Should Livestock Eat Garbage Instead of Grain?

Two years ago, as the Food and Drug Administration was rolling out new proposed rules following passage of the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act, one regulation caught the ire of brewers, ranchers, and the sustainable-food-loving public. 

As part of the agency’s massive overhaul of food-safety regulations, spent mash given to area farmers, who then feed it to livestock, would have to conform to the same kind of process as products made for human consumption. With the costs that the regulation would add to the practice (known as “happy hour” for cattle and other animals), the very old, sustainable tradition of processing waste in ruminants rather than landfills would likely have ended.

Because of media coverage and a host of public comments made through the FDA website, the rule was revised. Used brewers’ grain is just one of the many types of “garbage feeding” that have been common on farms for centuries. But unlike cattle happy hour, diverting other scraps and waste from the trash and into the slop trough has been limited by food-safety-related regulations since mad cow disease and other food-borne illnesses cropped up in the 1980s. Today, however, with better understanding of what elements in animal feed can spread deadly disease (in short, don’t feed beef by-products to cattle) and increased focus on the scourge of food waste, the old practice of dumping a bucket of slop in front of the hogs for dinner is getting a second look as a sustainable practice that can and should be practiced at scale.

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