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Hot Equine Issues

Unwanted Horses & the Rendering Industry  

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer


March 2008 Issue


[Editor’s Note: This is the second article in our series about the current issue of how to deal with Unwanted Horses, and the related topics of slaughter, euthanization, and rendering.

     In February, 2007, we published “What To Do With A Dead Horse.” In February, 2008, we covered these issues: the causes of unwanted horses; horse slaughter houses; transportation to slaughter; and horse meat.

     Please contact us with your feedback and thoughts about this very important issue.]


Ultimate Recycling: Rendering

      Rendering plants do not kill animals; they process waste from slaughter houses, butchers, restaurants, etc., as well as whole animals that have already died. Rendering is a process that converts waste animal tissue into stable, value-added materials. The rendering process dries the material and separates fat from bone and protein.

      After a horse dies, if it is not buried, burned or composted, the carcass may be taken to a rendering facility or transfer station, if there is one nearby. In the past, renderers paid a small amount for animals, and often offered a pick up service; now there is normally a charge for pick up.

      Most medium- to large-sized communities had rendering plants up until about 20 to 40 years ago. Now, like a lot of businesses, consolidation has hit the rendering industry and most rendering plants in the U.S. are now only near or adjacent to large slaughter facilities, or meat or poultry raising plants. Some renderers have transfer facilities, where waste is held until transferred to the actual plant some miles away.


Rendering Industry is Tight-Lipped

      When RMR called the few rendering plants in our distribution area to ask about whether they accepted horse carcasses and what useful products might be rendered from them, we were met by closed doors. We were either referred to the Texas or California home company which had bought up many plants about seven years ago, and/or we were stopped by “gatekeepers” and did not have our calls returned.

      Dennis Lucky, spokesperson for Baker Commodities’ Corporate Offices in Los Angeles , told RMR, “I’m returning your call to tell you that I can’t talk to you.”

      When asked what products might be made from a horse carcass, he responded, “We don’t just process one horse at a time—they go into the raw product.”

      He then referred us to the National Renderer’s Association website for information.


BSE Scare

      Rendering companies have become very shy about talking to the press, including RMR, in part due to the “mad cow” scare.

      “Mad cow disease” or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became an epidemic in Britain in the 1980s when it was discovered in cattle, and became worldwide news in 1996, when it was discovered in humans.

      According to Dr. Frederick A. Murphy, former Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine , University of California Davis , and now with the University of Texas Medical Branch , epidemiological research led to the conclusion that “the (BSE) bovine agent had originated from the scrapie agent in sheep. It is presumed that the scrapie agent jumped species and moved into cattle when sheep offal (the leftover parts of butchered animals) was included in protein supplements fed to cattle.

      “After cattle started to die, cattle carcasses and their offal were included in the same protein supplements. This seems to a have amplified the epidemic” of BSE. When humans ate the infected beef, they became infected with BSE (known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans).


      Eventually, more than 160,000 infected cows in Britain were identified, and protein supplements containing sheep and cattle offal were banned.

      BSE is caused by an extremely hardy pathogen called a prion, which can remain viable through the normal rendering process that sterilizes bacteria and viruses.

      Until the BSE epidemic, feeding practices for cattle in the U.S. were similar to those in the U.K. When the information about transference of BSE became general knowledge, the news stories about rendering plants and their products made plant owners and managers wary of talking to the press.


Meat & Bone Meal

      By 2000, the USDA had banned any feeding of meat and bone meal to bovines and other ruminants.

      According to Darling International, Inc., an international rendering corporation, the “FDA Feed Rule (21 CFR 589.2000) is a key firewall to preventing BSE from spreading in the USA .

      “These regulations banned the feeding of Meat and Bone Meal, made from certain ruminant animal by-products, to cattle and other ruminant animals in the United States . Under these regulations, it is permissible to feed Meat and Bone Meal made from pork or Poultry By-Product Meal to cattle and other ruminant animals.

      “The ban did not affect Blood Meal or Feather Meal. The ban only affects ruminant animal feeding. Any type of Meat and Bone Meal may be fed to swine, poultry, fish, and companion animals.

      “In the world marketplace, protein has become the most sought-after ingredient in the makeup of animal feeds. … and has become an important part of the feed ingredient mix.”

      Renderers take “the raw product,” and make meat and bone meal, tallow and hides. Meat and bone meal is then made into livestock and poultry feed and pet food. Hides are made into leather. Tallow becomes soap and glycerin, stearic acid and linoleic acid, which in turn become lubricants, textiles, shampoo, emulsifiers, cleansing creams, inks, glues, solvents, antifreeze, explosives, rubber tires, lubricants, esters and paints.

      Tallow is used as a high-energy feed additive for poultry, swine and dairy cows.

      Used vegetable oil from restaurants also goes to renderers and is reclaimed.


      One small rendering transfer station operator in South Dakota , who told us he would only speak to us anonymously, states,

      “BSE nearly shut us down, and now rendering is not as lucrative as it used to be due to transportation costs.

      “We still take horse carcasses, but we charge $150. Some people just won’t pay that and figure out something cheaper to do with the body. The raw product (animal carcasses) we take produces a tremendous variety of finished product. We are even trying to figure out a way for the oils (tallow) to be made into bio-deisel. It’ll happen.”


Read your feed tag

      Many brands of dog and cat food, as well as some chicken and pig feeds, list some rendered animal products as ingredients named “fish meal,” “beef meal,” “chicken meal,” “hydrolyzed poultry feathers,” “chicken by-product meal,” or less specifically: “animal protein product, animal fat” and “animal digest.”

      And, although uncommon, some types of animal protein or fat are occasionally used in horse supplements and feed. A little research into ingredients of feeds and supplements manufactured across the U.S. showed a few horse feed supplements listing a primary ingredient being “animal fat” or “fish meal.”

      Meat and bone meal is manufactured from waste materials of the slaughtering operation (carcass trimmings, condemned carcasses, condemned livers, inedible offal such as lungs and bones), and also from the rendering of dead animals.

      A “by-product” is any product produced as a secondary or incidental product, such as waste from a slaughterhouse. “Chicken by-product meal” is made from the clean parts of a slaughtered chicken, typically necks, bones, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines.

      According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a private commercial regulatory body for fodder and pet food, animal digest is produced by chemically or enzymatically treating animal tissue.


Help for Unwanted Horses?

      A broad alliance of equine organizations, including national breed clubs and veterinary associations, have joined together under the umbrella of the American Horse Council to form the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC).

      For more information, visit:




   The following are questions that we have tossed around in the RMR offices or 
that have been asked of us.


1. Is it really more humane to keep a horse until it must be euthanized, instead of sending it to a 
regulated U.S. slaughter plant while it’s still healthy?


2. Are horses going to suffer more, by being starved or medically neglected, before being euthanized?


3. Are we simply exchanging “horse slaughter” for “horse rendering”?


4. What happens to horse corpses when it’s economically not feasible, due to high fuel costs, for the rendering companies to pick them up?


5. Is it good for horses and the horse industry if unwanted or undesirable horses have little or no value, and may actually cost money to euthanize and dispose of? In parts of the country, disposing of a horse may cost as much as $500.


6. Are horses companion animals or livestock? We’ll discuss this issue in our April 2008 issue.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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