Grease Theft Battle Continues in the Golden State

By Tina Caparella

Still combating the on-going thefts of used cooking oil, members of the Pacific Coast Renderers Association (PCRA) met in late February to address this and other pressing issues at the group’s 80th annual convention.

One tool California renderers have been given to help guide the state’s agriculture secretary on the grease theft situation is the Rendering Advisory Board. Established last year by the passage and signing of Senate Bill 513, and supported by members of the rendering industry, the seven member advisory board will make recommendations to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary on all matters pertaining to the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety (MPES) Branch’s Rendering Program, including adoption, modification, and repeal of regulations and procedures; procedures for employment, training, supervision, and compensation of inspectors and other personnel; rate and collection of license fees and penalties; acquisition and use of equipment; posting and noticing changes in bylaws, general procedures, or orders; and all matters pertaining to Food and Agricultural Code Division 9, Part 3, Chapter 5, including, but not limited to, the inspection and enforcement program, annual budget, necessary fees to provide adequate services, and regulations required to accomplish the purposes of the chapter.

Six of the seven members will be licensed renderers, dead stock haulers, and transporters of inedible kitchen grease. At least one of these six members must have experience and expertise in alternative uses of rendered products, including, but not limited to, use as energy, alternative fuels, lubricants, and other nontraditional uses.

There is also a vacancy for a public member who must have experience and expertise in one or more of the following: water quality, publicly owned treatment works and water infrastructure, or law enforcement. Applications to serve on the board were accepted through the end of March.

Dr. Douglas Hepper, MPES Division, discussed the key workload areas for the department regarding rendering. Although his staff will be involved in the advisory board, Hepper doesn’t see a significant increase in the workload. However, auditing company records to combat inedible kitchen grease theft and enforcement of the grease theft law and program will mean significant more staff time will be needed so two more personnel have been assigned to the program. Joining two full-time field investigators and one part-time administrator on a trial basis will be one part-time special investigator and one veterinarian. The program is funded by industry registration fees with projected revenue covering estimated expenditures this year, but next fiscal year, costs will rise due to the additional personnel and grants to educate law enforcement on the grease program in those areas with a high rate of theft.

The city of Chino, CA, recently received a $55,000 grant to cover overtime for officers to work in the field at night, when grease theft is most rampant, over a three-month period. Hepper said positive results included lots of press, 16 arrests (many for other than grease theft such as driving under the influence), and seven citations of notice to appear. Of the 518 enforcement contacts, seven were unregistered transports resulting in four arrests and one vehicle being impounded, with two arrests for inedible kitchen grease theft.

Hepper noted that several other cities have been identified for possible educational grants but they are dependent on the amount of grease theft reported and willingness of law enforcement to partake in the training. He also recommended the possibility of grants to educate district attorney offices to aid in prosecuting cases.

“We need convictions,” Hepper insisted. He next updated renderers on the development of an inedible kitchen grease manifest, which will be a “cradle” (generator) to “grave” (renderer, public owned treatment works, etc.) recordkeeping system. As soon as the new rendering regulation is published, expected sometime in March, the manifest proposal will be released and should be in place by 2013.

Continuing the discussion on grease theft was Dennis Albiani, California Advocates, who mentioned a placement bill was just introduced to significantly increase the penalties under the grease theft law. He will be examining other “commodity theft” bills that cover such items as copper, sprinkler pipes, and construction sites to get ideas on fees, manifests, and so forth.

Tad Bell, California Grain and Feed Association (CGFA), believes the rendering advisory board will help the industry and recommended having a law enforcement presence on the board. He also encouraged renderers to report all grease thefts, including cost of theft in lost revenues to renderers and restaurants and any equipment damage, to local police agencies so it becomes part of the “record” and can then perhaps be tracked.

CGFA’s Chris Zanobini suggested the industry become more involved with local elected officials and law enforcement as another means of education, even perhaps hosting a fundraiser for upcoming elections. He then informed attendees on CGFA’s many activities, such as coordinating with the American Feed Industry Association on the complexities of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Zanobini declared “is going to turn a lot of people upside down.” CGFA is also working with the University of California, Davis on revamping its very old and inefficient feed mill.

Shifting the focus to other pertinent issues was Ross Hamilton, Darling International, who wondered what the rendering industry is telling the public. Agriculture, in general, has changed so much over the past 15 to 20 years with fewer consumers even knowing what agriculture is all about. Hamilton said with two career households, there is little time to become informed so the public often relies on the media, other consumers, and the Internet, which can often contain unfiltered facts and fiction.

To get the best information out, Hamilton advised having a clear, concise message, preferably in the first sentence, and creating a 30 second “sound bite.” Also, answer questions about what the industry does with such phrases as “kills pathogens,” “protects the environment,” “recycles carbon,” and “recycles energy.” Another particular message he recommended was, “Rendering provides control, verification, and traceability to regulatory agencies and the public that condemned or expired meat products are not re-used as human food.”

“And rendering takes only hours to do this, not weeks or months like other industries,” Hamilton added. He also urged highlighting the impact the rendering industry has on the U.S. economy in the form of jobs, taxes, and purchases, all things the public cares about along with the “feed the world” concept.

“We are recycling proteins that feed animals that feed people,” Hamilton pointed out. “The rendering industry needs to be recognized as being essential, and as being purveyors of progressive, effective technology.” He said the industry should strive to have consumers care if their local restaurant or supermarket uses rendering services so as not to be wasteful by improper disposal.

J.J. Smith, Valley Proteins and chairman of the National Renderers Association (NRA), informed attendees that the regulatory atmosphere in the United States is very active, but nothing is specifically directed at rendering. NRA is working on increasing its communications with the public and with packer-renderers who are not members of NRA. One concern of Smith’s and the association’s is the long-term funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) that helps agriculture associations fund international programs that promote exports. He encouraged continual industry support, whose contributions are matched by FAS.

Grease theft is no stranger to Smith’s part of the country (East Coast). Valley Proteins was successful in getting a grease theft law similar to California’s passed in Virginia and is currently working on similar legislation in North Carolina.

David Meeker, senior vice president, NRA Scientific Services, covered the gamut of regulatory activity in Washington, DC, beginning with three Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposals on major source pollution, area source pollution, and the definition of solid waste. The NRA submitted a comment letter to each proposed regulation, including requesting that rendering be removed from the solid waste definition. Meeker gave credit to the association’s Environmental Committee for its diligent work on keeping up-to-date and responding to these complex matters.

In February, EPA quietly released its dioxin study that contains no language indicating food and feed are a risk. Meeker said NRA has worked hard for years, dating back 15 years with Dr. Don Franco, educating EPA on the non-risk of rendered feed ingredients.

“In the context of EPA and this administration’s penchant for regulations, we consider it a victory,” Meeker commented. Last year the association used the animal feed dioxin incident in Europe to educate the U.S. feed industry on the risk of buying feed fats from discounted and unlicensed sellers.

NRA President Tom Cook shared the news that China has reopened its borders to tallow from Canada. He is optimistic that U.S. tallow won’t be far behind as the association’s staff has persistently educated Chinese authorities on the safety of tallow from this country. Cook is also working to inform the U.S. cattle industry, which is focused on getting the China market open for beef, on the value tallow brings to each cattle so they will include the commodity in discussions with leaders.

Switching his aim to Washington, Cook noted that over 1,000 tax credits, including biodiesel and alternative fuel credits, expired at the end of 2011 and it’s uncertain if any of them will be reinstated due to this being an election year. He predicted the U.S. Senate has a good chance to switch to a Republican majority for 2013, explaining that of the 33 seats (out of 100) up for election, 23 are held by Democrats that have to be defended. Currently the Senate is comprised of 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans, so Republicans need to get four of the 23 seats up for grabs, and five of those seats are “open,” meaning the Democrat is retiring.

“I think it will be hard for the Democrats in the Senate to keep their majority,” Cook commented.

Balancing out the discussion was Ridley Bestwick, West Coast Reduction (WCR), Canada, where 2.6 million metric tons of raw material is collected as a service. The rendering industry has changed dramatically since the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the country’s native cattle herd in 2003. Nineteen cases have been reported to date, the last one being February 2011 in a cow born in 2004, after the original feed ban was put in place but before the enhanced feed ban was implemented in 2007. Bestwick stated that before BSE, WCR collected 60,000 dead stock per year; now that number has dropped by half to 30,000.

“Not sure what has happened to the other 30,000 dead stock,” he wondered, then noted that in 2010, over one million cattle were exported to the United States, higher than pre-BSE levels. The enhanced feed ban has caused the Canadian beef industry to shrink and been costly for the country’s renderers due to loss of significant markets for rendered products, specified risk material crax trucking and disposal costs, and raw material separation. On a bright note, Canadian tallow has found other markets such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, and the China market just reopened, with Bestwick estimating exports to begin before the end of the year.

Grease theft is also on the front burner with Canadian renderers, with about 15 percent of used cooking oil being stolen, which equates to about 20,000 metric tons per year with a value of $20 million. In Vancouver, WCR is having trouble getting regulatory authorities interested in grease theft due to overburdened courts, and while renderers’ oils are heavily regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Bestwick said competitors and grease thieves are not and are free to export without restrictions.

On the biodiesel front, Canada has two major producing plants – Biox and renderer Rothsay – covering 75 percent of production. In Western Canada, two plants are due to come online this year, including a 70 million gallon per year facility being built by Archer Daniels Midland in Alberta that will use canola oil. Government tax incentives for biodiesel are slowing being phased out on the thinking that mandates, both nationally and provisionally, will drive the fuel usage. The Canadian Renewable Fuel Standard implemented in December 2011 mandates a two percent biodiesel blend in the country’s petroleum diesel over an 18-month phase-in period, creating a 160 million gallon per year demand, far exceeding Canada’s production capacity. Bestwick noted that most of Canada’s biodiesel is currently exported to the United States.

PCRA concluded the convention with its business meeting where Jason Andreoli, Baker Commodities, was elected as the association’s vice president to replace Dennis Luckey, who stepped down due to his impending retirement in 2013.

April 2012 RENDER | back