Tag Archives: bovine spongiform encephalopathy

Chicken Litter says the sky is falling

The sun did not come up this morning, huge cracks have appeared in the earth's surface, and big rocks are falling out of the sky. Details 25 minutes from now on Action Central News.

Nope. That is not a typo in the subject line. I wish it was.

Today I’d like to introduce a bizarre practice that just boggles the mind. I even wrote a little song for this post (sung to the tune of Enter Sandman by Metallica):

Oh the cow goes moo
And the chicken goes cluck
If you eat either one
You’re gonna be fucked

Intrigued? Then keep reading! 🙂

Seemingly there is no practice too appalling, painful, gross, bloody, gruesome, and barbaric for the good folks response for turning critters into dinners. The industry that puts meat on the American dinner table likes to keep their standards and practices a closely guarded secret and makes maximizing profits an overriding goal.

I recently watched the intense and disturbing movie “Earthlings” and it had a very profound effect on me. (You can read my earlier post about it here: Greetings, to ALL Earthlings.)

Even before I viewed that movie, however, I was already aware of what I like to call Chicken Litter, which is also known as “poultry litter” or “boiler litter.”

The Wikipedia definition of poultry litter is: “a combination of is a material used as bedding in poultry operations to render the floor more manageable. Common litter materials are wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, shredded sugar cane, straw, and other dry, absorbent, low-cost organic materials. Sand is also occasionally used as bedding.”

That sounds reasonable enough. The really interesting part, though, is what happens to that material after it has been used. You’ll never guess.

If you guessed “it gets scooped up and feed to cattle” then you’re way smarter than me! Adds Wikipedia:

After use, the litter consists primarily of poultry manure, but also contains the original litter material, feathers, and spilled feed.

Interesting Factoid #1: Chicken poop is feed to cows.

I mean, really! I’d very much like to meet the fellow who looked at used poultry litter and said to himself, “Golly gee whiz. You know what? I think that shit would make a bitchin’ feed for cattle. We’d save a bundle. Yee haw!”

The FDA estimates 1 to 2 million tons of poultry litter is fed to cattle annually.

Interesting Factoid #2: Chicken feed contains beef. (Source.)

It works a little like this: Beef (and sheep) material (known as “ruminants”) are found in chicken feed. That feed is given to chickens. Some of that feed goes uneaten and ends up in the poultry litter. That litter is scooped up and fed to cattle.

Could there possibly be anything wrong with using beef proteins as a feed for cattle?

In December 2003, in response to a the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”) in a cow in the state of Washington, the FDA announced plans to put in place a poultry litter ban. Because poultry litter can contain recycled cattle proteins as either spilled feed or feed that has passed through the avian gut, the FDA was concerned that feeding litter would be a pathway for spreading mad cow disease.


“It takes a very small quantity of ruminant protein, even just 1 milligram, to cause an infection,” said Steve Roach, public health program director with Food Animal Concerns Trust, a Chicago-based animal welfare group that is part of the coalition.

Interesting Factoid #3: Chicken feed contains arsenic. (Source.)

Whoa! I did not see that one coming. What the hell? Yep, it turns out something known as “roxarsone” with is an arsenic compound.

So why on earth would they add something like that to chicken feed?

The poultry industry has been using the feed additive roxarsone — purportedly to fight parasites and increase growth in chickens — since the Food and Drug Administration approved it in 1944. Turns out that the arsenic additive promotes the growth of blood vessels in chicken, which makes the meat appear pinker and more attractive in its plastic wrap at the grocery store, but does little else. The arsenic additive does the same in human cells, fueling a growth process known as angiogenesis, a critical first step in many human diseases such as cancer.

So we can add arsenic to the list of fun stuff that ends up in the poultry litter that is then fed back to cattle.

What happens to that cattle, by the way? Turns out that we humans will dine on some if it. Yummy!

Inorganic arsenic is a Class A carcinogen that has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and declines in brain function. Recent scientific findings show that most Americans are routinely exposed to between three and 11 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safety limit.

Interesting Factoid #4: The government puts no restrictions on the use of poultry litter as a feed for cattle.

The history of using poultry littler as a feed for cattle may surprise you.

  • Roxarsone approved as a feed additive by the FDA in 1944.
  • The practice of using poultry litter as cattle feed was unregulated prior to 1967.
  • In 1967 the FDA declares that poultry littler in interstate commerce is “adulterated” effectively banning the practice.
  • 1n 1980 the FDA reversed this policy and passed regulation of litter to the states.
  • In 2004 the FDA was interested in removing most infectious animal proteins from all animal feeds. They took no action however, in part based on comments made by the North American Rendering Industry. (Source: Wikipedia.)
  • 2005 and 2008 rulings made by the FDA did not include the litter ban.

It should be noted that California does partially ban the practice, but their ban only pertains to lactating dairy cows. Other states may also have their own laws restricting the practice. Again, the FDA has opted to make this a state-by-state decision.

Interesting Factoid #5: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. says science does not justify banning the practice

From the Los Angeles Times:

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., the beef industry’s main trade group, said the ban was not needed and that several FDA reviews had determined that the chance of cattle becoming infected with mad cow disease from eating poultry litter was remote.

“Science does not justify the ban, and the FDA has looked at this now many times,” said Elizabeth Parker, chief veterinarian for the trade group.

If I had any graphic skills at all I’d attempt to show you artwork depicting what I’m calling the Where’s The Beef Cycle. I imagine it would look a lot like the Precipitation Cycle we all learned about in elementary school.

Beef proteins and arsenic go into chicken feed – Chicken feed goes into chicken poop and poultry litter – Poultry litter is fed back to beef.


Props go to George Carlin for the image caption.