Monday, 21 May 2007

This little piggy ate junk food

The Food Section linked today to a highly disturbing article from the Wall Street Journal. Lauren Etter reports that due to rising demand for corn-based ethanol, a biofuel subsidized by the U.S. government, corn prices have risen so much that farmers are seeking other foodstuffs to feed their livestock. The result? Pigs and other animals are increasingly being fed "cookies, licorice, cheese curls, candy bars, french fries, frosted wheat cereal and peanut-butter cups" and other "human" junk food as a main part of their diet. Some farmers even feed piglets a "Cocoa Puffs"-like mixture of chocolate powder and cereal.

Why is this so shocking, when humans eat this stuff every day? I'm not a nutritionist, but it is generally accepted that junk food is not good for you and is only acceptable as part of a balanced diet. According to the WSJ article some farmers are using 100% "byproducts" to feed their livestock. I accept that this may be a passable way to put flesh on the bones of these animals in terms of food safety (without considering animal welfare), but I don't eat cheesies and trail mix all the time and I don't want to eat an animal that has, either.

Lauren Etter also commented that "Thanks to the ethanol rush, the price of a bushel of corn for months has hovered around $4 -- nearly double the price of a few years ago. That has prompted livestock groups like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Chicken Council to call for an end to federal ethanol subsidies, including a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit offered to companies that blend gasoline with ethanol. For now, livestock must pay up or make do with alternatives."

Of course farmers are concerned about their bottom lines and have to maintain a profit margin, but environmentally it seems to me that the business of feeding animals junk food goes against the grain (better watch out for those puns). Is it energy efficient to feed animals highly processed food so that corn can be used to produce subsidized biofuel? I don't know.


J said...

This little piggy is also concerned about her (ahem) bottom line, and junk food is not on the menu, by direct or indirect consumption! The US sugar industry receives government subsidies, why not corn?

***Joanna*** said...

J - Yes, the US sugar industry is subsidized and has artificially high prices and quotas and tariffs on sugar imports. Therefore it is cheaper for manufacturers to use corn syrup and highly processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their foods. The trouble is that many farmers now depend on the subsidized market for their livelihoods. Check out this editorial from the LA Times on stopping sugar subsidies.

By the way, the WSJ article from the original post is available in full here from the Charleston Gazette through the Associated Press.

erin said...

This is outrageous. Unfortunately for the carnivores out there it adds validity to the vegetarian debate. Jo have you been following the tainted pet food fiasco? Cheap protein additives are also putting the animal farming industry at risk. Cheers to an interesting and timely post!

J said...

Oh yeah, sorry. I can't read - it does says 'subsidized' in the fourth line. It is waaay past my bedtime. But while I'm here, Jo, any chance of getting your green curry paste recipe? I was going to coat my salmon in Cocoa Puffs crumbs but I think your Thai paste would be a tastier and more ethical alternative!