According to Sherrie Rosenblatt, marketing and communications director for the National Turkey Federation, virtually every part of every turkey is utilized. Everything except for the gobble, that is. “It’s estimated that turkeys have 3,500 feathers at maturity. The bulk of turkey feathers are composted or otherwise disposed of. However, some feathers may be used for special purposes, “she says. Rosenblatt notes dyed feathers are used to make American Indian costumes and quills for pens. “The costume ‘Big Bird’ wears on ‘Sesame Street’ is rumored to be made of turkey feathers,” she says with a laugh. Turkey feather down has been used to make pillows. And for commercial use, turkey skins are tanned and used to make items like cowboy boots, belts and other accessories.
Parts of animals, including livestock and poultry, are used to make a myriad of products, including both food and non-food products. The use of by-products from livestock and poultry, including fats, oils, grease, hides, hooves, feathers, blood and other parts, is quite extensive and contributes a major amount of income to the meat and poultry industry.
Each year about 9 billion animals are slaughtered in the US, including about 150 million cattle, sheep, hogs and goats, and 8.9 billion chickens, turkeys and ducks. There are no exact figures on the sales of animal by-products each year. According to the US Dept. of Agriculture’s drop value report for the beginning of February, the hide and offal value from a typical slaughter steer was estimated at $12.83 per hundredweight, with a typical slaughter steer weighing 1,325 lbs. The hide and offal value from typical fed cattle (steers and heifers) at the beginning of February was estimated at $13.09 per hundredweight live, with a typical fed slaughter cattle weighing 1,275 lbs.
“By-products are a very big part of the poultry and meat industry,” says Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council. “If you look at it simply, a lot of parts from birds and livestock get rendered for use in fertilizer. Some offal goes into pet food. And then there’s feather meal, which isn’t very well known outside the industry, which goes into poultry feed and other uses.”
“The by-products industry is very big,” agrees David Meeker, senior vice president for scientifi c services at the National Renderers Association in Alexandria, Va. “It’s impossible to determine how big or the monetary value of the by-product industry. We can say half of every animal slaughtered – livestock and poultry – goes to rendering. So that gives you some idea,” he says.
According to the NRA, raw materials numbers are as follows in the US: a total of 54 billion lbs. a year of offal, blood and feathers come from meat and poultry to be made into by-products. Of that, 20 percent is made into bone meal or poultry meal and 20 percent goes into different classes of fats and tallow. He says yellow grease totals 11 billion lbs. a year, and protein meal totals 10 to 11 billion lbs. a year, selling for $300 to $800 a ton. Meeker estimates the rendering industry is a $5 billon to $7 billion industry annually in the US.
By-products have uses in the food industry and for non-food purposes as well. And while the use of animal by-products has come under criticism, especially by members of consumer and animal-welfare groups, poultry and meat processors say most consumers would be surprised how many goods and items they buy or make use of for consumption come from – or are made from – animal by-products. These include such things as leather goods like shoes, automobile seats, shoelaces, bracelets, motorcycle bags, pet food, synthetic oil and fuel, cosmetics, shampoos, creams, mouthwashes, deodorants, rubber, inks for writing, adhesives, medicines, toothbrushes and shaving brushes, fertilizer, insulin, wool, candles, adhesives and surgical sutures. And those are just a few of the uses for by-products.
Since groups opposed to the use of by-products have tried to give them a bad name, industry companies that make items from animal by-products like to use another name for them. “We’d much rather call them coproducts,” says Eddie Troutman, vice president, beef, international and by-product sales for Cargill’s meat business in Wichita, Kan. “Because they’re products from the animal we are using for different purposes besides food for humans – that still makes them animal products.”
One major product coming from livestock by-products is leather, according to Cargill. John Hochstein, assistant vice president for hides and skins at Cargill, is the company’s hide expert. He says the main use for cattle hides is leather, and the most common use from the substance is shoe leather. Sixty percent of the leather market goes for shoes. The rest of it goes into handbags and many other products. “The tannery will split the hide and then it goes to the leather industry – and they decide what to do with it,” Hochstein says.
It can be items as diverse as dog chews, raw dog bones, the gelatin industry, hydrolyzed protein for hair treatments and shampoo. “Then there are sporting goods, like baseballs, baseball gloves, shoelaces and leather bracelets,” according to Mark McMahon, assistant vice president, rendered solutions for Cargill. Hochstein says the by-product market is controlled greatly by the yearly harvest of animals and whether the slaughter of meat and poultry is up or down. “The hide market crashed when the economic downturn happened,” he notes, saying the crash ended since the economy began as well as poultry by-product meal.”
Then there’s feather meal. Larry Risty, with Central Bi-Products, in Redwood Falls, Minn., says this meal is a major by-product from turkey and chicken. The meal is made from poultry feathers by partially hydrolyzing under heat and pressure and then grinding them. It’s used in formulated animal feed and in organic fertilizer. He says it is used in animal rations and is highly digestible for animals. “Fish rations can also contain a lot of feather meal, and of course, it’s great for fertilizer,” Risty says. “There’s also experimentation going on in making plastics from feather meal. Of course, the feathers come from chicken and turkey processing plants. The feathers are hydrolyzed under pressure and then ground up. The fibers are broken down, and the carbon chains resulting are more digestible. Some is used in poultry rations, and much of it also goes to ruminant rations.”
Another division of his company is called Northland Choice Pet Food Ingredients and it is a manufacturer of canned pet foods, most of which are meats that would be called by-products, although they really aren’t. It’s just they’re not used for human foods. The ingredients are from chicken and turkey and sometimes are blended together to make custom meat mixes. “They can include eviscerated ground chicken, hearts, livers, mechanically deboned chicken, ground turkey and custom mixes,” he says. “The products are chilled or iced from USDA-inspected slaughter plants to prevent any bacterial action and are drained prior to freezing.”
Then there’s the whole field of renewable energy, with products coming from animal sources and byproducts. Probably the best known is Tyson Renewable Energy, a part of Tyson Foods. This growing and promising field began with an alliance with ConocoPhillips to create diesel fuels. Bob Ames, vice president for renewable fuels at Tyson, says the Conoco project was put on hold because it was no longer economically feasible. “The $1 per gallon tax credit was eliminated; we were only getting 50 cents a gallon, where the biofuel was continuing to get $1 a gallon tax credit. So that project is not currently active,” he adds.
Instead, Ames says, Tyson entered into a joint venture with Syntroleum, a Tulsa, Okla.-based synthetic fuel technology company, to make synthetic fuels produced from renewable feedstocks. The joint venture is called Dynamic Fuels, based in Geismar, La., and makes what’s called “renewable diesel fuel.” The advantage? “Producing these fuels leverages our procurement capabilities and helps our relationships with others in the industry. It also helps our commodity trading and helps us access feedstocks from other sources with less risk,” Ames says. “Syntroleum contributes to the project gas-to- liquid technology expertise while producing synthetic fuel and developing synthetic fuel standards for the US Air Force and the Department of Defense. The renewable diesel fuel from Dynamic Fuels is chemically identical to conventional diesel fuel.”
Four months ago on Nov. 8, the Tyson-Syntroleum joint venture company opened its first US commercial scale advanced biofuels plant at its Geismar headquarters. The plant is successfully converting non-food grade animal fats produced or supplied by Tyson Foods, such as beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat and greases into high-quality renewable fuels. “The production actually began a month earlier, in October, and right now is producing 2,500 barrels a day of the fuel. And it’s growing,” Ames says. “We were looking to do something with by-products from animal production from our company. This has been spurred by technological development that’s taken place in recent years.” Where do the greases come from? “We acquire greases like McDonald’s used fryer grease. Nothing goes to waste anymore,” Ames says, laughing. “How much do feedstocks enter into the project? About 2 billion lbs. a year.”
He explains the four-step process: “First, we take the animal fats and greases, and clean them up. Then we run them through a hydro process, which converts those fats to diesel fuel. Then it’s cooled so the animal fat doesn’t congeal. The final step is distillation, which cuts the product into three fuels: diesel, naphtha and propane [LP gas]. To date, costs for the plant have totaled $170 million.
“We expect to produce 75 million gallons of renewable fuel a year,” he says. “Financially – this is a startup at this point,” Ames points out. He’s also hopeful the tax credit will be restored for diesel fuel because Tyson would like to renew its alliance with ConocoPhillips to produce that type of fuel, as well.
“If that happens, we’ll look at that project again,” he says.
“For decades, we’ve tried to add value to our products,” Ames points out. “The idea to get into this type of project using our by-products came out of Tyson’s corporate strategy and business group. This kind of innovation is in the same spirit as when we began cut up chicken, in addition to our normal whole chicken operations. This is also part of sustainability. While the lion’s share is diesel fuel, we also are making co-products, like naphtha and LPG. We’re very pleased with the progress we’re making on this project,” Ames says.
Bernard Shire is a contributing editor based in Lancaster, Pa. With a background in editing and writing for daily news publications, he also works as a food safety consultant and writer for Shire & Associates LLC.