March 03, 2007

Rendered edible?

As disturbing as the news that 8,000 cattle and farmed deer in Saskatchewan are under quarantine after receiving tainted feed containing now-banned* ruminant meat meal and bone meal is the fact that what they were supposed to receive was "feather meal"**. The newspaper article in the previous link describes feather meal as "a protein source originating from poultry -- which is legal to be fed to cattle and deer". Or, in other words, the ground-up feathers plucked from chickens at the start of the butchering process. Which, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Service, is completely legal to feed to animals such as cattle. Which are then fed to humans.

Talk about an omnivore's dilemma.


* From the Center for Food Safety,
Under FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations issued in 1997 [and updated in 2005], it is illegal to feed protein made from cows, sheep, deer, and other so-called ruminants to other ruminants. As of January 2004, beef blood and beef fat are no longer permitted in calf feed. But it is still legal to feed rendered cattle protein to pigs, chickens, and other animals. Those animals in turn can be rendered and fed to cows or sheep.
In Canada, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which oversees such things,
Canadian producers may only feed their ruminants approved animal protein products such as pure porcine, equine, poultry and fish. Banned as ingredients in ruminant feeds are "prohibited materials" -- protein including meat and bone meal from mammals other than pigs and horses. Milk, blood, gelatin, rendered animal fats or their products have not been banned [Emphasis mine].
Mmmm, mmmm good.

** More than you want to know about feathers as food:

1) A 2003 article from the Journal of Animal Science on the "Effect of feather meal on live animal performance and carcass quality and composition of growing-finishing swine". Worth noting, even at the risk of spoiling tonight's dinner, that the feather meal in the study was hydrolyzed; specifically, (and all emphases mine)
Hydrolyzed FM containing 8% blood was contributed by Tyson Foods, Inc., Specialty Products Division, and was obtained from their protein plant in Noel, MO. Briefly, fresh poultry feathers were spread evenly on a conveyor, passed through a metal detector, and hydrolyzed under pressure (2.11 to 2.81 kg force/cm2) in a batch hydrolyzer for 30 min at 76.7°C. Feathers were hydrolyzed in a batch hydrolyzer to break keratin (long-chain proteins) into more digestible, smaller-chain proteins and to reduce microbial contamination. Blood was coagulated and added to the hydrolyzed feathers in the batch hydrolyzer to increase protein content of the product.
Not surprisingly, at the end of the study is the note that "The authors wish to express their appreciation to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association for financial support of this project".

2) "Recycling Poultry Feathers: More Bang for the Cluck"; how Big Chicken (i.e. Tyson and Perdue) make Big Bucks furnishing feathers for, um, " high-quality animal feed" (all emphases mine):
For the competitive poultry industry, the challenge is to turn the white plumes into valuable new products that add to the company's bottom line. Though there has been significant controversy in recent years over the human health effects of poultry wastes, especially used litter and processing plant wastewater that ends up in waterways, chicken feathers are relatively clean and do not generally pose a health risk. Contamination of feathers with chicken blood and feces can present a problem, but in general feathers are continuously removed from the processing area to make room for new feathers as more chickens are processed. An average chicken processing plant churns out 4,000 pounds of feathers an hour and has a low profit margin per bird, so feathers must be moved or processed quickly and very inexpensively.

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