Plastic Food



Where I live we are surrounded by fields of grazing sheep and cattle and I doubt if any one of them would willingly swap their lush grass for a diet of human excrement, cement, Fido scraped off a road following an encounter with a truck or pelleted plastic. Of course farmed animals have no choice over what they eat and whatever the farmer dishes up is largely down to economics. Grass is good although what the grass is sprayed with is another matter entirely.

Gibberellic acid sprayed grass grows faster and extends the grazing season and research has shown that cattle raised on grass produce better milk – milk from grass-fed cattle is higher in omega 3 fatty acids, linoleic acid and vaccenic acid. Who’d have thunk that doing things the way nature intended was the best way to raise stock? 

Quality in = quality out. If humans are what we eat then so, too, are animals. Spray their food with herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers and where do you think that lovely cocktail goes? Into whatever eats it, of course. When the initial consumer becomes the food it goes into consumer number two. That said, grass is better than much else that has been and is fed to beasts.

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Food safety in the UK has been regulated by the EU. Goodness knows how slack livestock feed regulations will become once Brexit is implemented. From my reading just about anything and everything goes in, or has gone in, to animal food – ground up corpses of other animals, what’s scraped off roads and shovelled out of hen deep litters.

I don’t farm but I do feed my pet cat and goodness knows his pet food sometimes smells so awful even he won’t eat it.

Unlike cats cattle are herbivores – they graze – on grass or seaweed but there are people who try to prove this wrong – I’ve no idea the word for animals who eat plastic or cement – let’s just call them factory farmed. And don’t panic. It was a phase that’s passed – I believe – but in the world of food production never say never.

Experimenting with food for livestock hasn’t stopped. Many will remember when those who are paid to know about animal nutrition thought it swell to make swill out of dead beasts – turn herbivores into carnivores and cannibals. Mad cow disease was the result. It should have been called mad food producer disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a horrible disease. Recently there was an outbreak near where I live but when BSE hit the headlines in the 1990s a Tory government minister, John Gummer, publicly fed his daughter with a beef burger to prove the disease could not spread to humans. BSE variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) was shortly after shown to be able to spread to humans.

There are controls but cattle now are fed on cattle. Pigs are fed mashed up pigs. Hens are fed on rendered hens. And so on. Animal feed contains all sorts: road kill, dead horses, cats and dogs. The name of the pet food you buy might be more literal than you imagine.

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Cutting costs, disregarding logic and glib reassurances do not make for a trustworthy food industry. The bottom line will always determine feeding policy for those who think they can get away with it. And hang the consequences.

What on earth were people thinking in the 1960s when experiments were carried out on plastic ‘hay’? Money that’s what. And what about plastic and cement pellets as food?

The US Department of Agriculture tested animal food made from cement dust (high in calcium) and found cattle’s daily weight gain doubled. By comparison experiments feeding animals with sawdust appear innocuous. Hardwood pellets were a fraction more expensive than pelleted sawdust with around 56% the energy value of corn feed. Whether anyone used them – no idea. A company called Farmland Industries produced plastic made into pellets and branded as Ruff-Tabs.

Justifying their behaviour the mad scientists who experiment with trash feed observed –

‘Animals are like people in that they can consume quite a variety of feeds and survive.’

In this country in the 1990s the Environment Agency considered cement kiln dust for animal feed. Cement kilns can be used to incinerate all kinds of material including those containing highly toxic heavy metals – lead, chromium, mercury which are highly carcinogenic. What kind of warped minds could envisage this is suitable material to feed to animals?

Animals crap out the crap they take in. That is wasteful. And occupies a lot of space – specially in farm factories where livestock never experience the great outdoors but spend their entire short lives inside. What to do with the waste? In the States 10% ground polyethylene added to alfalfa and cottonseed animal feed led to animals putting on weight but the cost of polyethylene was the issue not feeding plastic to animals. The aim was to find ways to cut the amount of food each beast would consume in the hope of reducing the amount of manure produced. Manure is not really a problem in a field but in animal meat factories the space taken up by manure presents difficulties for the ‘farmer.’

Ching! Collect the stuff and make it into pellets to feed back to the animals. Economic poetry. Poultry litter, faeces and plastic pellets all bound up together and sold as roughage. Roughage used to be plant-based but Kansas State University experiments feeding plastic pellets to cattle discovered much of the plastic was recoverable after the animals were slaughtered and so could be melted down and recycled into new pellets to feed to other cattle. Capitalism had found the perfect answer to production. Feed, retrieve, reconstitute, feed, retrieve, reconstitute, feed, retrieve… the word cattle meant capital. Synergy.

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Animal crackers is not only found in the USA. Here in the UK human and animal waste have been incorporated into feed. This means anything eaten by an animal, including veterinary medicines – anti-biotics and arsenic which is included in many animal medicines passes into the feed. Arsenic is not advised for human consumption.

The UK has banned micro-beads in personal care products – toothpaste, laundry, cleaning products, shampoos and cosmetics. They are a menace to wildlife and the handiwork of yet more mad scientists responsible for dumping 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans annually to top up the 150 million tons they’ve already dumped there. On its own this is bad enough but plastics absorb contaminants in water making them a million times more toxic. Fish swallow these toxins and we swallow the poisoned fish.

Recycled plastic water bottles are ‘washed and dunked in chemicals to get the labels off, then chopped into bits. A flotation pool is used to separate the lid plastic from the bottle plastic. Three different materials come out at the end: lid flakes, bottle flake and labels. The final step is to “extrude” the flakes, or melt them down into pellets. This requires energy to heat the flakes, and can emit harmful chemicals into the air, due to additives in the plastic. The pellets are then sold on to manufacturers who use them as a feedstock. It is possible to do all of this in an environmentally friendly way: treating the wastewater correctly, disposing of chemicals properly and making sure harmful emissions don’t escape. Done right, this uses less energy and resources than virgin material. But if shortcuts are taken, the consequences can be devastating.’ (Financial Times)

Our polyethylene diet includes fish, honey, table salt, beer and meat and our anti-biotic overload comes from eating animal flesh, consuming dairy products and from our drinking water. I don’t eat meat but I do drink water and my water comes out of the land behind our house where the pee and poop of grazing animals no doubt doused with vet medicines leeches into the rainwater that is piped into my house. That said I should probably be more fearful of the spill-offs from forestry chemicals.

The biggest damage of all is created by farm factories and not our traditional farmers who graze their beasts in grassy parks. Keeping cattle inside and feeding them on a diet that is most definitely not natural creates physical changes and damages their livers leading to high levels of medication compared with animals raised on grass which are far healthier. 

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Eating organic food can improve your chances in the lottery of life. Brexit promises fewer controls over animal welfare and the prospect of imports of cheap factory-farmed US food which will not be its organic best produce which restrict the amount of animal drugs, including hormones to promote growth, and which exclude plastic pellets for roughage and feed containing urea or manure. No, this is not the food that will compete with good quality food here but something cheaper and nastier in all sorts of ways, not least the cruel exploitation of the animals soon to be appearing on your plate – or bucket if you eat in those kinds of places. Just watch out for the odd wood splinter in your tongue, a bit of concrete grit between your teeth or a belly-full of plastic garbage.

3 Comments to “Plastic Food”

  1. Where to start with your comment – firstly ‘shock horror’ has nothing to do with the blog. The information contained is taken from academic and other studies. I have listed one or two sources but there are many more if you take the time to Google yourself.

    My curiosity was raised by an article in a recent Financial Times and my research led me into other associated areas.

    The mention of Gibberellic acid made no reference to ingestion by humans. The acid is part of a cocktail sprayed on grass to extend the life of pastures so that cattle can graze for longer periods. That was the point.

    You may think it unacceptable for farmed animals to be fed on plastic and cement dust but that is a view not shared by feed companies who do just that. I’m fairly sure I included references at the end of my piece but if not you can find your own. It’s out there. Not secret.
    You really do not have to define plastic for me. I know what the term means. The use of plastic in the diet of cattle is as fibre. It has long been the subject of experimentation and is used as a feed supplement. Again I’m sure the references are there.

    Thank you for reading the blog but closer reading and clicking on the sources supplied at the foot of the blog would have alleviated the need for you to raise these misconstrued points.

    • no misconstruing from my end, but incomplete and misleading from your end.I refer to your para3.where you say

      “quality in = quality out. If humans are what we eat then so, too, are animals. Spray their food with herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers and where do you think that lovely cocktail goes? Into whatever eats it, of course. When the initial consumer becomes the food it goes into consumer number two”
      in the previous paragraph you comment on gibberellic acid being sprayed on fields. There cant be much doubt that you are suggesting that gibberellic acid makes its way into “consumer number two”.admittedly you don’t actually say that GA gets into the food system, but you mislead the reader in the quote above to assume that GA is part of the ‘lovely cocktail’.

      I am not actually hostile to the idea that food should not be contaminated.It is well established that ‘food’ is the source of about 50%of cancers(i.e. the biggest category). (Cigarette smoking was the single biggest cause of cancer).it is not clear
      exactly how food is implicated because there are so many different components in our diets and many theories. Some perfectly natural food items contain potential carcinogens, some are created in preparation e.g. barbecued food and deep fat frying, fermented food, ‘processed and preserved meats such as bacon sausages, and cured ham.There is also a relationship between obesity and cancer which is possibly attributable to complex physiological effects. Then there is the matter of contamination caused by agricultural practice. In other words the presence of pesticides and chemicals such as glyphosate(herbicide) remaining on food when it is sent to market. In 2011 i spent 3 months in a university library trying to find scientific papers pertaining to the presence of contaminating residues in food. It turned out to be a very difficult topic. I found very little rigorous research done into this area. I found much oblique information but virtually no strong direct evidence of human health issues relted to chemical contamination. I concluded that it was just too expensive to do thorough and methodical research into this area.I also had a hunch that research may have been inhibited by vested interests.i am sure Monsanto would not be too keen on research into the effects of roundup on human health, A recent court case in California found that a horticultural worker’s continual exposure to the herbicide was implicated in his Lymphoma and damages were awarded but Monsanto were able to state that there was no scientific evidence to support the conclusion( and I think they lodged an appeal).
      My point here is that it is only rigorous research that can be used to effectively push back against what is intuitively malign technical developments. Hearsay is just dismissed in the same way that Monsanto dismissed the claim against them.

      In your article you referred to ‘feeding’ animals with plastic and cement. you did not make it clear that the plastic was a “supplement” designed I assume to alleviate digestive problems in cattle being fed enriched pellet type food with a shortage of bulk that would be normally be provided by a more natural diet such as grass/hay/silage.
      The cement dust may have been intended to provide calcium for the heavy demands made on dairy cattle producing a lot of milk however it seems to be rather counter productive since( suspect) the toxicity of the cement would very quickly outweigh any benefits of calcium supplements.Besides I suspect that there are much better ways of providing calcium.

      the crux of this issue is the ways that humans “use” animals as a vehicle for profit. To the capitalist system, animals such as cattle are ‘machines’ to convert one substance into another with a higher value. as “machines”they are subject to whatever technical innovation can be applied to speed up the process and increase yield(and profit). hence ‘the feedlot’ system which streamlines the process of converting cattle into beef-burgers The ethical implications of such methods are countered by the demands of a consumerist mentality. Without these high yielding methods it would be impossible to support the string of industries and activities that we have come to take for granted. Prices would rise and humans would have to moderate their consumerist inclinations( no doubt created by an advertising and marketing industry driving the consumerism) Unfortunately we have built our expectations and habits on many such “technical innovations” and I cannot see how we can dismantle this mountainous monument of greed and cruelty that is our modern world.

  2. While I am very much concerned with the quality of food and the welfare of animals and relationship of agriculture practice to the environment,I am a bit concerned at the indignation expressed in the article.I sense that the author has veered into
    sensationalist ‘shock horror’ and veered away from scientific accuracy and providing contextual information
    Let’s start with Gibberellic acid- a plant hormone ( a complex carbohydrate), discovered in the twenties, and in use for a considerable period of time to increase plant growth.It is very unlikely that a residue of GA would survive the digestive system of herbivore and be expressed in the meat and then go on to survive the digestive system of the secondary consumer(humans). As for excess GA residue remaining on the fields for any length of time-this seems unlikely as it would be subject to the action of bacteria and micro-organisms in the immediate environment leading to a breakdown into simpler molecules.While I am not aware of the fate of GA in the digestive system of herbivores or humans, I think it would incumbent on the author to make some reference to published work.I rather suspect there is little published material on this topic although there may be some intuitive and informed judgements or comment.
    The other ‘shock horror’ that caught my eye was that of the cattle being fed on ‘plastic’ and cement dust but this makes little sense. cement contains Calcium Hydroxide which is quite strongly alkaline and rather corrosive, It is difficult to imagine a survivable diet containing more than a modest quantity of ‘cement’ or the cement being compatible with the digestive process of a cattle beast,
    Likewise with “Plastic”. plastic comes from the same root as ‘plasticity’ and refers to deformability and malleability,This property is seen in the many/most high molecular weight polymers which we now routinely refer to as plastics, and are now of such concern to us as a major non-biodegradeable pollutant of the world. if these substances were biodegradable we would not really be so concerned by their presence in our environment, food chains, and, as recently reported, in our livers and other tissues. This is deeply concerning but the main point here is that by far the majority of mineral oil derived plastics, being non biodegradeable, are about as much use for herbivore nutrition as (say) a chocolate teapot is for brewing tea.
    it is inconceivable that any agriculturalist would not know this.feeding plastic to cattle can only be a cruel joke and utterly indefensible on any ethical or scientific or even ‘capitalist’ innovation basis. You might as well kill the animals and save all he trouble of feeding the animals with anything.
    I was also going to enter the fray on the topic of BSE but I feel I have said enough( and I getting tired)
    I applaud the sentiments that have driven this posting on the blog. These are clearly concerns about the way we treat animals and the way that we feed ourselves but we really have to confine ourselves to known facts and verifiable knowledge lest we poison the discourse on these critical topics.

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