When You Give a Cow a Skittle

January 23, 2017

Perhaps you've already read this mildly viral CNN story about last week's great Skittle spillage of Wisconsin. It’s quite a tale. Last week, a truckload of red Skittles gushed out of, um, a truck, and onto the highways of rural Wisconsin, where the the candies made the roads sticky with the syrup of high fructose corn.

Now, it’s ballooned into a whole episode. Skittles manufacturer Mars isn't quite sure about how these defective candies—faulty simply because they were missing the “S” marking that's on most Skittles—ended up at the specific factory that the truck was originating from. After all, Mars designated a certain number of its factories across the country as places where farmers can use the company's unwanted candies as byproducts for cattle feed. That factory wasn't on the list.

Nonetheless, much of the fixation around this plainly bizarre story has centered on the fact that cows get fed candy as feed. Hasn’t this been common knowledge for a few years now?

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Feeding cows candy is a decades-old practice that permeated mainstream knowledge right around 2012 with the ungainly surge of corn prices, forcing farmers to announce they were looking to veritable alternatives. In the last five years, candy has become a particularly more affordable alternative to corn, because the sugar and fat content of the candy gives them weight and sustenance that the cows easily breakdown. At times, they're blended with more traditional forms of feed, like hay. They're the cheapest of cheap carbs.

Using unwanted candy as cattle feed is a particularly savvy solution to curbing food waste, too, for the candy could otherwise end up in a landfill or dumping site. The world doesn't need more of that.

Historically, cattle feed can be much of anything, so long as the feed provides adequate nutrition that makes cows healthy and hearty. Their diets can consist of citrus rinds or gummy bears, candy corn or limestone, crab guts or marshmallows.

So, now you know. Does the fact this is becoming wider knowledge demand a change in nomenclature, as Eater asks, to "candy-fed" beef, in the vein of grass-fed and grain-fed beef? Interesting question! I'm not sure. That's for another time, folks.

Did you know cattle get fed candy? Is this news to you, too?

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On Black & Highly Flavored, co-hosts Derek Kirk and Tamara Celeste shine a light on the need-to-know movers and shakers of our food & beverage industry.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Mary M. January 30, 2017
Mary M. January 30, 2017
You need to read the book by Michael Pollen, "The Omnivores Dilemma." Cows are only supposed to eat grass. Not corn. Not skittles. Not potatos. Not other human generated garbage...obviously they eat everything and anything but grass in a CAFO. Thus their contribution (methane, because of their forced, man-made nutrition) to climate change....
Judith J. January 24, 2017
I am sorry but this article is irresponsible. To portray feeding chemically enhanced pellets of high fructose corn syrup and artificial color to animals that are then eaten by humans (or produce milk consumed by humans) is disgusting. And the glib comparison of candy-fed cows to grass-fed cows is insulting. And then the statement of relative benefit that it saves our landfills from these little red pellets! In other words, better to feed it to the cows than put in our landfill? The quality of our food supply is critical to the health, well-being and enjoyment of our people. I have always enjoyed Food52 but to me this greatly diminishes your credibility. Cows should eat grass and we shouldn't eat them or drink their milk otherwise. Please Food52, advocate for the quality of food for your readers rather than write a giggle-article that favors industrial agriculture.
Lisa N. January 23, 2017
I have heard of cows being fed unwanted Hershey's chocolate to fatten up their milk but never skittles. It begs the question as to WHY would a candy factory have so many defected candies? Candy manufacturing is an automated process so I wouldn't think it was error prone. This articles makes it sound like this is a normal mishap so turning unwanted candy into cattle feed is a very common occurrence but that doesn't sound reasonable to me. Occasionally I could perhaps agree with but enough that IF the rejected candy wasn't turned into cattle feed it would be a contributing factor to our food waste? If it doesn't happen often then I'm fine with it going to the dumpster. However why wouldn't the manufacture not just be able to recycle the rejected candy back into it's candy making process ( I know in some cases they actually do ). This would make better financial sense.
Susan January 23, 2017
Sorry. I have a lovely little milk cow. I will not feed her empty calories. Candy is no better for cows than for kids (or kids' parents).
Amy P. January 23, 2017
My parents still run the dairy farm I was raised on, and I've never heard of feeding cows candy. Salt licks, sure. Then again, we're not a factory farm...
Evan January 23, 2017
I can't tell from the tone of the article whether it's sincere or whether it's joking, either about "candy-fed beef" being common knowledge (and if sincere, perhaps in the future it's best to avoid inadvertently insulting readers who weren't aware of something by suggesting that a years-old viral news story is common knowledge) or in suggesting that this is an acceptable practice. I am tempted to read it as ironic, because there are so many obvious problems with the idea that this is part of a happy cow's nutritious, balanced diet, but also with the implication that such "clever" solutions to the problems created by absurdly wasteful industry practices can redeem systemic flaws that create so much environmental and social harm.
Jessica January 23, 2017
I think this commentary is way off base and out of touch. Can't we find something else to do with this malformed candy other than poisoning the unsuspecting masses with artificial flavors, colors and other harmful additives? Do you really think this is common knowledge for most people?And that this is what they choose to feed their families? Not to mention the environmental detriments brought about by large scale factory farming which more than offset any "waste reduction" taking place here....
caninechef January 23, 2017
I think it might be a stretch to think this is a good practice, just because a cow can digest a skittle (and it is legal) does not mean it is a good idea, at least from the cow's and possibly the end users prospective. Similar arguments are being made for including biologically inappropriate items in dog food in the name of using otherwise wasted food, or maybe not even something you might consider food. I am not very far into the concepts of ethical relationships with other species. I eat meat, think horse racing is fine etc. But using another species as a dumping ground for our waste ( unfit for human consumption because the S is missing no less) and perverting their diet far from what they are biologically designed to eat is I think unethical.
Jen C. January 23, 2017
I had no idea! I'm glad Food52 provides enlightening articles like this one. And I'm glad that it was noted that this practice can help to reduce extra waste.