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Food System Failure: Cows Eating... Gummy Worms?

- Common Dreams staff

A recent article from Reuters paints a frightening picture of the U.S. industrial agriculture system that has cows eating cookies and gummy worms, and farmers unable to afford the corn they have become dependent on for feeding the animals.

"We need to feed cows what they were designed to eat and stop treating them, and other farm animals, like pieces of machinery," says organic dairy and beef farmer Jim Goodman. (adapted photos from tricky (rick harrison) and stevendepolo via Flickr) With drought plaguing corn fields, prices for the scarce grain have skyrocketed, a fact that has been harshly felt by many cattle farmers, who are now unable to afford the corn for feed.

But from the light tone of the Reuters article that says these are "Sweet times for cows as gummy worms replace costly corn feed" and that cows may get "a little chocolate," a reader might think this is a good situation for cows and farmers, and not realize it's an effect of a failing food system that, as one organic farmer notes, "treats animals as machinery,"  highlights the pervasiveness of genetically modified food, and the distance most people have between themselves and the food they consume.

From the Reuters article:

Brokers are gathering up discarded food products and putting them out for the highest bid to feed lot operators and dairy producers, who are scrambling to keep their animals fed.

In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries. Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through corn.

"Everybody is looking for alternatives," said Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting in Eagle, Nebraska. "It's kind of funny the first time you see it but it works well. The big advantage to that is you can turn something you normally throw away into something that can be consumed. The amazing thing about a ruminant, a cow, you can take those type of ingredients and turn them into food."

Jim Goodman, an organic dairy and beef farmer in Wisconsin, says that this situation may become even more common as farmers deal with high prices for corn.

Goodman says while the cows may not be eating genetically modified (GM) corn now, "all of the cookies, gummy worms, etc. (like all processed foods) have GM content as well as from the soy that is used in almost all processed foods."

Moreover, a real system change is needed, says Goodman.  "We need to feed cows what they were designed to eat and stop treating them (and other farm animals) like pieces of     machinery."

"This, of course, would be easier for farmers if they were paid a fair price, we stopped feeding cars with corn, and if consumers took a little more interest in how their food was produced. They might even stop feeding their kids so many cookies and gummy worms," says Goodman.

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