By Lynn Petrak, special-projects editor
The rendering industry continues to push through consolidation and BSE regulations to put animal byproducts to good use.
It has been referred to as the original recycling, and with good reason. The centuries-old practice of rendering — through which byproducts of animals already processed for meat are transformed into usable products for feed and technical use — is a truly efficient network linked with the farm-to-plate chain.
Indeed, the adage “waste not, want not” certainly is taken to heart by those in the rendering industry, and the impact is a real one. According to the Alexandria, Va.-based National Renderers Association (NRA), meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants, butcher shops and restaurants together generate at least 40,000 metric tons of animal by product each week, material that would have to be disposed of in some other way if not for the rendering business. Yet, that’s not a widely recognized fact.
“If you ask people who are not familiar with the meat industry, they don’t really think about what happens to parts of an animal that aren’t for human consumption,” points out Bill Schottelkotte, vice president of technology for The Dupps Company, a Germantown, Ohio-based provider of process systems for rendering, including material-handling systems, cookers/dryers, evaporator systems, pumps and other systems and services.
Brian Eaglin, sales engineer for Anco-Eaglin, a Greensboro, N.C.-based company that supplies rendering equipment ranging from edible and inedible grinders to lard-processing equipment to batch-rendering cookers, among other systems, agrees.
“People would be surprised if they found out where [a lot of] stuff comes from — people don’t realize what it is used for,” he says, recalling a comment made by one of his customers on the subject. “He said if he didn’t render, landfills would be covered with blood and guts in just a few weeks.”
Although the rendering industry itself is somewhat an invisible part of the protein chain, it is comprised of meat and poultry processing giants as well as generations-old, family-owned rendering businesses.
“Your largest renderer in the country is actually a packer, and lots of packers do their own rendering,” says David Kaluzny II, current president of the National Renders’ Association and co-owner of Kaluzny Bros, a 61-year-old Joliet, Ill., family business. “The balance of the renderers is independents.”
Like the meat-processing sector, the rendering industry has experienced a certain shaking out in recent years.
“There has been more consolidation, and it’s due to two things,” says Kaluzny. “One is the economies of scale, since rendering is very capital intensive, including the ancillary costs associated with air-pollution control. By the same token, there is also [a decline in] the amount of product that is available to independent renderers, as packer-renderers take more of the product out of the general rendering cycle.”
The rendering industry also is impacted by wider issues that impact the general protein supply chain. Concerns over possible cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), for example, have led to various bans and regulations here and around the world.
For the last decade, feed given to cattle is not permitted by law to contain tissue of ruminant animals, due to concerns over infectious prions that are considered the cause of BSE.
“There has been talk about banning specified risk materials (SRMs) in all animal feed,” explains Schottelkotte, about proposals by the USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “But the only change on that has been the lack of change — from what I know, it’s still in limbo.”
On the subject of BSE, the official position taken by the NRA is that the rendering industry has long taken voluntary proactive measures by excluding sheep, which were linked to BSE in the United Kingdom, from key steps in the rendering process. According to information published by NRA, the industry also has worked to set up various firewalls to prevent the spread through feed to cattle and has worked with the FDA on different fronts.
Those in the business of rendering, whether they supply rendering equipment or run their own rendering operation, cite various effects of global news stories about BSE. Kaluzny, for his part, notes that bone meal and tallow were shut out of export markets to an extent. “There has been a comeback of the fats and oils segment, more so than for meat and bone meal,” he notes.
Schottelkotte, meantime, says that the industry has had to grapple with real fallout over BSE and concerns about North American livestock, especially over the question of the segregation of specific risk materials (SRMs). Still, he points out that after an 18-month testing period conducted by the USDA, a mere three incidences of BSE were found in herds here.
“That has to prove two things — first, that the incidence of BSE in the U.S. is very, very small; and second, that the appropriate measures are in place, like the ruminant-to ruminant ban, if they do find it,” he points out.
Eaglin says that the issue of BSE led Anco-Eaglin to alter some of its systems.
“We’re now doing higher pressure to break down specified risk material,” he says.
To good use
When it comes to rendering, the sum of the parts can be remarkable. The byproducts that are gleaned and processed, whether ground, crushed, dried, evaporated, cooked or handled in some other way, wind up in a host of inedible and edible forms. Many renderers serve customers in the animal chain.
“Most rendered product goes back to animal feed, in meat and bone meal and fat,” says Schottelkotte, adding that primarily poultry byproducts are used in pet food.
Eaglin reports that the animal feed business is a significant part of the market, along with fertilizers and fuels.
The fuel market may be the next buzz in the rendering business, given all of the talk about biofuels in the wake of environmental and economic issues.
“There are rendered products that have been used for boiler fuel, and they have been used for biodiesel in the past. As the price of gas goes up or down, interest peaks or wanes on it,” explains Kaluzny, who points to renewed interest in 2006. “Effective last November, there was a 50-cent-a-gallon excised tax credit associated with rendered products used as boiler fuel, and a number of renderers have used that blended fuel tax.”
Schottelkotte also brings up the tax break that some renderers receive for providing fats used as fuels and agrees that lower-grade fats also are being utilized as boiler fuel.
“I think its use will increase in terms of selling it in its virgin state out of the rendering plant as boiler fuel, but it is difficult to predict how much will be used in the production of biodiesel,” he observes.
To be sure, there are plenty of other uses for rendered materials, including both fat commodities such as yellow grease, tallow, white grease and other forms, and protein meal such as meat and bone meal, poultry byproduct meal and other substances.
“There is still a great deal that goes into oleochemical business, in things like fabric softeners and antifreezes,” notes Kaluzny. From a species standpoint, just as solid and liquid parts are used to the max, most animals in the food chain are recycled in some way.
“The basic process is the same, although raw materials are handled differently in terms of process parameters. Right now, we probably see more growth in poultry, while beef has been static. We process turkey, and we have done some seafood,” reports Schottelkotte, adding that in some parts of the country, rendering game is also common.
“It is any meat you can imagine,” echoes Eaglin, whose company has helped set up systems for lamb, fish, cattle and hogs, among others.
Full speed ahead
As broad as the uses are for rendered fats and proteins, it goes to figure that the systems used in the rendering process have become more automated and user-friendly over the years.
The Dupps Company continues to refine its systems and technologies, for instance. “Most of the changes are evolutionary at this point in time,” says Schottelkotte, listing improvements such as presses that increase performance and features that enhance efficiency and capacity for fat removal. According to Schottelkotte, The Dupps Company is continually fulfilling demands for replacement parts, helping renderers update their plants and training rendering plant employees through hands-on work and with electronic training manuals. Computer technology is also evident in many rendering facilities.
“Most plants we sell to now have PLC-controls with graphic interfaces. The advantage is that you can present information that is critical to running the process — the operator sees what he needs to see,” Schottelkotte remarks.
Anco-Eaglin also has made ongoing improvements to its lines.
“We are doing a lot of things for de-watering that will reduce operational costs. If you can squeeze the majority of water out, your process costs go out tremendously. We are also doing more for the environment, reducing odor and emission,” reports Eaglin.
Although the North American market is still dominant, there have been opportunities in other parts of the world, both for rendered material and for rendering equipment.
“China is an open market for U.S. exports,” says Schottelkotte of rendered product potential. Kaluzny weighs in on Asian markets as well. “China and Indochina have been huge markets for meat and bone meal, and we still have to open those up a bit.”
As for equipment, Schottelkotte says that The Dupps Company has recently filled orders for rendering operations in Russia and the Ukraine, along with some sites in Mexico and Cairo.
Likewise, Eaglin points to global spots to which Anco-Eaglin has exported its systems, including China, Japan, the Middle East, South America, Mexico and Chile.
“The export business is booming because a lot of times they were throwing [byproducts] away,” he says, adding that economic and dietary influences have had an effect.
“The population is growing in many parts of the world, and so is their meat consumption.”