Saturday, November 1, 2008

Render unto Caesar

Rendering Crisis Hits Oregon Livestock Industry

Portland, OR
October 21, 2008 5:32 a.m.

You might be forgiven for not knowing this, but Oregon is in the middle of a ‘rendering’ crisis.

Rendering is the process by which dead farm animals like cows and horses are turned into products like dog food and leather.

As it stands now, there are no such processing plants in the entire state. And as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, about 100 cows a week are going straight into Oregon's landfills.

For a state with a glowing reputation for environmental policies, Oregon has a dirty little secret.

Old and sick farm animals are being tossed into landfills after they die or are killed -- instead of being used to make leather, animal feed, fertilizers and other products.

At Coffin Butte Landfill for example -- just outside Corvallis -- an average of 50 cows a week are buried -- from the Tillamook County Creamery Association.

Lissa Drewbeck is with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Lissa Drewbeck: "The animals are only taken by appointment only, and in the case of Coffin Butte, they're taken only outside of the hours that the public is there. And then the special waste management plan requires that the land fill dig a large hole, put the animals in it and then cover them with four feet of waste -- so that you don't have odors generated from that or flies or any other vectors that would be attracted if it was left just out and uncovered."

The Tillamook County Creamery Association didn't want to answer questions about the cows.

It referred OPB to the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. Spokesman Jim Krahn says farmers have tried to come up with other ways of dealing with the animals.

Jim Krahn: "However, every direction we have attempted, we've hit a roadblock. Most of it's been financial frankly."

The problem started a couple of years ago, when Carl Cacho closed the state's last rendering plant -- Redmond Tallow.

Carl Cacho: "The economy was bad on it and everything else was expensive to run. And then I had people complaining about odor issues. And then we had DEQ requirements we had to do a bunch of them. Some worked, some didn't and we just decided to, you know what, it was best to just get out."

The main problem was Mad Cow disease.

New regulations banned animals from being used in cattle feed --- so the disease wouldn't spread.

Already low bone meal prices dropped through the floor.

Cacho says many farmers and ranchers now just turn sick animals lose.

Carl Cacho: "You know, what else are they going to do? They can't afford to feed them. Hay is so expensive. And to have them put down by a vet and me to pick them up, they're going to have a $500 or $600 bill -- depending on what the vet is going to charge them."

Letting a horse free on BLM land is one thing. But large farms and co-ops have dozens of sick cows and chickens to get rid of every week.

There are out-of-state rendering companies that can pick up animals, but it's expensive.

Cam Callahan of The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point, says his bill increased 200 percent last year.

Cam Callahan: "I just hope people realize how important it was for us to have tallow company. It isn't just the tallow, but they are also the people that pick up the grease from the restaurants, they suck out the grease traps from all of the businesses. So all those services, even though we don't like the smell of a tallow company and stuff, all those services are gone to the public now."

The problem is bad enough that the governor set up a task force last year. It came up with a series of ideas: from composting to cremation.

Jerry Gardner is a spokeman with the state Agriculture Department. He says many farmers end up using the plan of last resort -- landfills.

Jerry Gardner: "We've had in the last year about six different private companies that have been interested in looking at this issue and trying to figure out how to establish a business. We've had several people that have looked at composting this, we've had other people in central Oregon that's trying to establish a rendering plant in connection with a bio-energy facility. It's generally a problem of this not penciling out in bringing in the kind of revenue to make this kind of an investment worthwhile."

One alternative that's being tried on road kill is composting. ODOT is collecting dead animals around Morrow County and using the compost to improve the soil for highway landscaping.

Plans to compost farm animals have worked, but so far not in any great numbers.

© 2008 OPB

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