Ethanol waste as cattle food

As taxpayer-subsidized ethanol production continues to increase, so does the enormous amount of waste by-products the process generates.  Every gallon of ethanol generates seven gallons of waste.  Last year ethanol production created about 3.5 million metric tons of “distiller’s grain”, approximately 98% of the distiller’s grain produced in the country.   That number will likely quadruple this year.  It is estimated that by 2010 the industry will be generating 200 billion pounds of waste by-products annually.  Faced with ever increasing costs of corn, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are turning to this cheap distiller’s grain as a “food” source for the beef cattle being fattened on their feed lots. 

Distiller’s grain is what’s left behind after the distillation of ethanol.  It can be dehydrated, or mixed with some indigestible filler like chopped wheat straw, and fed to cattle.  Of course ruminants are not designed to eat distillation waste, but as long as the cattle can be kept alive long enough to get them to the slaughterhouse, industrial beef producers are happy. 

Agribusiness is aggressively investing in this cheap food source. One plant in Nebraska, for example, already feeding the stuff to a 28,000-head CAFO nearby, is building even larger CAFOs to go with its new ethanol plants, which will hold up to 120,000 animals.

The process is unnatural, and, of course, unhealthy.

Earlier this year Science News reported a study by Kansas State researchers that determined that feeding ethanol-derived distiller’s grains to cattle contributes to the prevalence of E. coli infection.  According to the study, such cattle are six times more likely to develop the deadly-to-human form of E. coli. 

Further, the excess sulfur found in the distiller’s grains, arising from the use of sulfuric acid in the distillation process, creates “brainers” (technically “polioencephamolmalacia”– a cattle condition, similar to polio, that creates brain lesions) and copper deficiencies in the cattle. 

The distiller’s grains are also particularly suspectible to the development of mycotoxins.    And highly carcinogenic grain-produced alfatoxins can survive the distillation process and, if ingested by dairy cows (to whom 46% of the waste is now being fed), they can make their way into milk, unaffected by pasteurization.

Cattle are designed to eat grass–not ethanol waste.  The Stockman Grass Farmer calls the use of distillers’ grain as cattle feed “a ticking timebomb that will eventually go off.”

Yet it is a virtual certainty that until it does, more and more of this industrial waste will end up in the beef and dairy products that industrial agriculture is peddling.

Grace and Peace