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Rendering: The Invisible Industry

Published 09/15/02
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 33 Number 3, Fall 2002

Ask what comes from “factory-farmed animals” and most people will think “food.” After all, eggs come from factory-farmed chickens, milk from dairy lot cows, sausages and bacon and pork chops from factory-farmed pigs. But why should we think the use of animals stops at the dinner table?

It doesn’t, of course. Leather (see “Slaughtered and Skinned”) goes into shoes, pelts become furs, and much of what is worn comes from animals. But it doesn’t stop there.

With the rendering process, every bit of farmed animals (and sometimes even our dog and cat companions) is used in an astonishing variety of items — lubricants, polish, soap, cement, ink, lipstick, pharmaceuticals, Jell-O, gummy candies, pet foods and agricultural feed, to name just a few. The rendering industry utilizes a “witch’s brew” of animal parts: spinal cords, brains, eyeballs, and intestines, turning whatever’s not wanted by the food and clothing industries into the components of a thousand useful products.

Any farmed animal has a short, pitiful life. After a life of subjugation at the hands of humans, it’s off to slaughter, to be used in the products we see all around us — in our homes, our medicine cabinets, our furniture, even in our children’s toys. Misery and pain exist behind every child’s stroke of a Crayola crayon, which, just like many of the glues and adhesives found among a kid’s art supplies, is derived from rendered animal parts. While the child takes pains to draw their favorite farm animal, it’s the real life farmed animals who endure the real pain.

100 Million Pounds a Day

In the United States, roughly 250 rendering plants located around the country process approximately 100 million pounds of “waste” or inedible parts of slaughtered animals such as bones, blood, hides, offal, feathers, as well as road kill, spoiled grocery meat, restaurant grease, and euthanized dogs, cats, and horses, every day. The end results of the process are a variety of products including tallow, lard, animal feed, protein meal, cosmetics, and mechanical lubricants. According to the industry rhetoric, rendering provides an essential service to the public by “recycling” unwanted animal remains and restaurant waste. (The renderers even call themselves the Original Recyclers in a 1996 self-published book about the industry.) Indeed, in 1994 the rendering industry processed a staggering 50 billion pounds of poultry and animal remains into commodities such as protein meals, grease, and tallow.

The National Renderer’s Association classifies the use of rendered products into four primary categories:

  1. as an ingredient in animal (livestock and pet) rations;
  2. as ingredients in industrial processes;
  3. in the manufacture of soaps and personal care products; and
  4. as edible products for use in the food industry.

While the thought of a rendering plant might conjure horrific images of plant workers accidentally falling into boiling vast of muck (boiling is known as wet rendering), those are images out of the past. Modern rendering facilities use dry rendering, which releases fat by dehydrating the raw animal materials in large, mostly enclosed, steel cookers.

Regardless of the method, the fact remains that animals are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment even after the slaughter.

Fresh “Source Material”

The rendering industry recognizes two classifications of processing plants, integrated and independent.

An integrated rendering plant is located on site and works in tandem with either a slaughterhouse or a poultry processing plant. This close proximity to the killing allows the integrated rendering plant to receive relatively fresh “source material,” a necessity as all edible-product rendering plants are subject to annual inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as standards set by the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The resulting human-grade, edible products are known as lard (derived from the fatty tissues of pigs) and tallow (from cows). The U.S. produces a little over 50% of the world’s tallow and grease, and exports almost 40% of this.

Edible products are rendered in a continuous two-stage centrifugal separation process. Fat trimmings from slaughterhouses are transferred to a specially designed grinder that cuts the fat into uniformly sized pieces that are sent via conveyor belt to a melt tank. At 110° F the melted fatty tissue is pumped to a “disintegrator” where the fat cells are ruptured. Next, a centrifuge separates the protein solids from the actual melted fats — the coveted commodity. Finally, these edible fats are again subjected to centrifuge where they become “polished” using 200° F steam.

The resulting polished edible tallow or lard — which looks just like the lard or tallow sold in grocery stores for use in cooking — is pumped to storage and later sold to a wholesaler for eventual sale to the public.

On the Outskirts

In contrast, independent rendering plants, which are often located on the outskirts of urban areas, process a wide variety of animal remains, from rotten grocery meat to deceased zoo animals. In states where it is not prohibited, these plants also process euthanized dogs and cats from animal shelters and veterinarian offices.

End products from independent rendering plants include non-human-grade tallow to be used in animal feed, and grease used for soaps, lubricants, and detergents. Also produced are feather meal and blood meal, both used in the production of livestock feed.

Although the rendering industry has been referred to as the “invisible industry,” one cannot mistake the odor that pervades the vicinity of a rendering plant. The outside of a rendering plant might look like so many other industrial enterprises, but its indescribable stink is retching. The rancid source materials, processed at temperatures of 220° F, cause these noxious smells. Recognizing the awful stench that is emitted, the rendering industry itself suggests that, since there is such high odor intensity, the emissions “should normally be treated by odor control equipment.” (Due to the “freshness” of their source materials, integrated rendering plants reportedly give off almost no noticeable odor.)

The independent renderer can be viewed as the garbage collector of the rendering business — taking everything nobody else can use. The range of different source material is therefore huge.

Typically, independent rendering plants send out their own trucks to pick up source material. Specially designed trucks collect discarded fat and bone trimmings, meat scraps, restaurant grease, blood, feathers, and offal from butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, feedlots, and ranches. Another truck may be dispatched to city animal shelters to collect euthanized or otherwise dead animals.

This “service” performed by the rendering industry keeps the independent render in business while relieving other businesses of unwanted products. And a small percentage of “material” comes to the plant from private individuals who may wish to dispose of a large dead animal, such as a horse. Rendering plants vary in their willingness to accept outside donations and some plants even charge a fee to the depositor. Nevertheless, the bulk of the animal product comes from slaughterhouses and/or integrated rendering plants that have already taken what they need.

Leftover Parts

The bulk of the material to be rendered consists of the leftover parts of a slaughtered animal. Because of the way the edible meats are cut from the carcass, the bones remain largely attached to one another.

The first step in the rendering process is to cut these large bodies into smaller, more manageable sizes. This raw material is “screw conveyed” — dropped onto a huge screw whose sharp edges cuts the chunks into smaller pieces — to a crusher that reduces the size to 1- or 2-inch pieces. A batch cooker cooks the pieces for 2 to 3 hours at 250-275°. These cooked materials are then put onto a sieve, known as a drain pan, where all excess fat and liquid is drained off, leaving only the solids.

The solids, now known as tankage, are conveyed to the screw press to finish the fat separation process. At this stage, the solids/tankage is known as cracklings, which gets crushed into small enough bits to filter through a 12 mesh screen, eventually becoming the “protein meal” used in livestock feed or pet food.

The independent rendering plants produce the bulk of ingredients that end up in so many different products. (See “Disheartening Specifics” for details.)

What You Can Do

Products that contain rendered ingredients are so pervasive in our society that getting along without them is a serious challenge to all but the hardiest animal rights advocate. But all of us can help reduce animal suffering by reducing our use of those products.

The good news is that cruelty-free options are available, including gummy candies, crayons (vegan-sourced crayons are not hard to find), and cosmetics.

The international symbol for cruelty-free products — the leaping bunny logo — denotes products which are free of animal sources, and includes those whose non-cruelty-free counterparts contain rendered ingredients. Visit the Leaping Bunny website to learn more.

You can find cruelty-free alternatives at your local natural foods co-op, on the Internet (use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo for “cruelty free”), or contact API for information.

Disheartening Specifics

Material from rendering plants ends up in, among other products, Jell-O, gummy candies, photographic film, fertilizer for “organic” produce, and anti-rejection drugs. The following list is by no means definitive.

Non-edible tallow is an important ingredient in wax paper, crayons, margarine, and soap; oleic acid (used in foods, soft soaps, bar soaps, permanent wave solutions, shampoos, hair dyes, creams, nail polish, lipsticks, liquid makeups, nasal sprays, inhalers); glycerine (used in inks, glues, solvents, explosives, antifreeze, cosmetics, foods, mouthwashes, toothpastes, soaps, ointments, medicines, lubricants, transmission and brake fluids, plastics); stearic acid (used in rubber and tires, cosmetics, soaps, lubricants, candles, hairsprays, conditioners, deodorants, creams, food flavoring, pharmaceutical products); and linoleic acid (used in paints and esters).

Meat meal and bone meal is used in livestock feed, poultry feed, and pet food.

API on Rendering and Pet Food

Although the most predominant ingredient in commercial pet foods is grain, API’s own investigative report, “What's Really in Pet Food,” first published in 1997, reveals:

“Meat and poultry meals, by-product meals, and meat-and-bone meal are common ingredients in pet foods. The term ‘meal’ means that these materials are not used fresh, but have been rendered.”

Using rendered ingredients allows a pet food company to sell a 40-lb. bag of generic dog food for $9.95. Otherwise, the cost of purchasing quality ingredients would be much higher than the selling price.

The rendering process supposedly destroys the bacteria from contaminated meats that go to rendering plants, as well as 4-D meats (diseased, dead, dying, or downed [disabled]) that slaughterhouses cannot process for human consumption.

From our report:

“While the cooking process may kill bacteria, it does not eliminate the endotoxins some bacteria produce during their growth and are released when they die. These toxins can cause sickness and disease. Pet food manufacturers do not test their products for endotoxins.”

Dead animals contribute more than bacteria. Newspapers occasionally feature lurid tales of cats, dogs, or even zoo animals poisoned by the phenobarbital that stayed in the rendered tissue of a euthanized animal and was present in the food given them. Industry insiders admit that rendered pets and roadkill were used in pet food some years ago. Although there are still no laws or regulations against it, the practice is uncommon today, and pet food companies universally deny that their products contain any such materials. However, so-called “4D” animals (dead, dying, diseased, disabled) were only recently banned for human consumption and are still legitimate ingredients for pet food.

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