McDonald’s has joined several groups including the Consumers Union and the Center for Science in the Public Interest in petitioning FDA to ban the practice of feeding poultry litter to cattle, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times this week.

Poultry litter is the bedding material from poultry barns, typically including straw, spilled feed and manure. The groups claim the practice creates a food-safety threat. Poultry feed can include meat or bone meal from ruminants, and they say the prions that cause BSE could move through the system and back to cattle through the litter.

NCBA is represented in the article, with Elizabeth Parker, the group’s chief veterinarian pointing out that FDA has reviewed the issue previously and that science does not support the ban. She also notes that current laws already require removal of specific risk materials from ruminant products used in any type of animal feed.

Read the LA Times article.

As an industry, we correctly look for science-based support for our practices, whether related to food safety, animal welfare, environmental stewardship or other issues. NCBA is, I’m sure, correct to challenge the claim that the practice could spread BSE. Science does not support that. I also acknowledge that poultry litter makes an economical feed ingredient, providing high levels of non-protein nitrogen that cattle convert to gain. 

Sometimes though, we need to look beyond science. This is not a food-safety issue, but an image issue. Without consumers wanting to purchase beef at prices that support the production chain, we have nothing. I’d challenge anyone who maintains we should continue feeding poultry litter to visit a supermarket meat case and talk with consumers. Ask them which they’d prefer:

  • Beef from cattle fed poultry poop.
  • Beef from cattle not fed poultry poop.

With activist groups attacking beef producers from every direction, we don’t need additional image problems. This one seems like a no-brainer. The industry should pre-empt FDA and voluntarily discontinue the practice. — John Maday, Drovers managing editor