Danielle LeVee, Global Animal

Ever heard the phrase, “You are what you eat?” What animals are fed greatly affects their well-being. An animal designed to eat grass, cows are nowadays predominantly fed grain, a substance that affects the natural, neutral pH of the cow’s stomach and leads to many health problems. Alongside these already observed repercussions, states are now asking the FDA for permission to blend animal feed with contaminated grain since much of their crop would otherwise be unusable. 

In factory farms, animals are predominately fed corn and soy mixed with meat and wastes from diseased animals because this is the cheapest feed. With profit solely in mind, factory farms pay no attention to an animal’s health and wellbeing or to the health of the humans who later eat these unhealthy animals. Because the government heavily subsidizes grain, livestock producers are able to purchase grain at a very low price.

Not only are cows fed food that they don’t naturally eat, but these foods are also genetically engineered and contain high levels of pesticides that are toxic to all animals (not just to the “target” pests). To make matters worse, Iowa and Illinois, the number one and two U.S. producers of corn, are requesting that they be allowed to mix aflatoxin, a fungus-produced toxin, with other grain to make animal feed.

Corn contaminated by aflatoxins. Photo: IITA Image Library via Flickr

Aflatoxin contamination is the interaction effect between the fungus, the host, and the environment. Aflatoxin-producing mold favors organic substrates that have high moisture content, high temperatures, or have experienced stressful conditions such as a drought. Because the Corn Belt experienced a drought this summer, the corn had higher levels of aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is categorized as one of the most carcinogenic substances, and can cause liver disease and acute liver failure. 

Under FDA guidelines, animal feed can contain an aflatoxin concentration of up to 300 parts per billion (ppb), a number 15 times greater than the amount considered safe for human foods. Can one conclude that aflatoxin affects animals less than humans? To the contrary, aflatoxin mycotoxins are even more toxic to animals, making it evident that the FDA believes animals are much more dispensable than humans. Regulation of aflatoxin concentration of animal feed is most likely set with regard to how much ppb animals can metabolize in order for their body to be safe for later human consumption.

When it feels like factory farming can’t get any worse, farmers somehow are able to find a way. It should be common sense that when an increased amount of animal corn-based feed is contaminated, a decreased amount of corn should be fed to animals. Perhaps this is a sign that animals should be fed food that they were designed to eat. The FDA needs to snap out of its profit-driven decrees and do its job by preventing contaminated corn from being fed to these powerless animals.