Despite the markets being pretty fair over the next fifty years, it’s worth noting that during and post World War II, we began to see a shift in the way livestock were raised, using newfound “technologies,” which set the landscape for livestock historically raised on pasture shifting toward confinement. During this time there was a shortage of feed crops and meat prices were high, which pressed the industry to find alternative methods of enhancing feed efficiency and growth.
“'Wonder Drug' Aureomycin Found to Spur Growth 50%”
This headline spread across the front page of The New York Times in big, bold letters on April 10,1950.
“Five pounds of an unpurified product, selling at 30 to 40 cents a pound, when added to a whole ton of animal feed”, the report states, “has increased the growth rate of hogs as much as 50%.” “Similar results have been obtained in chickens and turkeys.”
With a surplus of antibiotics post-war, a biochemist named Thomas H. Jukes discovered that when aureomycin was fed to livestock, growth rates increased exponentially. Antibiotics increase the efficiency of animal growth by inhibiting the growth of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, which triggers immune responses. Feeding antibiotics also allowed livestock to be confined together, lessening the chance of a disease outbreak, and converting more pasture land for crop production.
Other common practices that hit the market over the following decades:
- In the early 1950s, synthetic urea began to see widespread use as a protein substitute, and in 1957 the first cattle hormone implant was introduced, helping increase growth rates feed efficiency.
- In 1967, the FDA approved chicken manure in its “unadulterated” form to be fed to cattle.
- Beta-agonists (growth promoters, working at the cellular level to cause the animal to put on muscle mass instead of fat) were approved in the late 90s. One of the most popular products was pulled from the market by the manufacturer after it was suspected to cause lameness. Today, it’s estimated that 50-80% of fed cattle have had beta-agonists (with just a 3 day slaughter withdrawal period) and can still be marketed as hormone free beef, since it’s not a hormone implant.
- Cattle, who are ruminants designed to digest forage, were fed dead cattle which eventually caused Mad Cow Disease – a now banned practice for ruminants as of 1997.
The discovery of manmade inputs is what set the landscape for cattle and hog industries to begin to emulate the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) poultry industry (common since the 50s), becoming the “ideal” way to raise America’s meat, beginning in the 1970s. This shift in the production methods through the 70s led to a flip-flopping of land utilization in America, with livestock moving into confinement, and grasslands moving out of grazing and into monoculture row crop production. The more concentrated livestock operations became, the more farmland was earmarked to grow their feed. Today, over 440 million acres of monoculture cropland exists in the US, with just 9 plant species accounting for almost 66% of the production.
In part 2, we’ll continue to explore the agricultural changes that took place during this time period and discuss a very influential man in agriculture, Earl Butz.
Sources for Part 1.1: Microbewiki.kenyon.edu, Motherjones.com