Everything But the Moo

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

The following is part of an article which appeared in the May 5, 1996 issue of The Tennessean:

"Take away cows or pigs and you change life as we know it, " half-kids Dr. Jerry Breiter, vice president of allied products for the American Meat Institute, a trade association.

Originating in the slaughter house comes a dizzying array of products, including life-saving medicines, life-enhancing beauty aids, soaps, candy, clothing, upholstery, shoes and sporting goods. Not to mention crayons, floor waxes, antifreeze, matches, cellophane, linoleum, cement, photographic paper and weed killers.

On an average day in America 130,000 cattle, 7,000 calves, 360,000 hogs and 24 million chickens are killed. Modern slaughterhouses are part assembly line, part chop shop. An efficient plant processes 250 cows an hour, 16 hours a day, breaking them into dozens of parts as the carcasses flow down the line on steel hooks.

First, the cows are led up a ramp. Their heads are placed in a holder and they are zapped unconscious. A worker, called the "sticker" plunges a sharp blade in the animal's jugular vein. As the cow dies, the spurting blood is collected in a trough; later is is baked to a dark red powder that is a protein-rich animal feed. Next, the hooves are removed and the hide is stripped for sale as leather and suede (if the cow is pregnant, the unborn calf's hide is stripped to make the top grade of leather, called slunk). Then the head is sliced off, the chest split open and the internal organs removed.

The organs - called offal - are sent to the offal room and placed on something akin to a conveyor belt, where workers in splattered smocks segregate the parts; one group collects stomach lining, another lungs. Other workers remove hearts, pancrease or thyroids. Most of the bones and hooves are rendered - that is, baked to make bone meal, a fertilizer and high-protein animal feed; the rest are sold, primarily to manufacturers of collagen, gelatin and pet toys.

(I think this is after the carcass has been aged in a chill room.) A parallel process operates in the "fabrication area" where workers carve away the edible meats - the round, the top round, the loin, strip steaks, rib, chuck.

Like car parts, each piece of the animal has its own price and market. Cow lips are shipped to Mexico, where they are shredded, spiced, grilled and used for taco filling. Mny cow hearts are exported to Russia to make sausage. Much of the meat from the cow's cheek is sold to American meat processors for sausage and baloney.

Of course, many of these "varietal meats" are sold to pet-food companies, which prefer to buy the separated parts. Just as a chef uses precise proportions to make a fine meal, the pet-food people follow reipes calling for different quantities of hearts, livers and so forth to get the right taste and nutritional content.

Until the rise of bio-technology - which allows drug companies to "ferment" medications in the laboratory using recombinant DNA - many pharmaceuticals were extracted from animals. Nevertheless, fetal blood from cows (roughly $40 to $50 a quart) remains an important tool for the development of drugs and medical research. Other medications - and markets - are made by extracting hormones and other compounds from the cow's glands. The pituitary glands are collected to make medicines which control blood pressure and heart rate. Twenty different steroids are made from fulids pulled from the adrenal glands. The lungs go into Heparin, an anti-coagulant. And the pancreas is still a source of insulin for diabetics allergic to the synthetic kind; it takes about 26 cows to maintain one dibetic for a year. The highest price is fetched by the most dubious product - cattle gallstones, which are sold for $600 an ounce to merchants in the Far East who peddle them as an aphrodisiac.

It is no small paradox that much of the excess gristle and fat is sold to companies which promise to make people beautiful. Lipstick, makeup bases, eyeliners, eyebrow pencils, hair rinses and bubble baths wouldn't be the same without fat-derived tongue twisters like butyl stearate, glycol stearate and PEG-150 distearate. Collagen, a protein extracted from the hides, hooves and bones, is the key ingredient in age-defying moisturers and lotions; dermatologists inject it into people's faces to fill out crow's feet and laugh lines. It is also used to make breast implants and as a medium in which cells can be grown.

I expect the same basic process is used for at least hogs. The article does not mention what happens to the brains, but I doubt it goes to a landfill.

I said in an earlier post I though the USDA had banned animal by-products from feeds. Additional research indicates only by-products from sheep have been banned.

-- Ken Scharabok (scharabo@aol.com), July 25, 2000


Ack Ken that is just disgusting! Talk about getting the most moo for the buck! Sheesh! No more bologna for us! Thanks for writing it though!

-- Misha (MishaaE@aol.com), July 25, 2000.

When my now 20 yr old was in the 5th grade, his health class project was related to the nutritional quality of 'fast food'. The cover illustration was an elaborate, mechanical assembly line, with a whole cow going in one end, and John Q. Public buying a cheeseburger, under a "Rainbow" at the other.

-- Kathy (catfish@bestweb.net), July 25, 2000.

Like I said before, a trip to the Oscar Mayer plant did me in. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce....How does one cringe electronically?

-- Doreen (livinginskin@yahoo.com), July 25, 2000.

Ken, saw some of that first hand, when I was younger. Guess things haven't changed much. I still remember an ex-chicken farmer who said they could not touch the chicken feed with their bare hands, it would burn human flesh. Yet, this was the big company feed for the faster growth of chicks. Heaven only knows what the feed contained. Hungry chicks would eat anything. They did not have access to stomach medicine for burning.

-- Floor Kill (in@previouslife.com), July 25, 2000.

For this, and many other, reasons I became a vegetarian. I do my best to avoid animal products, although being in the entertainment field makes make-up a must-do. Immediately upon cessation of meat eating, I quit getting the twice and thrice yearly strep throat infections I had always suffered from and have not had it since (over 7 years) despite being in close and prolong contact with sufferers dragging it to work. I believe the continual, long-term exposure to residual anti-biotics may have been responsible for my maladies. I almost never get sick beyond a common cold or toothache now and whatever the cause of my original sickliness, if the removal of strep throat is the only benefit I ever get from vegetarianism, I'll have gotten my money's worth, as anyone who has suffered through a bout or two will affirm.

-- Soni Pitts (thomkilroy@hotmail.com), August 01, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ