Rendering Plants: Everything You Never Wanted to Know

Rendering plants process otherwise terrifying materials into relatively safe byproducts. A favourite statement of renderers is that “rendering is recycling.” And it’s true. Without renderers, our landfills would quickly overflow, poisoning the planet with the gases emitted from carcasses. So while the process is not for the faint of heart, it is essential as long as we continue to use animals for their food and secretions.

What goes in

Rendering plants process “leftovers” from “meat and poultry packing plants, grocery stores, restaurants, butcher shops, restaurants and food service, and farms” (source).

Ever wonder where that leftover restaurant cooking oil goes? Rendering plants. Ditto for expired and recalled products from grocery stores. The blood from the slaughterhouse floor? Rendering plant. Bones? Rendering Plant. Skin, hair, feathers and other undesirable bits? The Rendering Plant!

It’s practically magic: pretty much every animal product is worth something after a trip to the Renderer.

What comes out?

Squire's Lard from rendering plants

The National Renderers Association takes these raw inputs and transforms them with heat into:

“meat and bone meal, meat meal, blood meal, fish meal, poultry by-product meal, poultry meal, and feather meal, as well as species-specific versions of these products like lamb meal. Fat products include tallow (from cattle), yellow grease (recycled cooking oil from restaurants and other food service), choice white grease (from pigs), fish oil and poultry fat.”

We turn these by-products into food for livestock, fish and pets. Ever wonder what farmed salmon has been eating? Quite possibly horse meal from a rendering plant. Oils from rendering plants form a large part of Biofuel (think about that next time you fill your tank). Fertilizers also contain protein meal from rendering plants.

If you aren’t buying vegan cosmetics, gird your loins. According to the National Renderers Association, renderers also refine their products “into ingredients for other products such as soap, lubricants, paints, inks, varnishes, cosmetics, perfume, shaving cream, explosives, pharmaceuticals, crayons, leather, textiles, rubber products, and plastics.” The list is quite comprehensive, and unless your products explicitly state they contain vegetable glycerine, most glycerine and stearic acid are animal derived.

By-products made by Rendering Plants are everywhere

I’m not telling you this to gross you out. Well, it’s not MOSTLY to gross you out. Renderers really are necessary, and will be until people stop consuming animal products.

Basically, rendering plants make being 100%vegan impossible. And that’s honestly something you’ll just have to live with.

Unless you spin your own clothes, never use rubber or buy paint, you probably are using a few products from rendering plants. Even biodiesel contains 5% or more tallow, so taking public transportation won’t exempt you from these by-products.

I think this is definitely an area where the “possible and practicable” part of Donald Watson’s original definition of veganism comes into play. As a vegan, I avoid rendering plant products as much as possible. But since animal fat is even found in biodiesel, this is difficult.

Renderers are an important part of the profit structure for abattoirs. Buying their products does support the industry. Of course, as long as people (and pets) consume animals, rendering plants are necessary. They are one of the safest ways of disposing of unwanted animal products, as landfills (and even incineration) are less sanitary.

Cows are Omnivores

Following the outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease in the 1990s, new laws came into place throughout most of the world that banned feeding cows to other cows. Consumers welcomed the change, and thought it was weird to turn cows (herbivores) into cannibals.

But cows are still omnivores.

If that sentence sounds strange, you will be interested in what farmers can feed cattle:

Almost any animal product can go to a rendering plant. In an effort to prevent Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease), rendering plants are forbidden by law to feed certain foods to ruminants. But we permit them to sell the following as livestock feed:

  • a porcine or equine; (pork and horse meat)
  • milk or products of milk;
  • gelatin derived exclusively from hides or skins or products of gelatin derived exclusively from hides or skins;
  • blood or products of blood; or
  • rendered fats, derived from ruminants, that contain no more than 0.15% insoluble impurities or their products (Source)

So, cattle feed can contain pork, horsemeat, blood, gelatin, and fat rendered from other cattle.

We still feed cattle an omnivorous diet, just not a cannibalistic one. (Unless you count beef fat – in that case they’d still be considered cannibals). It’s also somewhat concerning from a health standpoint, since bioaccumulation of pesticides and other toxins is stored in animal fat. We then feed that fat to other animals…it seems like that animal fat would be particularly high in toxins (just an observation).

Soylent Green is People! (Remain Calm)

I believe in science, not fear-mongering. However, I don’t know what the long-term consequences of feeding herbivores an omnivorous diet. Perhaps nothing, aside from long-term health problems. This isn’t an issue since most cattle die before living out even one-quarter their natural lifespan. Still, feeding cows animal fat seems a bit unnatural .

And if that bothers you, the next paragraph will probably do you in.

Your Pet is a Cannibal

Slate upset pet owners in 2013, when it revealed your pet’s food contains the remains of other cats and dogs. Although the National Renderers Association denies this (their literal answer to the question is “no”), it is not explicitly against federal law. The FDA also did a DNA test for cats and dogs in Pet food that turned up negative. However, testing also revealed the presence of pentobarbital in nearly all pet food.

We use pentobarbital almost exclusively for euthanizing pets. Therefore it’s hard to know where the pentobarbital was coming from, if not dead cats and dogs. But perhaps rendering plants simply sell rendered pets as food for livestock, avoiding irate pet owners. Rendering pets is against some State and local laws, but selling these products out of State solves the problem. As  Slate pointed out in their article, the city of Los Angeles alone sends 200 tons of pets to rendering plants each month. That’s a lot of by-products to dispose of!

Additional Sources:

In case this hasn’t been enough for you, Meatscience.org (an industry website) has an excellent Slide show explaining the intricacies of rendering here.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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