CU’s Senior Research Associate, Michael Hansen writes about animal litter (yes, that kind of litter) and bones being fed to chickens and cows.

You know the saying, “you are what they eat”? That’s may be true with a strange cattle feed ingredient—chicken poop. Sound disgusting? It sure is. Back in 1967, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put out a policy statement that poultry litter (which consists of chicken manure aka poop, feathers, spilled feed, bedding material, dead rodents, etc.) couldn’t be considered safe, and so was banned in cattle feed. In 1980, however, FDA decided this wasn’t a federal issue and so revoked the policy, leaving it up to the states to regulate the use of poultry litter in cattle feed. Since then, however, few states are even monitoring the use of poultry litter as cattle feed.
So, what kind of human health risks could there be from feeding poultry litter to cattle? One risk is mad cow disease. At present, material from cows—meat and bone meal—can be ground up and put in chicken feed. Since poultry litter can contain spilled feed, this means material from cows can be indirectly fed back to cows via poultry litter. Indeed, in 2003, Dr. Lester Crawford, then deputy Commissioner of the FDA, said that “There is a possibility that chickens waste so much feed that the litter can contain up to 30% meat and bone meal.” Since it is estimated that some 1 million tons—or two billion pounds—of poultry litter are fed to cattle every year, that is a lot of cattle material potentially being fed back to cattle. Feeding cattle material back to cattle is risk factor for mad cow disease.
In addition, a number of antibiotics and other drugs are fed to poultry, but which could be toxic to cattle, and so would be found in the poultry litter. Indeed, an arsenic compound is fed as a growth promotant to chickens and could also be found in chicken litter which can be fed to cattle. Arsenic is a cancer causing chemical.
Indeed, if an animal feed factory was known to produce feed that could be contaminated with drugs, antibiotics, arsenic, etc. at unknown levels, FDA would shut that factory down. But if the factory turns out to be a chicken, then the FDA does not regulate it.
Right now, there is a petition, supported by Consumers Union, before the FDA to ban the use of poultry litter in cattle feed. Click here to sign the petition. To find out more information go to