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Antibiotics in Your Meat? The Ethanol Industry Might be Partly to Blame

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety page and our Factory Farming page, and our Health Issues page.
Last year, while touring a fairly small, pasture-based farmstead cheese company, I found myself in a giant feed barn with a group of curious foodies. It was one of the last stops before the cheese tasting, so no one wanted to linger. But I have a distinct memory of what it was like to stand there staring at the giant piles of grains, thinking: "The cows eat all this, on top of the grass?"

Like many dairies and livestock operations, the farm owners had been able to lower their feed costs by using the byproducts of industrial food and fuel production. Towering around us that day, we were told, were giant piles of canola pellets, cotton seeds, and soy hulls (from oil production), and dried distillers grains (from ethanol production). I bookmarked the image in my mind and I've been considering it ever since, especially as I've heard about the aquaculture industry moving toward a grain-based model to avoid feeding wild seafood to farmed fish. In both industries (agriculture and aquaculture), it's not hard to see why distillers grains are so popular. They're affordable and the ethanol industry has been pushing them hard in recent years, because, as Tom Philpott pointed out a few years back, "finding a high-value use for this 'coproduct' is absolutely vital to the corn ethanol project."

On the one hand, it's hard to argue that those spent grains shouldn't get used somehow. On the other hand, I've often wondered: How does the ethanol production process impact these byproducts? Well, some new research might just get us closer to answering that question.