Sweets for cows? Questions raised as candy feed lands on roadway

© Mars Inc

The use of candy in feed garners attention in mainstream media after a spill of a load of Skittles, manufactured by Mars Inc, found on a roadside in the US.

The sheriff of Dodge Country, Wisconsin confirmed: “It is reported that the Skittles were intended to be feed for cattle as they did not make the cut for packaging at the company."

The candy was said to have spilled from a box that was deteriorating from wet weather. About half of the box emptied, according to the office.

The report has prompted broadcast and print media headlines, both in the US and internationally, with journalists questioning why skittles would be used as feedstuffs.

Mars does have candy products that are used in animal feed. However it does not know how a shipment from the Illinois-based factory was intended for animal consumption, said Denise Young, vice president of corporate affairs for Wrigley Americas, a subsidiary of Mars Inc.

“We’ve launched an investigation to figure out why it ended up where it was,” she told FeedNavigator. “It was coming from our Yorkville factory, [and] it doesn’t send any products for animal feed.”

It is unclear how much candy was in the shipment, said Young. The company also was not able to confirm that the farmer was going to use the candy as a feed product.

Candy waste

Some Mars facilities do send unwanted candies or ingredients to become animal feed, but it only happens with products from certain facilities, said Young. How and when food products are sent to be disposed of through use in animal feed depends on several factors including which factory is involved.

The practice of disposing of some products in a manner that allows them to be included in feed is part of the company’s zero waste policy, she said. “It’s part of it is our effort to maintain our zero waste to landfill effort,” she added.

“It’s highly regulated [and] we would never do anything to put any animals in danger,” she said of the practice. “In part it is about not producing waste in our factories.”

The candy being disposed of in this load was slated for destruction because a power outage occurred during the manufacturing process, she said. It was considered unfinished product.  

Candy feed

It is not a new practice to include a small amount of candy in a cattle feed, said Travis Meteer, extension educator in commercial agriculture with the University of Illinois. “It’s something that farmers have used as a low cost ingredient,” he added.

“First and foremost it’s probably lowering their diet costs, and the benefit is those products aren’t going into the landfill,” he told us. “Cattle can be the recycler.”

If an analysis is made of traditional cattle feeds like silage and hay there will be a component that is sugar, he said. In a generated feed, candy can be used to add energy to the diet.

“Generally the farmer uses those components under 10% or under 5%,” he said. “They’re used in a low matter in a diet – kind of like our diet as humans, we’re going to have a piece of candy every now and then – it’s one piece of a diet.”

When formatting a diet to include a candy product or bakery waste the ingredient likely will replace a grain or starch, said Meteer.  

“Cattle have been fed a low level of sugar for a long time [like] molasses tubs or molasses supplements,” he said. Adding a little sugar, like molasses, can help a ruminant digest the forage, he added.

“The key with all feed ingredients, corn, oats, hay or silage, is you have to provide a balanced diet,” he said.

One type of mixed diet that could include a candy-based ingredient would be a high-energy diet like that used for finishing cattle or for high-producing dairy cows, he said. “But, if used in the right manner, and at the right inclusion rate, it doesn’t matter – bakery type by-products are [also] included in swine and poultry rations,” he added.  

However, he said, there is sometimes a misconception that an ingredient, like candy, is being fed solo. “They’re not letting them [the cattle] eat the Skittles free choice, that’s not how it works,” he added.

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