Recycling through rendering: Dead animals used in products

Recycling through rendering: Dead animals used in products

July 20, 2001 Miami Herald

Mad Cow disease devastated Europe's beef industry and killed more than 80 people. And in the United States, we had our own scare earlier this year with cattle in Texas and then sheep in Vermont.

But while U.S. officials insist measures that are being taken to protect livestock and the American public from Mad Cow disease, there are concerns that a possible source of contamination isn't being monitored closely enough. It's the process of using dead animals for all kinds of products -- a process called rendering.

Eyewitness News decided to take a look at the benefits and possible risks of recycling through rendering.

The soap you wash your hands with, the lipstick you wear -- even the food you feed your pet -- can be made from recycled animals through rendering. The Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) says that it's no secret that some of these products and many others are created this way.

"The products from rendering can have numerous uses," Dan McChesney of the FDA said. "They can have industrial uses, such as soaps or oils. They can go into cosmetics. They can also be used in animal food."

It's estimated that 286 rendering plants around the U.S. -- including two here in South Florida -- recycle 40 billion pounds of animal waste every year. That includes the inedible parts of farm animals raised for human consumption, whole carcasses of animals who may die from injury or disease, animals who are euthanized -- like horses, dogs and cats -- and even road kill.

"There isn't any regulation that prevents any animal from going into it," McChesney said.

That fact disturbs people like holistic veterinarian Dr. Gerald Johnson.

"They turn this garbage stuff into a feed product or an ingredient in a food," Johnson said.

The rendering process kills most, but not all bacteria and viruses. The frightening exception: Mad Cow disease. And because of the possibility that Mad Cow disease could be spread through feed made from rendered byproducts, the FDA has restricted the use of animal tissue in animal feed.

The FDA is also investigating another health safety issue with rendered products. A study by the American Journal of Veterinary Research found that some pet foods contained traces of Phenobarbital, which is a drug used to euthanize animals.

"Some of the companies that have looked into this have said, 'Well, it's such a small amount,'" Johnson said. "But what happens is you're feeding this small amount over years?"

Johnson suggests that pet owners read labels carefully -- avoiding anything that lists byproducts among the ingredients.

"When it says by product, that's just what it is -- it's a byproduct of rendering," Johnson said.

It's not so easy to identify the many other products that rendered byproducts are used -- including lubricants, lipstick, ink, cement, polish, waxes, soaps, candles, pharmaceuticals, homeopathic medicines and even some gummy candies. But the FDA insists that the public is safe.

Officials say that the high cost and environmental impact of using landfills or incinerators to dispose of animal waste makes rendering a necessary form of recycling. The country's 286 rendering plants are inspected annually by agents with the FDA or state agriculture departments.

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