Sustainability is Here to Stay

By Tina Caparella

The poultry industry is vital to renderers, not only as a raw material supplier but as a consumer of rendered products. Last year, the National Renderers Association (NRA) reached out to educate poultry producers about the rendering industry by exhibiting and participating in the International Poultry Expo held each year in late January in Atlanta, GA. The response last year warranted a return to the expo this January and the association was not disappointed in the reception it received.

NRA was one of several sponsors of the Animal Agriculture Environmental Sustainability Summit where Jim Banks, Hogan and Hartson, LLP, warned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “really coming after this [poultry] industry.” Tom Hebert, Ogilvy Government Relations, reinforced that sentiment by explaining how environmentalists have done a “masterful job” of pushing their agenda on the Obama administration.

“We are a regulatory nation,” Herbert declared.

The summit’s focus switched to climate change as Ashley Peterson, director of regulatory affairs at the American Meat Institute, encouraged producers to use the term “climate change,” which refers to any type of change in the climate, as opposed to “global warming,” which refers to the warming of the earth. She highlighted the biggest sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the United States as electric generation, 34 percent, transportation, 26 percent, and industrial sources, 12 percent, compared to animal agriculture generating just 2.8 percent of all GHGs in the country.

Peterson said improved processes have helped keep GHGs from animal agriculture relatively constant over the past 20 years despite an increase in meat production, and she highly recommended that everyone read the Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 report, Livestock’s Long Shadow Environmental Issues and Options.

Allan Stokes, National Pork Board, shared the group’s efforts at determining the pork industry’s carbon footprint, declaring it’s not an exact science. Most surprising so far has been the high contribution in emissions (14 percent) of pork consumption due to refrigeration and cooking of the product. The board is still finalizing its analysis that will show the progress the industry has made over the years and areas that need improvement, define a base for an industry sustainability program, and provide a tool for pork producers to determine their own carbon footprint.

Offering a producer’s view on environmental sustainability was John Vrieze, Baldwin Dairy, who pointed out that the carbon footprint of a cow has gone up while the carbon footprint of milk has decreased because of the increased production from each cow. He said consumers need to be educated on where their food comes from now more than ever so they have a better appreciation of how farming is done. Vrieze noted that when animal agriculture talks about sustainability, it can’t just be about water or air quality, or a carbon footprint; producers need to decide how to take positive numbers and package them as a sustainability issue.

According to Tom Clemens, Hatfield Quality Meats, the future of the pork industry will be different, with the change being driven by consumers, government, and, most importantly, non-government organizations. He encouraged meat producers to share their sustainability programs with other companies for the good of the industry, all while commending and thanking Smithfield Foods for its efforts in assisting Seaboard establish a sustainability program, which is available as a report on the company’s Web site.

Kevin Igli, Tyson Foods, declared that customers are very demanding, “and they should be!” Tyson posts sustainability issues on its Web site to squelch any misinformation that very often gets published. Igli highlighted the various steps the company has taken to be more sustainable, such as waste reduction, energy audits, and biomass/biofuels projects like its partnership with Syntroleum in a renewable diesel plant that uses chicken fat to produce a fuel that meets ASTM International standards. The facility is expected to be in full production by this summer.

The focus shifted back to EPA with Christian Richter, The Policy Group, explaining how the agency can play an effective role in voluntary sustainability programs, using Energy Star as an example. But he warned that EPA’s agenda is shifting attention to animal agriculture with new regulations and tighter standards.

“We’re going to see more regulations and it’s not going to stop,” Richter declared, adding that sustainability is here to stay and animal agriculture is not getting credit for the role it’s already playing in sustainability issues.

Susie Friedman, Environmental Defense Fund, provided an environmental viewpoint on sustainability, stating that producers need to get ahead of the curve and document an operation’s progress, not necessarily the process, using data to support improvements in areas such as water quality. She said a lack of understanding is the biggest reason the environmental community and the media assume the worst of animal agriculture, and encouraged industry to collaborate with environmental groups to make progress on policy issues, projects, and ideas.

Larry Pope, chief executive officer, Smithfield Foods, admitted that the company has a checkered past and had a horrible reputation with regard to environmental issues. But a $12.5 million fine due to Clean Water Act violations eight years ago turned the corporation’s thinking around so much so that it hired the individual who sued Smithfield to head up the company’s environmental programs. Pope said that companies need to go beyond compliance in all areas.

“There is no insurance for a product recall or environmental impact,” he said. “You need to have 100 percent compliance 100 percent of the time.”

Pope said companies must also listen to and engage those that are confronting an operation, including customers who are forcing animal agriculture to become sustainable beyond the environmental aspect, such as with immigration policy, food safety, animal welfare, and antibiotic use. He noted that although meat producers have done a great job at making food safer, consumers “honestly dislike who we are and the business of what we do” because of the misinformation that is often given to them. Pope promoted the need to educate customers and consumers.

“Take it seriously,” he remarked. “Encourage plant managers to go into schools and educate kids. Be proud of what you do.”

NRA also participated in the American Feed Industry Association’s (AFIA’s) International Education Forum, with Dr. David Meeker providing information on the safety and quality of rendered products. He explained that 59 billion pounds of raw material, which contains 60 to 65 percent water, are processed using state-of-the-art equipment into various fats and proteins, such as meat and bone meal that boasts 20 percent fat making it a higher energy source than soybean meal. Meeker detailed the industry’s code of practice that provides third-party certified audits to verify renderers are following their practices to ensure safe feed ingredients.

Keith Epperson, AFIA, focused on regulatory actions affecting the feed industry, beginning with EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Rule that has been in the works for eight years. He said affected facilities that handle any type of oil must be in compliance by November 10, 2010, which encompasses securing and controlling access to all oil handling, processing, and storage; securing master flow and drain valves; preventing unauthorized access to starter controls on oil pumps; securing loading and unloading connections; and addressing appropriateness of security lighting.

Epperson also addressed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) combustible dust advance notice of proposed rulemaking that closed January 19, 2010. He warned that he expects OSHA to move quickly on this issue, perhaps having a proposed rule by the end of this year, and that at least two states are using the general duty clause to site facilities for dust accumulation.

AFIA’s Jarrod Kersey reiterated that things have changed a lot in the feed industry with regard to regulatory issues, highlighting that 30 bills were introduced in 2009 in Washington, DC, relating to food safety, which is defined as food for man or animal.

“Clearly there’s more regulation in our future,” Kersey warned.

Along with various educational programs, NRA informed some of the 19,000 expo attendees from across the world about the rendering industry at a booth featuring information on the association, the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation, the Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center at Clemson University, and Render magazine. NRA and Render staff were on hand to answer questions, provide literature, and introduce the world of rendering to uninformed individuals. Several NRA renderer and supplier member companies also exhibited at the expo, providing even more exposure to those unfamiliar with rendering.

Newsline – April 2010 RENDER | back