Livestock, Energy Take Center Stage at NRA Central Region Meeting

By Tina Caparella

The National Renderers Association (NRA) Central Region addressed some large issues at their annual convention in early June, despite a smaller than usual turnout.

The meeting began with an informative presentation by John Lawrence, Iowa State University, on the future of U.S. cattle and hog numbers.

“The industry continues to grow,” Lawrence stated. “Pork has been at record levels the last few years.” Since 1999, beef cow herds have been profitable even though drought conditions have kept herds from expanding. Last year saw record levels of cattle on feed, with 2007 so far running a close second. Lawrence illustrated how beef cow numbers have changed over the last 10 years, with many moving out of the western and southeastern states into the corn belt region of the country. Long-term, though, Lawrence believes more pastures will be used to plant corn and some cattle will move back out of the Midwest.

As for the pork industry, Lawrence reported there were two million fewer sows in 2006 compared to 1981 (six million versus eight million, respectively); however, the number of pigs born has increased from 85 million in 1982 to 105 million in 2006. The number of hogs slaughtered is up due to increased capacity, with 191 companies marketing 65 percent of U.S. hogs, a complete reversal from 1988 when most hogs came from small farms. Lawrence said these large firms are predicting moderate growth, including some growth coming from acquisitions.

Among the emerging issues within these industries is the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program that includes animal care guidelines. Also, corporate decisions by companies such as Burger King and Smithfield toward cage-free eggs and crate-free hogs will be “interesting to watch,” according to Lawrence. He explained that animal identification is for disease purposes and will “know everything but not tell anyone” until necessary, while country of origin labeling (COOL) “tells everyone but doesn’t know anything.” COOL is scheduled to become law September 30, 2008, but Democrats in Congress are talking about moving up that date.

Lawrence told attendees about two ethanol studies recently completed by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD). The first, released in October 2006, examines what it would take to slow or stop the investment into ethanol, and the second study, released in May 2007, is a more moderate analysis of that same scenario. The October study indicated that a $4.05 per bushel price for corn would see the use of corn in feed drop by 33 percent. The May updated study lowers that feed use drop prediction to about five percent. Both research projects were funded by various agriculture organizations, including the American Meat Institute, the National Grain and Feed Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and are available on CARD’s Web site at

Dr. Angela Harris, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, covered hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S), which develops from the decomposition or cooking of organic materials in various industries including petroleum, wastewater treatment, food processing, and rendering. She warned that 82 percent of worker deaths from H2S occur in confined spaces, with rescuers accounting for 25 percent of those deaths.

Labeled as a “knock down” gas, H2S has a rotten egg odor at very low levels that begins to dissipate around 100 parts per million (ppm). At 200 ppm, there is no odor, and at 500 ppm, it is deadly. Another problem is that the gas is heavier than air so if an individual collapses from exposure, they are now receiving a higher concentration from the ground. This can also lead to a rescuer succumbing to exposure so it is imperative they wear a self-contained breathing apparatus.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set H2S exposure levels not to exceed 20 ppm, but since they were adopted in 1966, most employers follow levels set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), a non-regulatory organization formed in 1938, which continually updates exposure levels based on research. Currently, the ACGIH sets exposure levels at 10 ppm for an eight-hour average and 15 ppm for a 15 minute average, levels where the gas is still detectible by smell. However, the organization is examining lowering the level to one ppm.

Harris explained the various air monitors available to detect H2S, including stationary and personal that is worn by individuals where exposure could occur. She said most facilities are using real-time monitors that provide a data log instantly showing any exposure. To assist in limiting exposure, Harris recommended controls be put in place such as general and local ventilation, “first-in first-out” raw material handling procedures, and air scrubbers.

Kate Iola, a microbiologist, provided insight into foot and mouth disease (FMD), the subject of her fictional novel Deadstock. She called FMD the “Hurricane Katrina of animal agriculture” and predicts it will arrive in the United States.

“When we have an outbreak, it will be a big mess,” Iola stated. “The need for carcass disposal will become desperate.” She explained that FMD is extremely contagious and can spread by air up to 35 miles, 60 miles over water. Thirty countries currently have FMD, and the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, recognizes those countries that are FMD-free, including North America, most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Iola called pigs “virus factories,” producing 2,000 to 3,000 times the amount of the FMD disease than cattle, and believes renderers could be beneficial in controlling and eliminating the disease. She said there are international standards in place for deactivating the virus that renderers could assess. One attendee informed Iola and the group that in Canada, government officials could commandeer a rendering facility to use for carcass disposal if an FMD situation got serious enough. In the United States and Canada the preferred method is burial or incineration, not rendering.

Trent Loos, Loos Tales, discussed the state of today’s farm community and the influence animal rights groups have on companies and government policy, stating that groups such as the Humane Society of the United States increase the price of food with their insistence on such practices as free range pigs and cage-free poultry. He said 16 percent of Americans, about 22 million, are involved in food production, from the farm to the fork.

Mark Rundle, Integrys, presented information on natural gas, including factors that affect prices such as demand, world economy, supply/drilling activity, and weather. The United States must import energy to meet the country’s natural gas demand and liquid natural gas (LNG) is the “biggest buzz word” in new energy. LNG is imported then refined into a usable fuel, but currently there are only five terminals in the United States. Rundle stated that even though natural gas prices are up, compared to oil, propane, and heating oil, it’s still the cheapest and best way to run production equipment. He anticipates a drop in natural gas prices within the next month and predicts prices will level off if the summer season is cool and no hurricanes hit the United States.

Jeff Springer, Dairyland Cooperative, highlighted electricity conservation, beginning with providing the top five most expensive sources of energy: (1) people; (2) compressed air; (3) hydraulic systems; (4) electricity; and (5) fossil fuels. Employee productivity is key and Springer warned not to make changes that will save energy such as dimming lights at the expense of employee productivity. As for compressed air, fixing leaks and setting the air system pressure to the minimum levels that will meet processing needs saves on energy costs. Also, employers can eliminate inappropriate uses of compressed air, such as for cooling or cleaning, to save on energy costs.

With regards to lighting efficiency, Springer said metal halide lights that replaced mercury vapor lights are about as energy efficient as fluorescent but take longer to start and restart. He suggested proper placement of lighting, using as an example a light producing 10 foot-candles at 20 feet; lowering the light to 10 feet above the surface will increase the light level to 40 foot-candles.

Dr. David Meeker, NRA, said the International Market Development Committee is examining fish meal replacement opportunities for rendered products since fish meal prices are currently over $1,000 per ton. He urged renderers to become active in the industry’s Code of Practice and updated the status of the Food and Drug Administration bovine spongiform encephalopathy expanded feed rule, which still has to go through the Office of Management and Budget and has taken a lower precedence over other issues.

The meeting wrapped up with the central region donating $2,500 to the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation and leadership changing hands: John Setchell, Mendota Agri-Products, was named regional president; George Kaluzny, Kaluzny Bros., became vice president; and Pamela Yule, Rothsay, took office as secretary/treasurer. Setchell took time to recognize Richard Saylor, also known as “the meat man,” who is retiring from Mendota Agri-Products after 30 years.

August 2007 RENDER | back