Brief #3: Food versus Feed
When crops are fed to animals rather than directly to humans, there is a loss of
calories, said Joe Hancock, an animal nutrition science professor at Kansas State
There is a simple reason for the difference between the amount of feed consumed
and the amount of food produced by livestock. Livestock consume feed and burn the
calories (the energy) by walking and growing. By the time they use enough of the energy
from the feed to perform these basic functions, not many calories are left to store.
The remaining energy is only a small fraction of the energy initially consumed.
This energy usually ends up being stored in the animals’ fat and milk. Humans then
consume the fat and the milk at a loss because most of the leftover energy from their
crops has been stored in the bones or in parts of the animal humans do not usually use.
This loss is where the issue of food versus feed comes into play.
Many argue that farmers should produce grain for direct human consumption and
ship it to starving people in struggling areas, such as Africa. These missions to end world
hunger are misunderstood, said Hancock.
“Who’s going to pay for that?” said Hancock. “Who’s going to pick up the tab to
get it harvested and shipped over? It becomes a global aid issue. Can you get it to the
people you’re targeting without their governments getting involved and using food as a
Rather than focusing on U.S. grain production, INTSORMIL scientists, like
Hancock, are working directly with farmers in Africa. The objective is to increase the
quality of life for the farmers by making sorghum and millet more marketable feedstock.
Most livestock consume hay, pasture and corn stalks, which is separate from the
grains humans typically consume, said Dr. Dan Upson, a non-INTSORMIL emeritus
veterinary science professor from KSU.
“It’s very, very efficient,” said Upson.
But, when forage is not an option for cultural reasons, grain is the best alternative.
When more grain becomes feed for livestock, African farmers can leave behind
completely vegetarian diets.
“I mean there’s no doubt that you can eat a vegetarian diet and meet your
nutritional needs, it’s harder though,” said Hancock. “
As societies have grown in wealth, animal consumption has increased because,
although animal consumption is wasteful, animals taste good and animal consumption is
a sign of wealth.
Through Hancock’s work, African farmers who produce sorghum and millet will
have some disposable income rather than subsistence living when these grains become a
more marketable feedstock.
Currently, most African farmers rely heavily on the success of their crops.
“When they have good crops, crop prices crash and people starve,” said Hancock.
“When they have bad crops, they can’t sell them and people starve.”
By running sorghum and millet feedstock through livestock, the grains gain value
and help produce milk, eggs and meat for human consumption. The increase in grain
value means less starvation and less poverty.