David Kirby with the Huffington Post recently mentioned being “revolted” by what he learned when researching his new book “Animal Factory”: what revolted Kirby was the discovery that cattle are fattened on chicken manure. We were revolted as well until we researched Kirby’s claim.
Now we’re appalled.
Because not only are many of America’s cattle herds fed chicken manure, they’re also fed euthanized dogs and cats, dead skunks, rats, and raccoons found on U.S. highways; as well as heavy metals from pet and cattle ID tags, surgical pins, needles, plastic and Styrofoam, plastic insecticide patches, green plastic bags containing dead pets from veterinarians, and more. All of these items are pulverized and made into dry feed through a process called rendering.
Every time you and I eat a steak or hamburger, we may also be eating the pulverized remains of the possum we hit on the road last week, or Aunt Harriet’s poodle, or our neighbor’s cat that was put to sleep and fed to the slaughtered cow we had for dinner. And because they don’t strip euthanized animals of flea collars and pet ID tags before rendering, we’re also eating ground up metal and chemicals as well.
The process of rendering has been around for centuries, and was initially performed to make soap and candles. Simply put, rendering is what occurs when meat is boiled in water to separate fat and lard. But on today’s industrial level, rendering converts animal carcasses — tissue, bones, internal organs, hooves, blood, feathers, and hair, — into dry meat by-products that are sold as animal feed.
Modern rendering today involves tossing animal carcasses into huge steam jacketed vessels; the carcasses are then ground, and cooked at temperatures of between 220 degrees and 270 degrees for twenty minutes to an hour to release fat and moisture.
The tallow is removed and is the source of animal fat in most pet foods; the rest is percolated until fat is pressed out of the solids into “dry-rendered tankage”. The resulting product is ground further and then separated into fat, water and fine solids by stages of centrifuging. The solids are pressed and dried and made into animal feed, commonly known as meat by-products and bone meal.
In a 1997 article in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, we learned that animal-feed manufacturers and farmers were also experimenting with dehydrated food garbage — fats emptied from restaurant fryers and grease traps, cement-kiln dust, newsprint and cardboard derived from plant cellulose, and even human sewage sludge.
We can’t help but wonder how much more refined and creative the dehydrated food garbage business has become in thirteen years. While most food activists are concerned with genetically modified corn meal in our cattle feed, the situation is closer to the science fiction film Soylent Green.
Last February, Spencer Hunt with THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported on the shrinking number of rendering plants in the country. Hunt claimed big businesses have centralized operations and consolidated by buying out smaller ones.
The U.S. has more than 200 working plants, 38 of which are owned by one company, says Hunt. That means dead carcasses rot even longer before they’re trucked to the nearest plant to be boiled and chopped up into feed.
Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association in Arlington, Va., says the number of rendering plants are diminishing because disease fears have led many pet-food and livestock-feed manufacturers to reject proteins rendered from dead animals. Do you believe him? I don’t.
As long as there’s a profit to made from recycling dead bodies into animal feed and pet food, you can be sure it will be business as usual. If the number of rendering plants have decreased, it’s because the rendering business is consolidating.
Because these rendering plants serve as huge toxic waste dumps used to recycle animals into animal feed, what we currently have is a food system based on cannibalism, where cattle eat cattle, chickens eat chickens, and pigs eat pigs. Cattle are herbivorous creatures meant to eat grasses. And chickens naturally eat grass, weeds, bugs, and worms.
In addition to cannibalism, we’re eating beef and chicken that’s fed animal waste. Kirby describes how the chicken manure fed to cattle comes from chickens raised in mechanized barns where tens of thousands of birds are confined. Their fecal droppings mix into a bedding of woodchips that form a cake of litter scraped from the barn after each flock is removed. The resulting chicken litter is sold as feed to cattle.
Chicken litter is not the only way that American cattle eat cattle, says Kirby. Beef-containing restaurant scraps are often rendered into feed, and a formula for dairy calves (whose mothers’ milk is deemed too valuable to “waste”) contains bovine blood products.
Kirby says “poultry feed often contains bits of rendered beef byproducts. Chickens are not tidy eaters: they spill copious amounts of food into their litter, which is then fed to cattle. And, as everyone knows, cows that eat cows can go ‘mad’ with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or spongy cow-brain disease).”
The practice of feeding cattle chicken litter was reported as far back as 1997 by CNN: “Increasingly, American cattle farmers feed their herds chicken manure, which health officials warn could contain dangerous bacteria that ends up in ground meat eaten by humans, the magazine reports in its September 1 issue. The waste that is mixed with livestock feed is a less expensive alternative to using grains and hay.”
The CNN news article cites as an example a Arkansas farmer, Lamar Carter, who bought 745 tons of manure from local chicken houses to feed his 800 head of cattle. “My cows are as fat as butterballs,” Carter said. “If I didn’t have chicken litter, I’d have to sell half my herd. Other feed’s too expensive.”
Apparently Lamar Carter was stacking chicken litter 12 feet high on his farm. After allowing the excrement to heat up for 7 to 10 days, he mixed it with soybean bran and fed the concoction to his cattle.
The CNN article references a scientific study published in the journal Preventive Medicine that warns of the potential dangers of recycling chicken waste by feeding it to cattle. “Feeding manure that has not been properly processed is supercharging the cattle feces with pathogens likely to cause disease in consumers,” Dr. Neal Barnard, author of the study warns.
Chicken manure often contains campylobacteria and salmonella bacteria, which can make humans sick. Intestinal parasites, veterinary drug residues and heavy toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury are also often present in the waste, the article says. That was thirteen years ago.
According to a March 2010 audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, beef containing pesticides, veterinary antibiotics as well as a host of heavy metals including copper, lead, cadmium, and arsenic is sold to the public because federal agencies have no set limits for the contaminants.
The US NEWS & WORLD REPORT article referenced earlier also reported on a 1997 incident in which a SWAT team of agricultural inspectors was forced to close a Hudson Foods Co. plant because E. coli bacteria was found in the company’s hamburger patties. Hudson ended up recalling 25 million pounds of its meat.
Sound familiar? Since January, 2010, over 850,000 pounds of beef has been recalled due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. We’re beginning to think that consumers who get sick from eating America’s beef will soon no longer be an anomaly, but the general rule. In 2009, JBS-Swift, a Colorado meat company recalled 421,000 lbs of E.coli contaminated beef.
Also in 2009, at least 24 individuals became ill from eating E.coli contaminated beef, 12 were hospitalized and two of them were diagnosed with kidney failure. And a 7-year-old Cleveland girl died from E. Coli linked to a cluster of E. coli infections traced to Valley Meats LLC of Coal Valley, Illinois, where the USDA recalled approximately 95,898 pounds of contaminated ground beef in the same year.
As Kirby warns, “if we can’t produce food without giving feces, blood and old meatloaf to cattle, there’s something seriously wrong with our system.”
If all this does not make you think twice, you should read up on how many cows go into your burger.