THE TORONTO housewife didn’t consider herself any more squeamish than the next girl. But there are limits. Here she was enjoying her first dinner out in months — a nice juicy filet mignon in a downtown restaurant — and then her stupid husband had to tell her: “Say, darling, did you know that they’re feeding poultry manure to cattle? That filet could have been raised on turkey litter.” Gulp. The evening was ruined.
No one knows just how many beef and dairy farmers use protein-rich turkey litter as a feed supplement. But Dr. George Jones, professor of crop science at the University of Guelph, says the practice is pretty common across Canada. Most farmers keep quiet about it. They are worried
about consumer reaction — and with reason.
Consumer groups have been fulminating about litter feeding for years. Their objections aren’t just aesthetic. They also claim the litter could be responsible for communicating salmonellosis (a form of food poisoning) and avian TB to the cattle. Moreover, says Mrs. R. E. K. Pemberton, former president of the Ontario Consumers’ Association, the litter is known to influence the flavor in cheese, milk and possibly meat.
So far extensive federal government tests have failed to prove any of these charges and the Department of Agriculture has issued no formal directive against turkey litter. But at least one farmer, university graduate Robert Bechtel, has been told by government veterinarians that he might not be able to market his animals for beef if he continues to use turkey litter.
Bechtel has prudently switched to urea as a feed supplement for the 500 head of cattle on his modern farm near Kitchener, Ont. Urea, an approved feed supplement, is basically the same compound as turkey litter except that it is produced artificially and costs about 25 percent more.
“It costs me about $3,000 extra a year to use urea instead of turkey litter,” he says. “The consumers don’t seem to realize that this additional cost will be passed on to them. Poultry litter is one way we can keep the price of beef down.”
Prof. Jones agrees: “Consumer
hostility to turkey litter is voodooism.” he says. “It’s like the people who told Galileo he was nuts.”
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