Organic Consumers Association

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Why Are We Feeding Cows Skittles?

At first I thought the Facebook headline was a joke. Thousands of red Skittles spilled on a highway were intended for cattle feed. But the Fox 61 story led to the Facebook page of the Dodge County Sherrif's Office in Wisconsin where the story was confirmed.

"Hundreds of thousands of Skittles were spilled on County Highway S near Blackbird Road," according to the Facebook page. Originally the candy's origin was unknown. The sheriff's office updated the post later and said, "the Skittles were intended to be feed for cattle as they did not make the cut for packaging at the company."

Candy as cattle feed

As I dug a little deeper, I found the practice of feeding candy to cows is not unusual. It's a common practice for many cattle farmers and became even more common after corn prices rose in 2009, according to CNN. Farmers tapped "into the obscure market for cast-off food ingredients" to feed their cows less expensively.

In 2012, when CNN reported on candy as cow food, the price for a ton of corn was about $315. The price for a ton of sprinkles was as low as $160 a ton. The sugar in the candy is what the farmers want for the cows. It puts weight on them and even increases milk production. It's mixed with other forms of cattle feed, and one farmer interviewed for the CNN piece said he worked with an animal nutritionist to determine it should not be more than 3 percent of the feed.

In all my reporting about food waste, I've never thought about what happens to food waste from candy factories. This practice of feeding candy that doesn't make the quality control cut to animals as feed is certainly a way of making sure it doesn't go to waste. While it may be a solution for the candy manufacturer and the cattle farmer, I wonder how it affects cows or the those who consume products made from the cows.

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