I can buy bird feed for 10 - 20 ZAR per kilo. Choice grade flax seed or hemp seed go for R40 - R60 for half a kg.

I just want any random type of fibrous plant based seeds to blend in my smoothies. Is there anything added to bird feed that makes it unfit for human consumption or is it just left over seeds from the mills that did not make the cut? (Like I suspect)

I just cannot pay such a ridiculous premium for such a basic food stuff. I suspect the yuppie health shop are taking the vegans in the suburbs for a massive ride.

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    How about (pearl) millet for at least some of the seed? That's a staple food in South Africa so ought to be cheap. The fibre content is lower than flax seed but higher than the hulled hemp seeds usually sold for eating. In fact I wonder if the bird seed is partly so much cheaper because it contains skins that would be discarded in process or left on the ground by the birds
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 14:52
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    See atlastradingonline.com/… I buy flour from there for my daughter with allergies. Cheapest option I've found.
    – stanri
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 5:16
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    We regularly buy chicken feed for out backyard chickens and remember some historic recalls of chicken feed (and other pet foods) due to contamination and animals dying... Alternatively you could also look at "baking supplies" shops which sell spices, seeds and other stuffs in bulk and often cheaper, but ostensibly suitable for human consumption. The quality is not always very good though... Human consumption does not mean much IMHO, e.g. we still sort lentils (etc.) to remove toothbreakers, before cooking. And have found plastic shreds in dates from the store. Country of origin may hold clues.
    – frIT
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 9:46
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    I have found some online retailers that sell choice grade flax and hemp seed at a price that does not offend my sensibilities. I have decided against doing this.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 12:11
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    Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing that can be found cheaper online from wholesalers than the health store price. However I am not sure why you consider this a 'basic food stuff'. It's niche.
    – Merk
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 19:26

3 Answers 3


There’s nothing added to the seeds, but there’s a good chance that some things are not taken out of the original harvest.

Grains and other seeds can contain lots of foreign materials, from dirt and debris to seeds from other plants. They are grown on a field after all, there’s soil, wind, rain and then they are harvested and transported. Part of the processing steps for seeds and grains for food production is to “clean” the batches and do some tests with regards to quality standards. Overall, these contaminants are usually mostly harmless (although biting down on a stray stone can be very uncomfortable and keep your dentist busy, effectively eating up all potential savings from buying bird food over human food), but if you have a batch with grains/seeds that have gone bad or contain harmful other seeds, things can get nasty.

Cleaning steps for livestock feed are less meticulous and for bird seed, processing is down to the bare minimum (basically what’s necessary for storage purposes), because ultimately the birds will pick up the seeds one by one anyway - think Cinderella and the doves.

So in short, the choice is yours. The bird seed (assuming we are talking plants that are part of the typical food store range, not just any random seeds) should be edible, whether it meets your expectations of safe is up to you. If money is an issue, I would rather check out whether cheaper options like non-name-brands or buying in bulk are available. Although for the latter, time is a factor as especially oily seeds can go rancid quickly, so can be worth to calculate carefully.

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    I've often thought something similar about sunflower seeds ("hearts" in the context of bird food) which I use rather a lot of in bread etc.. For baking I'd give them a good rinse which would have a decent chance of revealing foreign objects. In the end I decided against it, preferring to pick up the cheapest stuff packed for human consumption despite the extra cost.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 14:37
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    IME bird seed keeps from one winter to the next if kept dry and airtight, but much longer and it smells rancid. So if you buy what use can use in a few months - and it hasn't been in a warehouse too long before that, which is far harder to know when it's not packed for human consumption - it shouldn't be off.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 14:37
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    Once I have called a animal food provider for asking about their well looking organic chicken breasts. They told me one could potentially eat it, but the aren't required to meet the sanitation standards. She said this means that they cut rumen and breasts with the same knife, for example. Nothing terrible. Like Stphanie said, its your choice whether it matters to you
    – Sebastian
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 15:00
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    @ChrisH That is another advantage to buying food intended for human consumption - seeds for birds often still have the shells on them, which is fine if you're a bird, but for a human, it's labor-intensive to remove the shells on enough seeds to make a meaningful meal. They do sell sunflower seeds for humans with the shells still on, but that's generally just in the "snack" category, kind of like pistachios or other nuts sold in-shell. You wouldn't want to have to deal with that many shells when preparing a full meal. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 13:20
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    @DarrelHoffman You can certainly buy sunflower hearts to feed to the birds. A quick check suggests that the smallest bag (2.5kg) of those is about half the price per 100g of sunflower seeds sold in the supermarket (300g bags) for human consumption (i.e. both hulled). NB the product normally sold as "seeds" for humans is sold as "hearts" for birds; "seeds" for the birds means shell-on - at least in UK manufacturers' usage. From handling both the bird seed will be far dustier - I wonder what the dust is
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 15:28

Mice and rats are allowed around bird seed and other creatures. You're going to be picking up contaminants that aren't present in seed fit for human consumption.


Products like bird feed usually contain explicit information about not being intended for human consumption. This allows producers to get away with skipping a lot of precautions that make food products safe for human consumption. If you happen to get poisoned by eating such things, chances of you or your family getting a favorable outcome in the court of law are basically zero. Unless there is some sort of crisis going on and you have no other choice, you should not consume animal feed.


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