Ever wondered where cows go after they die?
The answer—as far as we know—is not cow heaven, but rather rendering plants where their meat is processed and shipped away; their bones, tendons, and blood are discarded; and their fats and greases are recycled. Now, due to an unrelenting heat wave on the West Coast, so many Californian dairy cows are dying that these massive plants, which can generally process upward of one million pounds of flesh per day, are completely overloaded.
In counties like Fresno, Tulare, and Kings, the problem has become so widespread that they have declared a state of emergency, allowing dairy producers to bury their dead cattle on site in landfills, The Fresno Bee reports. According to a California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP) advisory, Baker Commodities, the largest rendering and grease removal in the area, is dealing with a significant backlog caused by more than a week of triple-digit heat.
"Due to the extended and record temperatures experienced over the last two weeks, Baker Commodities' usual processing capacity was overwhelmed by an abnormally high level of mortalities," the advisory states. "The company has worked with industry and regulators and made provisions for some additional disposal through other rendering and landfill avenues."
As a result, the CDQAP, along with regulators, have given dairies in the area three new emergency measures to deal with the climbing cattle deaths: direct transport of decomposing cows to alternative rendering facility or permitted landfill, temporary storage on-farm for later transport to permitted landfills, or permanent on-site burial in emergency landfills, something it calls "a disposal method of last resort."
"Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kings, Madera, Stanislaus and Kern counties either already have or are in the process of creating such emergency declarations," the CDQAP added. Between 4,000 to 6,000 livestock have died in June due to the heat wave, according to CBS News. Cows, who rely on respiration to regulate body heat and do not sweat effectively, are particularly susceptible to heat waves. MUNCHIES has reached out to the CDQAP for additional comment on the matter but has not yet received a response.
Last week, MUNCHIES spoke with University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences cattle researcher Raluca Mateescu, who is the recipient of a $733,000 federal grant to explore how the cows of the future could adapt to warmer temperatures and to examine their genomes in the hopes of one day making them more resistant to heat.
Since more than half of the cattle in the world lives in hot and humid environments, climate change has put a significant strain on beef and dairy cows. Researchers are considering altering their genes in order to create heat-resistant cows that can better withstand warmer weather.
By editing cow genes, Mateescu hopes to "enhance productivity of the US livestock industry and secure global food supplies" with genomic tools that offer "a powerful new approach to address the challenges of climate change and develop climate-smart productive cattle for a future, hotter world."
But the future is creeping up quickly—and not without bovine casualties to prove it.