Animal Agriculture more Sustainable due to Rendering

By Tina Caparella

“Whether you particularly believe in global warming or not, it does not matter because your customers and consumers do,” announced Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at the University of California (UC), Davis, at the International Rendering Symposium. The program was held in conjunction with the 2017 International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Georgia, in early February and was sponsored by the National Renderers Association (NRA) and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. Mitloehner discussed facts and fiction on livestock and climate change, and disputed claims in a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report comparing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock to those from transportation. He said FAO conducted a life cycle assessment of livestock but not for transportation, where only the carbon footprint of fuel was studied, ultimately declaring 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

“They compared apples to oranges,” Mitloehner stated. He further observed there are big differences across the world with respect to the impact livestock have on the environment. Livestock production in developing countries has a higher footprint than in developed countries where animals are kept in growth regimes with better conversion and genetics. After evaluating Mitloehner’s data from studies conducted at UC Davis, FAO ultimately retracted the report and corrected their figure for greenhouse gases from livestock to a global average of 14 percent.

In the United States (US), the Environmental Protection Agency attributes 32 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions to energy production and use, 27 percent to transportation, and 10 percent to all agriculture production with animal agriculture specifically at 4.2 percent. Mitloehner clarified that if all Americans stopped eating beef one day a week as part of the “meatless Monday” movement, greenhouse gases would only be reduced by 0.3 percent.

“This is so dangerous and misleading to the public,” he remarked. “But Americans care.” Mitloehner noted there are 9 million dairy cows in the United States as well as 9.5 million horses, yet the environmental footprint of horses is not included in the discussion.

“US livestock is the least environmentally harmful industry in the world,” he continued, pointing out that there are 16 million fewer dairy cows in the United States today than in 1950, yet milk production has increased 60 percent.

“The carbon footprint of a glass of milk is two-thirds smaller today than it was 70 years ago,” declared Mitloehner. In addition, the United States had 140 million head of cattle in 1970 compared to 90 million head in 2010 producing the same amount of beef, 24 million metric tons. He went on to say the number one cause of methane from cows is belching due to roughage the animals eat in pastures so cows on feed are better for the environment.

Switching gears was Todd Mathes, senior vice president of restaurant services at Darling Ingredients Inc., who said that around 4.4 billion pounds of used cooking oil is collected in the United States and Canada each year that has significant value after proper processing. He explained that used cooking oil is processed and utilized primarily for its energy content in animal feed and pet food as well as a feedstock for biofuel with some use in technical and commercial products. With the best carbon footprint of any fuel produced in the United States, used cooking oil is beneficial in the production of renewable fuels such as biodiesel, boiler fuel, and renewable propane and butane, as it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also has chemical uses in industries dedicated to lubricants, textiles, plastics, and cleaners, and industrial uses in rubber, plastics, tires, and lubricants.

Previously, grease removed from restaurant traps could be processed and used in animal feed, but that is no longer allowed under new Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) regulations, according to Mathes. This limitation on trap grease encourages now more than ever the use of used cooking oil tanks to collect this product to retain its value, especially in biofuels. He described biodiesel production as a very efficient process where 100 pounds of feedstock are converted into 100 pounds of biodiesel. One pound out of every 10 pounds of animal fat and used cooking oil generated in the United States is processed at Diamond Green Diesel, a renewable diesel plant operated in partnership by Darling Ingredients and Valero Energy Corporation. The facility currently produces 160 million gallons of renewable diesel per year with plans to expand that capacity to 275 million gallons per year by mid-2018 as the demand for biofuels steadily grows.

Mathes explained that biofuel production does not interfere in the “food versus fuel” debate because as more protein is grown or raised to feed the world, more fat is produced than can be eaten creating a by-product.

“Cows are not bred for fuel and used cooking oil is processed and reused for fuel,” he noted, adding the fun fact that a gallon of biodiesel cannot be produced without co-producing 30 pounds of protein and 22 pounds of carbohydrates and dietary fiber.

Dr. David Meeker, senior vice president of scientific services at NRA, stated that animal agriculture in general is more sustainable with rendering processes. It is also safe and sustainable to use rendered by-products in feed and pet food because they improve the sustainability of the industries from which they derive and supply.

“Meat consumption increases as median income rises,” Meeker commented. “By-products from meat production are inevitable, and responsible use is imperative.” If by-products are not used, the price of many pet food products and food for people would rise, forcing by-products into less sustainable uses or less environmentally friendly disposal endpoints creating food waste. He observed that the biggest obstacle to sustainability in pet food is the attitude that by-products are bad when in reality they provide many good benefits, including meeting the nutritional needs of pets.

Stephen Sothmann, president of the U.S. Hide, Skin, and Leather Association, educated attendees on the complexities of the hides market, which has seen a downturn in recent years due to less leather being used globally. China is the largest importer of US hides and skins but a slowdown in its economy and drop in leather usage in footwear has led to lower hide exports and prices. Sothmann said a growing auto industry and use of leather in mid-level vehicles will mean a shift in exports, especially to Mexico where leather for automobiles is made.

NRA President Nancy Foster recognized that the increasing focus on food waste by government should include the role rendering already plays, and the “new world order” in Washington, DC, is bringing opportunity and uncertainty, including extension of tax credits for biofuels.

“The biodiesel industry is very nervous right now and since renderers are a provider of feedstock, these issues are important to us, too,” Foster remarked.

Other speakers at the symposium included Dr. Charles Starkey, Auburn University, who revealed that anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of poultry feed is now vegetarian, which he warned could grow to nearly 50 percent. The biggest challenge for the feed industry is consumer opinion, especially regarding pet food, emphasizing the need for renderers to combat misinformation and create a better dialogue with pet food manufacturers on the nutritional and sustainability benefits of using animal proteins and fats.

James Emerson, Pilgrim’s Pride, provided a virtual tour of a poultry rendering plant that included feather and blood processing while Dr. Ansen Pond, Darling Ingredients, discussed the intricacies of the heavily-regulated US rendering industry, which recycles over 150 million pounds of inedible tissues daily. Pond mentioned the vast majority of finished rendered products go into feed, primarily poultry, so more birds being fed veg diets is a concern.

Kent Swisher, vice president of NRA international programs, talked about multilateral trade agreements, international organizations that oversee animal products, and the myriad of sustainability standards and certification companies that have emerged. He noted that NRA is committed to being actively involved with these various groups to ensure animal proteins and fats are favorably included in global regulations and sustainability programs.

Pet Food Focus
A wide array of educational programs took place all week at IPPE, including the 10th Annual Pet Food Conference sponsored by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) that drew a record attendance of over 350 individuals. Jared Koerten, lead analyst at Euromonitor International, kicked things off by showing global pet care sales have consistently grown year over year, reaching $104 billion in 2016. The average global household spends about $50 per year on their pets compared to the average in the United States at $355 per year. Dry dog food dominates the market and is still growing despite its market size.

Koerten described the shift toward smaller dog (up to 20 pounds) ownership and pets being considered a family member versus a companion, hence the growth in premium foods and those that mimic human food trends, such as weight management, food intolerances, and “natural.”

Gina Tumbarello, AFIA’s director of international policy and trade, announced that US pet food exports have been trending downward, from just over 760,000 metric tons in 2011 to 716,000 metric tons in 2016. France is the largest global exporter of pet food followed by Germany and then the United States, although the Netherlands is closing in on the number three position. At over 276,000 metric tons, Canada is the top export market for US pet food followed by Mexico and Japan at around 58,000 metric tons each, although Japan imports are down significantly from the more than 130,000 metric tons imported in 2011 due to a decline in dog ownership and an increase in domestic production.

Trade policy under new US President Donald Trump is being watched closely, especially if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is renegotiated.

“NAFTA is 23 years old so reopen-ing and modernizing it could be an opportunity, especially related to phytosanitary issues,” Tumbarello remarked. “The key challenge with this new administration is to ensure the industry’s interests and concerns with trade are heard.”

A lively topic was how to develop the next generation of pet food employees. A US Department of Agriculture/Purdue University study reported there is a need for nearly 60,000 high-skilled employees in the food and agriculture industries between 2015 and 2020. Dr. Jessica Starkey, an assistant professor at Auburn University, said education regarding careers in agriculture starts with teachers and described NRA’s various educational tools – a PowerPoint presentation, video, and infographics on the specifics of the rendering industry – as a good example.

“Educating the educator on the pet food industry will help us share information with students looking for careers in agriculture,” Starkey stated. “The students are there, we just need to connect to industry.” Another area of concentration needs to be on more accurate job descriptions so students are clear about position requirements, skills they will be learning, and available opportunities. Starkey pointed to industry internships as being invaluable to both students and companies.

Dr. Melissa Brookshire, North River Enterprises, discussed the need for pet food companies to be more transparent with the 80 million US households that have pets.

“A pet food manufacturer today needs to balance the nutritional requirements of the animal and the needs and wants of the consumer,” while conducting sustainable operations, said Brookshire. “It can be done, but it takes some focus and attention.” With social media and the Internet, consumers can now share their bad experiences with millions of others despite providing no science to prove their claims. Pet food companies need to show care and compassion with concerned customers but the challenge is to find the bridge between science, which consumers see as the enemy, and information the public really wants.

FSMA was also a high-priority topic at the pet food conference. According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Jenny Murphy, the agency’s inspection mindset at this time is to educate before regulating.

“FSMA puts control in the facility’s hands,” she stated. “Take responsibility and go beyond basic requirements in your quality and food safety programs.” FDA will not be inspecting all large businesses the first year and those facilities that are inspected under other programs (i.e., bovine spongiform encephalopathy or medicated feed) should expect to be asked FSMA readiness/awareness-type questions, although answers are voluntary but helpful to FDA staff.

“This is about food safety,” Murphy commented. “Build a foundation in your company and instill that culture among your employees.”

April 2017 RENDER | back