This soylent-green-like practice is nothing new. It used to be that when a farmer came upon a dead cow, pig or chicken, or when a municipal worker came upon a splattered armadillo, or when a kill shelter needed to rid itself of piles of euthanized dogs and cats, they would take their animals to the local renderer. At the renderer, the animal corpse is pulverized and melted to its constituent parts—proteins, fat and —which would then be refined and re-enter society as soap, candles, crayons, and other products.Without this ancient industry, proponents note, we would be dealing with nearly 60 billion pounds of animal bones, blood, and viscera, as well as the 4 million cattle, 7 million pigs and 100 million chickens that die as a matter of course on farms each year in the United States. All those dead animals would just have to be wasted in our already overflowing landfills. According to the NRA, we'd all be drowning in rotting offal within four years.
Feeding cows the greasy remnants of their butchered brothers actually upsets their stomachs less than vegetarian options.
It was in the early 1900s that agriculturists first began using rendered fat to feed America's livestock. Until then, it was used mostly for soap, and before that, candles. In 1950, only two percent of all inedible tallow and grease was used in animal feed. As soap manufacturers transitioned to synthetic sources, the rendering industry adapted. By the late 1990s, cows, pigs and chickens were consuming more than 70 percent of all inedible tallow.Likewise, the use of ground animal protein—meat and bone meal (MBM)—was "discovered" in the early 1900s and took off around World War II. Soon, nearly all of the approximately 8 million tons of animal protein produced each year was going into animal feed. Those were the glory days of agricultural recycling. Tech advancements even helped rid rendering plants of their notoriously bad smells.Then, in 1986, cows in Great Britain started stumbling around and dying. The infectious proteins that cause Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE) could withstand the intense heat of the rendering process. By 1997, authorities stepped in to ban the practice of feeding cow protein to cows. A blossoming MBM export industry collapsed. Today, the vast majority of rendered protein goes into pet food and chicken feed.
Today, the vast majority of rendered protein goes into pet food and chicken feed.
"I personally have an issue with people who want to feed all vegetable instead of a mixture of vegetable and animal," he said. "It's just marketing and consumer demand. People were turned off when they found out that cows are eating cows. I would say that cows are eating nutrients, it doesn't matter where they're coming from."Despite such demonization, about half of all rendered fats and greases (36 percent of which is inedible tallow) still go into animal feed or pet food, and about a fourth of all fat feed goes to cows. Rendered fat remains, according to a 2011 survey, the primary source of fat in most livestock rations, and tallow use in feed, food, and industry was up 4 percent overall in 2013.The fat market has also found itself in the throes of strong demand from a brash newcomer in the market for processed fat by-products (or "co-products," the preferred term in the industry, since the fat and protein gained is valuable, just like the steak that comes with it). US biofuel production has exploded in recent years, growing from 300 million gallons in 2000 to nearly two billion gallons today and threatening to drive up fat and feed prices. Over the last five years, biofuel has consumed half a million metric tons of rendered fat that would have otherwise ended up on the export market.
The fallout from BSE continues to stigmatize tallow, a trend that has led some feed mixers to favor vegetable fats over animal fats.
Markets may change, but rendered products will remain a crucial ingredient in animal feed for as long as they present an affordable source of energy and protein for farmers, said Meeker."Nutrient building blocks are nutrient building blocks," Meeker said. "Fat is fat and protein is protein. Rendered products are broken down to their basic parts and they're proven safe."While feeding cows their own fat may seem dystopian, unnatural, and somewhat sinister to many non-agriculturalists, here's some apologist math from the NRA to consider:The world's population is growing by more than 200,000 people each day, and demand for milk and meat are also growing fast.Animal fat contains more than twice as much energy as grain, so replacing all the animal fat in our livestock feed would require more than 474,000 truckloads of corn each year, or another three million acres of corn production. Replacing the protein used in feeding would require 12.2 billion pounds of soybean meal, which amounts to 11 percent of all the soy protein produced in the United States. Together, all that protein and energy would require about a third of all of Iowa's farmland.Hence the most convincing argument for turning a blind eye to all our cannibal cows, chickens, and pigs: Without their insatiable hunger for their own kind, our food would be much more expensive. Many of us wouldn't be able to afford a steak, a glass of milk, or maybe even a can of corn, to begin with.In its own weird way, rendering is America's original green industry. It not only directly supports the production of biofuels, but it prevents overuse of farmland, reuses natural resources, and keeps food affordable. We consume this stuff every day and, like our cows, we don't seem to mind. After all, fat is just fat, and fat is delicious.
In its own weird way, rendering is America's original green industry.