Are Cows Eating Dead Cows as Feed?

Factory farm feedlots feed cows dead cows is the claim I’m checking.

The Fact is:

cartoon-bull_tBovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or commonly known as the Mad Cow Disease, is the result of feeding cows with blood, bone, and other unwanted flesh from all types of farmed animals that are probably infected. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, BSE spread within the United Kingdom and then to other countries through the practice of using rendered bovine origin proteins as an ingredient in cow feed.

However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final regulation that prohibits such practice in 1997. According to the FDA, it is illegal to use most of the mammalian protein in the production of animal feeds to ruminant animals, including cows, sheep and goats. In 2008, the FDA strengthened the rule by forbidding the use of the highest risk cattle tissues in all animal feed, not only limited to ruminant animals feed. These regulations reduce the risk of the spread of BSE within the United States. (link to the FDA rules and regulations)

In Power Steer, a long article published on New York Times in 2002, the author Michael Pollan gave a personal account of the modern day beef practices, in which the feedlots are permitted to use non-ruminant animal protein as feed to cows. Example of non-ruminant animal protein includes feather meal from chickens. Since the bovine meat and bone meal is now being fed to chickens, pigs and fish instead of cattle, infectious prions could still reach the end of cattle if cattle are eating non-ruminant animal protein from these animals. As a result, cows might be still eating dead cows, just indirectly. Since statistics also suggest that 10 percent of the animal flesh and bone meal is fed to cows now, cows in the United States are also eating other dead animals, shifting this species from herbivore to carnivore.

The New York Times article Power Steer is worth reading and can be accessed here


Mad Cow Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Mad Cow Found in California … Because Cows Are Being Fed Blood, Animal Parts and Feces. (2012, April 26). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014, September 17). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Title 21 – Food and Drugs. U.S. Government Printing Office. (2014, April 1). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Jacobson, B. (2013, December 12). You won’t believe the crap (literally) that factory farms feed to cattle. Retrieved November 21, 2014, from

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About The Website

This website is a fact-checking project for the Food Politics class of the Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) program at Georgetown University. The project focuses on the food documentary Fresh (2009) and examines the claims made in the film. Please refer to the introduction page for further information of the film. Also, please feel free to leave your comments on each claim’s section. Let’s start the fact-checking journey now!