discovered foods were fortified and that kept people from suffering from scurvy, beriberi, rickets, various anemias, goiter, mental retardation, and pellagra, to name a few.  It was miraculous. These diseases resulted from consumption changes, which led to not getting the nutrients that were delivered for millennia in whole foods. When we humans began to remove the germ and bran layers of grains, or not have enough fresh fruits/vegetables, or not get sufficient sunlight, then we had serious disease outcomes.  Learning which vitamin or mineral needed to be added to newly changed ways of eating was a wonderful discovery that saved lives and allowed the processing of the grains and the style of intake to remain modern.

Unfortunately, nutritionism seems to be a bit like an adolescent who thinks he knows a little more than he does. Advertising based on nutritionism’s fallacies leads many to believe bizarre concepts like: since candy often comes from corn syrup, and corn is the present way of nourishing cattle, that it follows that that using candy instead of corn must be healthy. Of course, there is any number of glitches in this line of reasoning.  One is just at the common sense level – many of us would think it’s not delivering the same nutrients found in traditional fodder/grass, or even in feed made with whole-grain corn. Let’s use our common sense on this one too.