How agricultural rendering supports sustainability and assists livestock’s ability to contribute more than just food

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By: Por: Anna D. Wilkinson and David L. Meeker *North American Renderers Association (NARA)

The sustainability benefits of rendering can be accurately tracked and are more highly valued as our environment faces threats of climate change and reduced landfill space.

Render is the act of processing and cooking undesired, or uneaten live stock and poultry meat that remains after a meat animal has been slaughtered and the meat used for consumption has been harvested.

Renderers upcycle that unused material (fat, protein, feathers, bone, etc.) for new, secondary uses. Many meat eaters in North America consider roughly 50% of a meat animal to be “inedible,” leaving a large amount of material left over.

Rendering reclaims this other wise wasted food (protein, bone, fat, etc.), as well as UCO from restau rants, and transforms it into ingredients for countless new goods up cycling most of this unwanted meat from slaughter and processing into things like animal feed ingredients, safe and nutritious pet food, beauty, household and industrial products, biofuels, and many more useful and common goods.

“As a result, huge volumes of meat leftovers and UCO are kept out of landfills, resulting in a net reduction of carbon emissions, a substantial GHG reduction, reduced food waste and saved landfill space.”

Safety and Regulation

Renderers have quality and safety control systems in place with voluntary programs such as the Rendering Industry Code of Practice designed to foresee hazards that could occur and prevent them. These control systems assure that cooking temperatures are high enough to kill bacteria and control pathogenic microbial contamination.

Additional programs also address plant and transport cleaning, and other biosecurity measures such as traffic control. Stringent testing protocols are used to verify that rendering processes are accurately managed and operated.

Testing programs include training and strict record keeping, as well as spot checks and follow up by independent third party audits to ensure plants are following all plan instruction and protocol to the letter to ensure product safety.

The intent is to transform the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illness to preventing it.

Current good manufacturing practices are required throughout plants for training, sanitation, operations, equipment, and other areas to ensure safe production. Rendering plants are among the most scrutinized and most inspected animal food ingredient producers in the world, and the rendering industry is highly compliant with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations.

More Than Just Food—Rendered Products Surround Us Every Day

Renderers often discuss the “Big 4” rendered product markets: pet food/animal feed, fuel, oleochemical products, and fertilizer. However, other rendered products not mentioned as often include gel bone (rendered bone chips) used to create gel caps used for vitamins, supplements, and drugs, cosmetics (like lotions and soaps made from rendered fats), and even tires.

Rendered fats specifically have many additional industrial   uses with over 70% of those requiring processes like refining, filtration, bleaching, hydrogenation, trans-esterification, and drying before they can be made into new products.

Many factors affect the suitability of rendered fats for such use including the types and blends of animal byproducts to be rendered, storage conditions of the animal raw material byproducts before processing, storage conditions of the rendered fats after processing, and the methods and procedures of the rendering process used.

Biodiesel fuel is an important subcategory made possible by using rendered materials including fats and proteins. A considerable percentage of America’s biodiesel and renewable diesel is made from recycled cooking oil, also known as UCO, such as that used in fryers, with a large amount also coming from animal fats.

Because of their chemical composition, fats release concentrated amounts of energy when burned which can be used as a biofuel. Materials such as organs, hair, hooves, and blood also contribute to other products in addition to foodstuffs.

A Sustainable Contribution

The sustainability benefits of rendering can be accurately tracked and are more highly valued as our environment faces threats of climate change and reduced landfill space.

Additionally, consumers seem ever more aware of their sustainability practices when making purchases due to this information and education on sustainability being widely available across media platforms.

“Specific areas of rendering’s sustainable contributions include reduced food waste, water reclamation, and sustainable pet food.”

Rendering reduces the environmental impacts of animal agriculture by sequestering five times more GHGs than are produced. By reclaiming otherwise discarded meat leftovers, renderers make our food production footprint smaller

Reduced food waste

Preventing food waste in the first place is an important first step in saving landfill space, and one that comes before rendering.

Although all livestock food animals generate byproducts as they are transformed for human diets, reduced restaurant and personal food waste can be eliminated before it becomes a problem by following the levels of the hierarchy starting with “source reduction.”

“Grocery store leftovers would also be a contributor to food waste, but because renderers pick up those meat leftovers from butcher shops, grocers, and small slaughtering operations, grocery store waste has a much smaller footprint.”

Renderers also recycle billions of pounds of UCO from restaurants used to cook fried food items like French fries, and transforms that oil and fat into biodiesel, renewable diesel, and ingredients for pet food and animal feed.

Water reclamation

The rendering process evaporates the moisture from the raw materials and processes all runoff and wash water though water treatment that meets regulatory standards.

Annually, 3.7 billion gallons of water are reclaimed during the rendering process and naturally released back into the environment through evaporation or returned as clean water to streams and rivers.

Additionally, renderer pickup of used cooking grease and oil from restaurants saves municipal sewer and wastewater systems from becoming clogged.

Sustainable pet food

The rendering industry adds value to animal parts not normally used for human consumption (organs, bones, cartilage, and fat) by processing this material for pet food ingredients. These rendered end products provide essential fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals to enhance pet health and nutrition.

Use of rendered products in pet food also significantly reduces the carbon footprint of the food we feed our dogs, cats, and other pets by repurposing byproducts that might other wise be wasted.

Supporting the Three Pillars of Sustainability Rendering also represents all three pillars of sustainability— Environmental, Economic, and Social. These three pillars are sometimes depicted visually as architectural pillars and other times as a three circle Venn diagram.

Pillar 1—Environmental

By reclaiming otherwise discarded meat leftovers, renderers make our food production footprint smaller, save landfill space, and help minimize the environmental impacts of animal agriculture such as climate change, as rendering assists greatly in the reduction of food waste, reduced GHG and water consumption.

Rendering reclaims and protects valuable water that would otherwise be wasted or contaminated. Renderers feed and grow the next generation of food by “recycling” unwanted meat into animal food and fertilizer, reduce waste by rendering grocery store leftovers and UCO.

“Without rendering’s reclamation of this otherwise wasted material, and it was instead thrown away, all available landfill space would be used up in approximately four short years.”

An average rendering plant sequesters five times more GHG emissions from the environment than it emits and rendering also avoids at least 90% of the potential GHG emissions compared with industrial composting,

Pillar 2—Social

With employee retention rates high, renderers offer career stability and contributions to local communities. By reclaiming and converting animal leftovers and UCO into new products, rendering helps customers and consumers to be more sus- tainable while providing thousands of full-time and stable jobs supporting families and local communities from coast to coast in America and Canada, many in rural areas.

“Rendering workers are highly skilled and competitively compensated, and renderers contribute to their local communities and organizations.”

Renderers and plant owners also invest considerably in improvements and enhancements to sustainability efforts, in addition to supporting their local communities both financially and socially

Pillar 3—Economic

The rendering industry is sustainable and financially stable with an economic contribution of $10 billion, annually. An average rendering plant provides nearly 100 stable jobs that offer competitive pay and benefits.

New Data

This research consisted of understanding the total supply of renderable products, estimates of total rendered products, conducting a three part survey of rendering companies in the United States and Canada, and studying consumer and industry driven market trends. Highlights from the research are outlined below.

Approximately 15.7 million tons of rendered products are produced from beef, pork, turkey, and broiler processing plants annually. This is 57% protein meals, 40% fats, and 3% plasma meal. In 2018, the equivalent of 11.1 million acres of soybeans (protein equivalent) and 2.6 million acres of corn (energy equivalent) were averted (not planted).

Rendered products have a substantially positive environmental
impact in that it keeps those products from ending up in landfills by redirecting them to higher valued, more sustainable markets such as feed, fuel, and fertilizer. An additional sustainability benefit of rendering is the reclamation and return of clean water to the environment.

3.7 billion gallons of water from the products that are rendered are either released as water vapor (evaporation) or through treated wastewater discharge.

“Rendered products have a substantially positive environmental impact in that it keeps those products from ending up in landfills by redirecting them to higher valued, more sustainable markets such as feed, fuel, and fertilizer.”

Renderers are substantial employers who offer competitive benefits to their employees, including paid time off, contributions, paid health insurance premiums, disability insurance, and education assistance for job related skills and certificates.

In addition to upcycling materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, renderers are investing millions of dollars in environmental improvement efforts.

Looking Forward

Large amounts of energy are used during the rendering process, in the cooking process, and by the fleet of trucks needed to haul the raw and finished material to the plant or customers.

The rendering industry continues to educate the public on the many sustainability benefits of upcycling rendered material into new goods.

Looking ahead the rendering industry has these large scale issues
to keep in mind, as well as more focused key items to consider as it prepares for the future. The rendering industry and markets for rendered products should expand to match the predicted growth of meat production and services needed by a growing U.S. and Canadian population.

Trends continue to evolve in the pet food sector as well, the latest of which relates to the use of animal byproducts in dog and cat foods that are not rendered but rather purchased raw or frozen and then extruded as a complete pet food.

“The rendering industry must continue to use new and existing research data to prove that animal byproducts can provide a nutrient rich diet for poultry.”

The rendering industry also continues to research new methods and processes to meet needs of evolving customers. The rendering business is profitable and sustainable. It is also essential to making a meat animal more sustainable than it would be if byproducts were not rendered and used for the highest possible purpose.

*This is a summarized version of the article “How agricultural rendering supports sustainability and assists livestock’s ability to contribute more than just food”, developed by Anna D. Wilkinson and David L. Meeker de la North American Renderers Association (NARA). The original version can be found online through this refer- ence doi: 10.1093/af/vfab002

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