Is it ethical to feed fish to cows?

As a starter I wrote this on the board.

Is it ethical to feed fish to cows? 

I did this as a starter all day with different age groups from 13 year olds to 18 year olds.

Pupils were instructed to spend two minutes in silence reflecting on this sentence.

Their faces said it all “ but what do you mean?”. So I probed and suggested that they write down what thoughts or questions come to mind when you read this statement.

This is a summary of the main thoughts or questions raised:

  • Unusual
  • This statement is strange
  • Why would cows eat fish?
  • Awful
  • Not acceptable
  • Random
  • Is it safe?
  • What are the long term affects?
  • Will it affect how the milk tastes?
  • Will it affect the cow’s health or behaviour?
  • Will anything good or bad come out of it?
  • Will the cows suffer from it?
  • No it’s cruel, unethical , unimaginable, gross
  • Is the fish alive or cooked?
  • Fish can’t be alive out of water
  • It would be uneconomical
  • Waste of fish
  • Yes it is okay because we eat fish ourselves.
  • Is it okay for humans to eat humans?
  • Cows are mammal and so are we?
  • Only if the fish had been sourced properly
  • It is okay because unless you are a vegetarian your always eaten other inferior points and it is part of the food chain for animals to eat other animals. Although we should keep the. Use to eating their own food.
  • No cows are herbivores and there is plenty of other things they can eat without killing fish to feed cows that don’t need fish in their diet, there are used to eating grass not fish.
  • Yes because fish has protein in it
  • It depends on the fish
  • It’s unethical!
  • Why fish?
  • Not really!
  • What kind of fish?
  • Do the cows want to eat fish?
  • How often would this happen?
  • Some children don’t like the taste of fish so it may be a good way for them to get omega 3 oils
  • It would be a convenient way to get omega 3 – you could add milk to tea.

After the pupils had enthusiastically told me their thoughts I told them that this starter was inspired by a small paragraph from this month’s Complete Nutrition magazine.

I read out the paragraph.

complete nutrition

This generated even more discussion as many of the pupils had an image in their heads of feeding whole fish to cows in the way that fish are feed to penguins. Most of the pupils hands were raised as they eagerly wanted to tell me their thoughts. I was surprised by how this statement had made them so engaged in the lesson so I went with it.

Within the context of this starter we discussed:

The sustainability of fish

Food Waste

Animal Welfare


The digestive system of a cow – stomach is divided into four parts, they chew the cud.

Cows, methane and pollution

Food production – why don’t they just add omega 3 oils to milk?

British Dairy Farmers – impact on diary sales. Do farmers need to come up with innovative ideas to increase sales.

Religion – are cows not sacred in the Hindu religion.?

Fish as a high risk food.

I actually don’t think I was prepared for where this statement would lead. I grew up on a small farm where we grew  crops and raised cattle  for beef and our neighbour was a dairy farmer. I knew that people in the area had great respect for the cows and that when the foot and mouth disease was discovered in our community children and adults were upset as cattle and sheep were culled. I studied Agricultural Science at school so I felt confident in discussing the digestive system of the cow and the fact that grass contained nitrogen a source of protein.I had a pet calf as a child which I fed with a bottle. As a teenagers I received a cow as a present and I could decide whether to keep or sell the cow. I sold the cow because I wanted to buy clothes.So I’m not exactly a cow expert but my knowledge and experiences meant that I could probe with some interesting or obscure questions.

So if I were to do this starter again, I would not use it as a starter I would use it as the main sentence to base a lesson on the social, moral, ethical, and cultural factors of food production. I have read up on many of the issues discussed above to ensure that I am fully in the know and able to respond confidently to pupil’s discussion point’s questions.

It was a really enjoyable discussion and one I would recommend trying out. It opened my mind and I am sure it got the pupils thinking too.

Feel free to comment or email me at if you would like to discuss this blog further.

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