American corn-fed beef has been subsiding on a candy-based diet, it was revealed last week after a shipment of “hundreds of thousands” of defective Skittles destined for this purpose spilled on a Wisconsin highway, the Dodge County sheriff reported via Facebook.
The Skittles in question were reportedly supposed to be destroyed after a power outage prevented the “S” from being printed on them, according to company spokeswoman Denise Young.
This event revealed that feeding farm animals defective candy is a relatively common practice. Linda Kurtz, a corporate environmental manager at Mars, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the company sells unused candies and ingredients to processors who then transform them into animal feed, in accordance with FDA regulations.
“You might think, ‘Oh my gosh, they might be eating a Skittle,’” Josh Cribbs, a cattle nutritionist told the Post-Gazette of this practice. “In reality, that piece of candy is being broken down.”
Some experts claim that this practice is healthier for both cattle and the environment. John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, told Live Science that a candy-based diet gave cattle the carbs and fat they need and kept this material out of landfills.
“These rumen animals […] can actually convert it into quality food for us,” Dr. Lanas Smith, Ph.D. in animal nutrition, told Fox.
According to the Independent, the policy of feeding defective candy to cattle goes back decades but gained rapidly in popularity around 2012, when corn prices rose significantly. A 2012 report from Reuters shows that corn-fed beef farmers who fed their livestock candy cut feed costs between 10 and 50 percent.
While the practice is common, the Post-Gazette reported Friday that Mars Inc. does not know why the candy in question was being used as cattle feed, as the Illinois plant it came from did not usually sell candy for this purpose.
“We don’t know how it ended up as it did and we are investigating,” Mars told the Post-Gazette.
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