Rendering is One Solution to Environmental Sustainability

By Tina Caparella

What was a first for the National Renderers Association (NRA) turned into a valuable educational opportunity for the rendering industry.

Every year, tens of thousands of individuals from across the globe attend the International Poultry Expo (IPE) in Atlanta, GA, to see and hear about all things related to poultry production. Educational forums focusing on various feed issues are held in conjunction with the expo with this year’s forum, for the first time, including a summit on the environmental sustainability of animal agriculture. This summit was co-sponsored by the NRA, National Turkey Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, Animal Agriculture Alliance, United Egg Producers, and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, who along with the American Feed Industry Association was a co-sponsor of the IPE.

Among the 14 speakers at the Animal Agriculture Environmental Sustainability Summit was Randy Stuewe, Darling International, who highlighted the sustainability rendering provides to animal agriculture. He declared that renderers were green before green was cool, and told audience members that the rest of the world needs to be educated about the rendering industry and its many benefits, which includes being the most eco-friendly solution to the 54 billion pounds of inedible material resulting from food animal production. Stuewe explained that without rendering, there would be critical issues using other methods of disposal, such as:

• the volume of material would fill 10,000 of the new Dallas Cowboy stadium;

• the volume of material would fill every U.S. landfill in four years;

• municipal sewers would become clogged with disposed restaurant grease and cost millions to clean up; and

• abandonment of material would be a great threat to the environ-ment and animal/human health.

Stuewe described how rendering provides an environmental solution to the livestock, meat, and restaurant industries by destroying pathogens to prevent the spread of disease, protecting surface and ground water from contamination, being a participant in the renewable fuels industry, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the carbon dioxide the rendering industry recycles each year is equivalent to taking 13.5 million cars off the road, planting 1.8 billion seedling trees, and diverting 24.4 million tons of garbage from landfills.

Wendy Wintersteen, Iowa State University (ISU), explained how being “green” can positively affect a company’s bottom line. While there are many definitions of sustainability, Wintersteen said most individuals agree and the United Nations would recognize that it is providing for the needs of a modern society so that the ability to meet future needs isn’t compromised. At an ISU Food Chain Summit held in February 2008, one speaker, Charlie Arnot, CMA Consulting and Center for Food Integrity, said companies must recognize and accept that values influence how neighbors, customers, consumers, media, and policymakers perceive messages, practices, and products. Wintersteen encouraged animal agriculture to work together to develop value-based messages on the industry’s sustainability, and to put a face on agriculture by educating consumers on how food arrives on their plates.

Dennis Treacy, Smithfield Foods, demonstrated ways the international food company has turned the tables on negative publicity it has received over the years. He commented that Smithfield is “getting ahead of the curve” when it comes to animal agriculture environmental issues and believes that sustainability is more broad than just environmental. The company has focused on five core values: protect the environment; advance animal welfare; produce safe, high quality, nutritious food; be an employer of choice; and have a positive impact on its communities. Treacy emphasized that these values were designed to foster a better relationship with customers and the community, not to appease animal rights activists or the media.

Since Smithfield has become certified under the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, 14001 as part of its environmental management system, notices of violations have dropped 75 percent. The company has released seven sustainability reports that include emissions numbers and discharge information, and created a Bioenergy Task Force to focus on reducing greenhouse gases at its facilities. Treacy said these and other steps taken have reduced Smithfield’s legal risks and litigations, saved the company millions of dollars annually, and lead to recognition by states and other outside sources; however, Smithfield occasionally still has a “blip” on the radar screen. He declared that pressure to increase a company’s sustainability will only intensify and to meet these future demands, companies must think like an animal lover, a neighbor, someone who has never been on a farm, a customer, a philosopher on animal welfare and environmental issues, and a consumer.

Mike Klun, Cargill, shared how the company determined its energy usage and ways it could conserve. He said to first focus on processes, technologies, and behaviors that use energy then establish reduction targets, and that it’s important to have accurate data and involve all employees in order to make a conservation program work.

Warren Howe, Woodruff and Howe Environmental Engineering, discussed solid waste management and instructed attendees to look at existing processes and materials to determine where improvements can be made to reduce waste. He encouraged companies to develop new alternatives, such as utilizing waste food products as animal feed, waste-to-fuel opportunities, and new fertilizers using dissolved air flotation sludge.

Dr. Brian Kiepper, University of Georgia, addressed water conservation and reuse, categorizing the meat producing industries as “non-consumptive” users, meaning they use surface or ground water and then return it to the basis of origin after some kind of treatment. He said concerns with water reuse include contamination by pathogenic organisms, corrosion, scaling, and biological fouling, but that with proper treatment, these issues can be overcome.

Jon Johnson, University of Arkansas, explained how a life cycle analysis can help companies decide the best directions to take in adopting sustainability practices, while Bob Langert, McDonald’s Corporation, shared the company’s environmental and sustainability projects over the past 20 years. Langert said sustainability programs help ensure that the vast quantities of supplies needed in the company’s global chain are safely and readily available, and advised others to portray an image that a company can be trusted. Kevin Igli, Tyson Foods, wrapped up the summit reiterating that sustainability is not a fad and has emerged even more so in the past three to four years. He highlighted a 2007 survey that showed 87 percent of Americans would consider switching to another company’s product because of a company’s negative environmental sustainability.

Besides participating in the sustainability summit, NRA also educated some of the more than 18,000 expo attendees on rendering as one of nearly 900 exhibitors during the two-and-a-half day expo. Literature on the North American rendering industry, the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation, and the Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center at Clemson University were provided to those interested in learning more about rendering. Various issues of Render magazine were also made available to exhibit visitors, and NRA staff were on-hand to answer questions.

Newsline – April 2009 RENDER | back