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FDA regulation increases requirements for cattle disposal

Cattle disposal procedures will help reduce BSE but may increase price of production.

Cattle disposal procedures will help reduce BSE but may increase price of production.

A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration rendering regulation next month will affect ag producers’ ability to dispose of dead cattle and likely will drive up some beef processing costs, industry experts said.

Beginning April 27, rendering operations will be required to remove brains and spinal cords of all cattle older than 30 months if they intend to process the carcass for feed. The FDA regulation is intended to help reduce the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, the so-called mad cow disease responsible for more than 150 human deaths worldwide in recent years. There are no confirmed cases of the disease associated with U.S. beef. “The impact has already been huge,” said Jonel Quam at the El Reno operations of Amarillo-based Valley Proteins. “We’ve started requiring insurance now that someone has to pay for out of their pocket, because of the liability this presents to our own company.” Valley Proteins recycles inedible byproducts from the food industry, including restaurants, supermarkets, slaughterhouses, poultry processing facilities and farms. After beef processors secure cuts of meat for human consumption, Valley Proteins takes care of almost everything else from the carcass, converting fat and bone trimmings, waste cooking oils, and meat byproducts into high-energy fat and protein-rich meal that can then be sold back to agriculture producers to fortify their livestock feed. Valley Proteins and similar businesses have to ensure the brain and spinal cord tissues are safely removed from that process or face stiff fines and the potential of product recall. Quam said some will simply stop accepting cattle older than the 30-month minimum, which would merely shift the problem somewhere else. Valley Proteins works with nearly 50 small and medium-sized slaughter operations across the state, Quam said. “The worst part of this is that the small processors could be driven out of business because of regulations. They’re not necessarily over the top right now, but they could get there pretty easily,” Quam said. Wes Beane at Ralph’s Packing Co. in Perkins said the new requirements will be manageable at his level of operations because the cattle material prohibited in animal feed, CMPAF in industry lingo, is disposed of by another facility about 10 miles away. That may not be the case for his peers, Beane said. “The removal of those particular two materials from the carcass is not really a large factor; we can do that at our facility,” said Beane, who is also executive director of the Oklahoma-Texas Meat Processors Association. But Beane does agree with Quam on the risk of rising costs in a tough economy. “We kind of see the writing on the wall and feel that there may be further restrictions and regulations implemented as time progresses,” he said. Jake Nelson at Oklahoma State University said that in Oklahoma rendering companies in recent years stopped picking up dead livestock at individual farms and ranches because of earlier FDA rules. Nelson is the meat processing specialist at the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center at OSU. “And that impacts the producers because they don’t have anyone to call to remove dead animals. So now that onus is on the producer,” Nelson said. “Owning and operating a vehicle sufficient for removing dead cows across the state became prohibitive. And when fuel prices started going up, to make it work they had to price their services beyond what anyone was willing to pay.” He said special handling required for the brain and spinal tissues will likely drive the small operators to consider alternatives to traditional rendering operations. To read related articles, link to The Journal Record.