Research Project Faces Possible Elimination

A small government research project supporting the rendering industry is on the chopping block in the Agriculture Research Services’ (ARS’) 2013 proposed budget.

The $743,000 per year “Biobased Industrial Products from Food Animal Processing By-Products” research project led by Rafael Garcia at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, PA, faces cancellation and is just a small portion of the $7.6 million in reductions that focus on new products, product quality, or value-added applications. Also facing elimination are projects based at Wyndmoor focused on hides and leather, wool, and fermentation of agriculture related substances such as biodiesel glycerol.

ARS’ recommended budget for next year is $1.1 billion, an increase of $7.9 million from the 2012 operating level. Program increases of $72.7 million are proposed for expanded research initiatives in crop/animal breeding and protection, food safety, human nutrition, production systems for sustainable agriculture, and the National Agricultural Library. Pay costs of $2.7 million are also proposed as is an increase of $3 million for the repair and maintenance of ARS’ laboratories and facilities.

The proposed program increases will be financed by a reduction of $20.1 million in ongoing extramural research projects, and from the reallocation of $50.4 million in existing resources, which will involve the closure of six ARS laboratories/locations and the consolidation of those resources with other existing laboratories and locations. The costs associated with the relocation or separation of the approximately 112 employees impacted by the closures/consolidations, and the disposal of associated property is estimated to be from $10 to $12 million.

ARS has chosen to reduce or terminate these existing projects because it claims the projects are: (1) considered by the administration to be of lower priority; (2) mature where the research objectives have been mainly accomplished; (3) duplicative or can be accomplished more effectively elsewhere in ARS; (4) marginal or below threshold funding for program viability or sustainability; (5) conducted in substandard or inadequate infrastructure and future costs are prohibitive; (6) lacking a critical mass of scientists/support personnel for an effective program; or (7) carried out by other research institutions.

The general objective of the “Biobased Industrial Products from Food Animal Processing By-Products” project slated for cancellation is the development of new, economically viable applications for high-protein animal by-products such as ruminant meat and bone meal or poultry blood. Researchers are developing three technologies that they believe to have strong commercial potential.

1. A protein-based flocculant.
Flocculants are used in a wide variety of agricultural, environmental, and industrial applications to efficiently separate suspended particles from water. The group’s patent-pending (application #12/859,530) technology employs rendered protein or blood protein as a bio-based substitute for the widely-used synthetic flocculant “PAM.” In laboratory scale testing, the protein-based flocculants outperform PAM in many respects. Continuing research is directed towards making the technology more practical and broadly applicable.

2. A product to protect plants from damage by browsing animals.
Landscaping as well as nursery and reforestation projects suffer when herbivores such as deer, rabbits, and squirrels eat and otherwise damage valuable plants. Working with another government agency and a commercial partner, project researchers are finding that substances derived from rendered protein can effectively prevent this damage by providing sensory cues that repel herbivores.

3. A reduced cost feedstock for industrial fermentations.
Fermentation systems are increasingly being used for the production of valuable chemicals and materials and this trend is expected to accelerate in coming decades. Project researchers have demonstrated that for at least two such fermentation systems, hydrolyzed meat and bone meal can serve as a lower-cost replacement for the most expensive component of the feedstock for some fermentation systems. This work is being conducted in cooperation with another of the ARS projects facing elimination (“Production and Value Enhancement of Biosurfactants and Biopolymers Derived from Agricultural Lipids and Coproducts”).

The ARS was established in 1953 as the principal in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Congress first authorized federally supported agricultural research in the Organic Act of 1862. That statute directed the Commissioner of Agriculture “to acquire and preserve in his department all information he can obtain by means of books and correspondence, and by practical and scientific experiments.” The scope of agricultural research programs has been expanded and extended more than 60 times since the department was created.

April 2012 RENDER | back