Feeding animal by-product derived products to livestock has been banned in the EU ever since BSE ripped apart the UK food and farming industry. But now there are growing calls for a more pragmatic approach, allowing processed poultry and pig by products back into animal feed. But is the public ready to embrace meat reared on other animals?
Who could forget the dead cattle and the huge losses replicated in county after county throughout our farming industry in the 80s and 90s? The costs that stemmed from the BSE outbreaks, and the discovery that the human version, CJD, could be traced back to beef radically altered the meat industry.
Ever since the 1920s, many farm animals have been partly reared on food manufactured from slaughterhouse remains. Rendering animal by-products that would otherwise be waste became a widespread and efficient practice in the meat industry in the 20th century, continuing the practice dating back to ancient times when animal skins were used for shelter and clothing, and tallow was first turned into soap and candles.
Feeding rendered animal by-products to livestock was banned in the late ‘80s after meat and bone meal was identified as the ‘only viable hypothesis for the cause of BSE’.
But now change is coming. With BSE now virtually eradicated in the EU, the restrictions on animal proteins in feed are slowly being relaxed in a controlled manner which many in the meat supply chain hope will open these markets once again and allow this valuable resource to be used as animal feed.
Currently, rendered poultry by-products are used in pet food, and since 2013, poultry meal has also been allowed to be fed to farmed fish. Some in the industry now want to move to the next stage: allowing poultry protein products to be fed to pigs, and pig protein products to be fed to poultry.
There are limits though. The ban on ruminant based protein being fed back to farmed animals remains, and there are no plans to change this.
Adrian Kesterson, technical advisor to UK renderers’ body FABRA UK, says many in the rendering industry are hopeful the law will change, creating an additional outlet for their products made from non ruminant animal by-products, “It would certainly open up the market to more customers,” says Kesterson. “We are trying to market these products and make people aware we are back in the game in terms of animal feed.”
Scientific evidence shows feeding pig meal to poultry and poultry meal to pigs is totally safe, and it is common practise outside the EU. But given the history, what are the chances consumers will accept it?
The tale of the new £5 note is still ringing loud in the ears of many involved in rendering. Who could have guessed the use of tiny amounts of tallow as a binding agent would cause the uproar it did, uniting religious groups and vegans in rejecting it?
Germany-based Dr Martin Alm is technical director of the European rendering association EFPRA. He is both furious and nervous about the implications of the £5 note furore. “It was such a mess. The reaction seemed to be based on disgust, rather on hard facts.
“There are three sources of binding agent worldwide, beef tallow, coconut fat, and palm oil. It seems ironic some people were in effect fighting to cut down more palm trees and kill more orangutans! But at the time, no-one stood up and said this.”
The lesson of this is that sometimes it is impossible to tell which issues will blow up and become controversial. However, because of the potential controversy over feeding products derived from animals to animals, Kesterson says several research projects are consulting retailers and others through the supply chain.
Given the potential objections, it is important to come to a consensus by consulting all parts of the supply chain before presenting it as an idea to the general public.
“Public perception is a big hurdle to overcome and the sustainability benefits of animal proteins over plant based protein sources, which cause deforestation really needs to be highlighted,” says Kesterson. “Many consumers choose products based on their green credentials so this is a big factor to focus on.”
Leo Group is a UK-based renderer of poultry by-products. Jane Brindle is group technical manager. She explains the firm takes poultry meat and offal and renders it, and also processes feathers through hydrolysis. “The raw material is heat treated to a method approved under the animal by-products regulations, thus ensuring removal of pathogens,” says Brindle. “The only things added in the process are antioxidants and an antifoaming agent in a dose specified by the customer.”
The finished products are poultry meal, feather meal, and poultry oils. These are used mainly in pet food although a small percentage of oils have technical uses including bio diesel and aircraft fuel manufacture. The water from feather hydrolysis is used as a fertiliser, says Brindle. Poultry blood can be sterilised and this can then be applied to land, although this is difficult to get approved because of odour issues.
Basically, everything from the beak to the tail feathers is used in a process that supports major processors by funnelling money back down the chain, which also assists in disease control and biosecurity by providing a disposal route after avian flu outbreaks or for birds excluded from the food chain because they are dead on arrival.
Renderers, says Brindle, “provide a sustainable solution for an ever-growing population consuming more and more poultry.”
Brindle is hopeful for a change in the law. “Poultry meal can now be used in fish feed, and we are hopeful of further changes to allow it in pig feed,” she says.
She is confident there will be considerable demand from farmers. “Within our sales team we have a lot of calls on a weekly basis, and we have had calls from other parts of the world where they have heard legislation is changing and they want it now,” says Brindle. “And we have to explain we can’t do it yet, we have to wait for the process, which is quite slow at the moment, but once it is then we can send material out there.”
Brindle says it’s hard to plan for potential objections, but she hasn’t experienced any so far. “I would be a bit concerned about consumer groups or supermarkets, but I haven’t noticed any objections so far. I think we will be ok as long as the progress is slow and careful and the messages are put out that the tests are in place, there are a lot of controls in place and a lot of testing that is carried out.”
As far as a timescale is concerned, it is still unclear. Kesterson believes the law will change within 12 months (see box out). The European Commission is still uncommitted, and is taking time over a final decision. An EC spokeswoman tells Poultry Business a change in the law “will be dependent on the availability of analytical methods that would allow authorities to establish the origin of the proteins in question for control purposes. As a consequence, no certainty can be offered on the timetable as scientific studies on such analytical methods are on-going.” But it’s clear momentum is building, and the change relating to fish feed provides a good precedent.
Public reaction is harder to predict. And one thing’s for sure. As with so many issues, often it’s emotion, rather than hard facts, which dictate the response.
BOX OUT: Quick guide. What does the law say and how is it changing? By Adrian Kesterson of FABRA UK
- Meat and bone meal (MBM) is animal protein derived from animal by-products that were unfit for human consumption at the point of slaughter and it cannot be used as a feed ingredient in any circumstances.
- Processed animal protein (PAP) is derived from animals that were fit for human consumption at the point of slaughter.
- Ruminant and non-ruminant derived PAP is also banned from going into farmed animal feed under the EU animal by-products regulations.
- However, the EU is planning to lift this restriction for non-ruminant derived feed, subject to approval of analytical tests that have been developed to identify the DNA of individual species in PAP. These tests must ensure that feed does not contain any ruminant based material or any derived from the same species as being fed. This will allow the feeding of pork PAP to poultry and poultry PAP to pork and it is hoped that this will be approved within the next 12 months.
- Non-ruminant PAP is now allowed to be used in aquafeed after this restriction was lifted in 2013.
- Fishmeal can be used in non-ruminant feed and for feeding to un-weaned young ruminants.
- Insect meal will be allowed to be used in aquafeed from July 2017.