But its food chain doesnt end there because the corn

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ecosystem, I could see, revolves around corn. But its food chain doesn’t end there, because the corn itself grows somewhere else, where it isimplicated in a whole other set of ecological relationships. Growing the vast quantities of corn used to feed livestock in this country takesvast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil—1.2 gallons for every bushel. So the modern feedlot is really acity floating on a sea of oil.I started my tour at the feed mill, the yard’s thundering hub, where three meals a day for 37,000 animals are designed and mixed bycomputer. A million pounds of feed passes through the mill each day. Every hour of every day, a tractor­trailer pulls up to disgorgeanother 25 tons of corn. Around the other side of the mill, tanker trucks back up to silo­shaped tanks, into which they pump thousands ofgallons of liquefied fat and protein supplement. In a shed attached to the mill sit vats of liquid vitamins and synthetic estrogen; next tothese are pallets stacked with 50­pound sacks of Rumensin and tylosin, another antibiotic. Along with alfalfa hay and corn silage forroughage, all these ingredients are blended and then piped into the dump trucks that keep Poky’s eight and a half miles of trough filled.The feed mill’s great din is made by two giant steel rollers turning against each other 12 hours a day, crushing steamed corn kernels intoflakes. This was the only feed ingredient I tasted, and it wasn’t half bad; not as crisp as Kellogg’s, but with a cornier flavor. I passed,however, on the protein supplement, a sticky brown goop consisting of molasses and urea.Corn is a mainstay of livestock diets because there is no other feed quite as cheap or plentiful: thanks to federal subsidies and ever­growingsurpluses, the price of corn ($2.25 a bushel) is 50 cents less than the cost of growing it. The rise of the modern factory farm is a directresult of these surpluses, which soared in the years following World War II, when petrochemical fertilizers came into widespread use. Eversince, the U.S.D.A.’s policy has been to help farmers dispose of surplus corn by passing as much of it as possible through the digestive tractsof food animals, converting it into protein. Compared with grass or hay, corn is a compact and portable foodstuff, making it possible tofeed tens of thousands of animals on small plots of land. Without cheap corn, the modern urbanization of livestock would probably neverhave occurred.We have come to think of “cornfed” as some kind of old­fashioned virtue; we shouldn’t. Granted, a cornfed cow develops well­marbledflesh, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have learned to like. Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat, since itcontains more saturated fat. A recent study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass­fed livestock notonly had substantially less fat than grain­fed meat but that the type of fats found in grass­fed meat were much healthier. (Grass­fed meat

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