Published Friday January 2, 2009
Mad cow rule may put farmers in dumps
BY LESLIE REED
Source of Article: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10527808
state veterinarian is among those worried that dead cattle could be left to
rot in wi
The new rule, which takes effect April 27, says cattle over 30 months
of age can't be rendered for animal feed unless their brains and spinal cords
are removed first.
The Food and Drug Administration regulation is intended to prevent the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),
or mad cow disease, from slipping into livestock feed and causing an outbreak
in cattle. Prions are found in the brain and spinal
The rendering truck is a popular method for disposing of cattle that die
before going to market. But some fear that rendering companies may stop
picking up dead cattle or that higher fees will discourage farmers
from calling a rendering company when an animal dies. The result could be
dead cattle that are illegally dumped.
"It's going to be a major problem, " said
State Veterinarian Dennis Hughes, who works for the Nebraska Department of
Agriculture. "We fear farmers are going to be hauling them into
shelterbelts or ditches, to make good coyote food."
Although the rule will cause disposal challenges, the FDA maintains that the
rule is needed to control the spread of mad cow disease.
FDA press officer Michael Herndon said more than 200 people have died
worldwide from the human form of mad cow disease, including three cases in
the United States that probably resulted from exposure outside the country.
"The FDA has an obligation to put control measures in place that will
prevent the threats to public and animal health," Herndon said.
The regulation will have the most impact on the dairy industry — which
accounts for about 300 farms and 60,000 cattle in Nebraska.
Milk cows, which are more likely to reach old age, are most productive after
3 years of age and can continue to produce until
they're 15 or older. Beef cattle, in contrast, often go to slaughter before
they're 2 years old.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 4.2 million cattle and
calves died before slaughter during 2007, roughly 4 percent of that year's
Jan. 1 cattle inventory. Nebraska
saw about a 3 percent death loss, or about 200,000 head. Iowa experienced about a 4.6 percent death
loss, or about 185,000 cattle and calves.
Between 45 and 50 percent of animals that die on the farm go to rendering
companies, said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association.
Rendering trucks travel regular routes to pick up animals from large farms
and feedlots. Smaller operations call for the service when needed.
In past decades, rendering companies paid farmers for animal carcasses, which
they boiled down for animal feed and other products. Today, most companies
charge about $25 to $30 per head to remove an animal.
A rendering industry study said costs could go to $45 to $50 per head to cover
additional labor and specialized equipment required to remove brains and
"It's safe to say there will be changes across the rendering
industry," said Ross Hamilton, director of government affairs and
technology for Darling International, a national company that provides
rendering services in eastern Nebraska.
Cook said rendering companies probably will begin eliminating the banned
material in early February so that their supply lines will be clear by April
27. He said he didn't know how many companies will adopt procedures to remove
the material from older cattle and how many will simply stop accepting
carcasses of cattle that fall under the restrictions — those older
than 30 months.
Lonnie Johnson, owner of Nebraska Byproducts of Lexington, said he intended
to continue picking up dead animals for his customers.
"If we don't do that, I have a fear we're going to see a lot of dead
stock lying in canyons and ravines and that type of thing," he said.
Alternative disposal options are relatively few. Farmers can bury dead
animals, which is problematic in areas with high water tables or in
situations where more than a few animals have died. In some areas, farm dead
also can be sent to landfills or composted — a controlled decomposition process
similar to home gardeners' treatment of yard and kitchen waste.
However, state law limits composting to carcasses of no more than 600 pounds
because of difficulties in properly composting larger animals. Although
incineration is allowed, the facilities are expensive to build and lacking in
Representatives of the dairy and rendering industries question the need for
the new FDA regulation. They said that the chance of humans contracting mad
cow disease from U.S.
cattle is minuscule and that the new regulation is intended more to soothe
the concerns of U.S.
trading partners like Korea
Mike Roder, spokesman for the Nebraska Dairy
Industry Association, said it will be increasingly difficult for dairy
farmers to deal with "downer" cows — animals who through injury,
disease or old age can no longer walk. Such animals aren't allowed to be
slaughtered for their meat, because of the possibility they carry mad cow
disease or some other disease.
"I can't take her to market, and I can't have her rendered," Roder said. "When you're doing this for a living,
the rules seem to pile up."