Rendering has been called “the silent industry”. Each year in the US, 286 rendering plants quietly dispose of more than 12.5 million tons of dead animals, fat and meat wastes. As the public relations watchdog newsletter PR Watch observes, renderers “are thankful that most people remain blissfully unaware of their existence”.
When City Paper reporter Van Smith visited Baltimore’s Valley Proteins rendering plant last summer, he found that the “hoggers” (the large vats used to grind and filter animal tissues prior to deep-fat-frying) held an eclectic mix of body parts ranging from “dead dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, deer, foxes [and] snakes” to a “baby circus elephant” and the remains of Bozeman, a Police Department quarterhorse that “died in the line of duty”.
In an average month, Baltimore’s pound hands over 1,824 dead animals to Valley Proteins. Last year, the plant transformed 150 millions pounds of decaying flesh and kitchen grease into 80 million pounds of commercial meat and bone meal, tallow and yellow grease. Thirty years ago, most of the renderer’s wastes came from small markets and slaughterhouses. Today, thanks to the proliferation of fast-food restaurants, nearly half the raw material is kitchen grease and frying oil.
Recycling dead pets and wildlife into animal food is “a very small part of the business that we don’t like to advertise,” Valley Proteins’ President, J. J. Smith, told City Paper. The plant processes these animals as a “public service, not for profit,” Smith said, since “there is not a lot of protein and fat [on pets]…, just a lot of hair you have to deal with somehow.”
According to City Paper, Valley Proteins “sells inedible animal parts and rendered material to Alpo, Heinz and Ralston-Purina”. Valley Proteins insists that it does not sell “dead pet by-products” to pet food firms since “they are all very sensitive to the recycled pet potential”. Valley Proteins maintains two production lines&emdash;one for clean meat and bones and a second line for dead pets and wildlife. However, Van Smith reported, “the protein material is a mix from both production lines. Thus the meat and bone meal made at the plant includes materials from pets and wildlife, and about five per cent of that product goes to dry-pet-food manufacturers…”
A 1991 USDA report states that “approximately 7.9 billion pounds of meat and bone meal, blood meal and feather meal [were] produced in 1983”. Of that amount, 34 per cent was used in pet food, 34 per cent in poultry feed, 20 per cent in pig food and 10 per cent in beef and dairy cattle feed.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) carried in pig- and chicken-laden foods may eventually eclipse the threat of “mad cow disease”. The risk of household pet exposure to TSE from contaminated pet food is more than three times greater than the risk for hamburger-eating humans.
(Gar Smith is Editor of Earth Island Journal.)
THE DARK SIDE OF RECYCLING
[Author’s name withheld]
[In February 1990, the San Francisco Chronicle carried a macabre two-part story detailing how stray dogs, cats and pound animals are routinely rounded up by meat renderers and ground up into&emdash;of all things&emdash;pet food. According to the researcher who brought the information to the Chronicle, the paper buried the story and deleted many of the charges he had documented. A report he worked on for ABC television’s 20-20 was similarly watered down. In exasperation, he sent the story to Earth Island Journal. NEXUS has been asked to withhold the name of the author/researcher, who has been forced to flee San Francisco with his wife and go into hiding as a result of the threats made against his well-being. Ed.]
The rendering plant floor is piled high with “raw product”: thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons&emdash;all waiting to be processed. In the 90-degree heat, the piles of dead animals seem to have a life of their own as millions of maggots swarm over the carcasses.
Two bandana-masked men begin operating Bobcat mini-dozers, loading the “raw” into a 10-foot- deep stainless-steel pit. They are undocumented workers from Mexico, doing a dirty job. A giant auger-grinder at the bottom of the pit begins to turn. Popping bones and squeezing flesh are sounds from a nightmare you will never forget.
Rendering is the process of cooking raw animal material to remove the moisture and fat. The rendering plant works like a giant kitchen. The cooker, or “chef”, blends the raw product in order to maintain a certain ratio between the carcasses of pets, livestock, poultry waste and supermarket rejects.
Once the mass is cut into small pieces, it is transported to another auger for fine shredding. It is then cooked at 280 degrees for one hour. The continuous batch cooking process goes on non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week as meat is melted away from bones in the hot ‘soup’. During this cooking process, the ‘soup’ produces a fat of yellow grease or tallow that rises to the top and is skimmed off. The cooked meat and bone are sent to a hammermill press, which squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverises the product into a gritty powder. Shaker screens sift out excess hair and large bone chips. Once the batch is finished, all that is left is yellow grease, meat and bone meal.
A Meaty Menu
As the American Journal of Veterinary Research explains, this recycled meat and bone meal is used as “a source of protein and other nutrients in the diets of poultry and swine and in pet foods, with lesser amounts used in the feed of cattle and sheep. Animal fat is also used in animal feeds as an energy source.” Every day, hundreds of rendering plants across the United States truck millions of tons of this “food enhancer” to poultry ranches, cattle feed-lots, dairy and hog farms, fish-feed plants and pet-food manufacturers where it is mixed with other ingredients to feed the billions of animals that meat-eating humans, in turn, will eat.
Rendering plants have different specialities. The labelling designation of a particular “run” of product is defined by the predominance of a specific animal. Some product-label names are: meat meal, meat by-products, poultry meal, poultry by-products, fish meal, fish oil, yellow grease, tallow, beef fat and chicken fat.
Rendering plants perform one of the most valuable functions on Earth: they recycle used animals. Without rendering, our cities would run the risk of becoming filled with diseased and rotting carcasses. Fatal viruses and bacteria would spread uncontrolled through the population.