Dairy Cows - Life, Usage, and Sufferings (New York Times)

Title: It Ain't Just for Meat; It's for Lotion


By - J.Peder Zane

New York Times - article

May 12, 1996



To the lay person they are cows (and that is how they are referred to in the accompanying article) but to the beef industry they are steers, or castrated males, and heifers, or young females (Only females that have given birth are referred to as cows).


The average animal at slaughter weighs 1,150 pounds. It weighs 714 pounds once the head, hooves, hide, and intestines are removed. The remaining carcass yields about 568 pounds of beef and 49 pounds of organs and gland, some of which - like the liver - make their way to the dinner table. The rest (97 pounds) is mostly fat and bone, and turns up in everything from floor wax to pet food.


According to the Agriculture Department, ranchers were getting about $632 per head (cattle) last week, while meat packers, who butcher the animals, were getting about $644 for the meat and $101 for the byproducts.


Some of the most valuable body parts, along with their common uses and recent wholesale price list is attached at the end of article.



Chopping sheep brains� That's what made the British cows mad, and could have killed the English men who ate them, scientists believe.


While American farmers and ranchers assure the public that no sheep passes their Elsles' lips, some folks might be surprised at what American livestock, swine and poultry are fatted upon. Besides corn, soy or other grains, their diets is often include heaping helpings of dried blood, pulverized feathers, crushed bone, leftover french fry grease from fast-food joints and meat meal - which may include mashed pancreas, kidney and heart, and those parts that even packers, wouldn't dare shove into luncheon meats or head cheese.


Cannibalism down on the farm? You betcha�... Baby chick is growing strong and healthy on what�s left from mom after she's been shipped off as atomic wings, drumsticks and boned breasts.


"We use everything but the squeal, the cluck and the moo," says Dr. Raymond L. Burns, coordinator of the alternative uses program for the Kansas Department of Agriculture in Topeka.


Welcome to the world of offal, rendering and carcasses, an industry that gives a new meaning to the phrase "You are what you eat."


It asks: Once you have carved away the T-bone steaks and London broils, the pork chops and sides of Canadian bacon, the leg and the rack of lamb, what to do with the rest? With the hearts, kidneys and pituitary glands? The horns, hoofs, toenails, skulls and intestines? How about the "paunch material" - undigested stomach contents?


Answer: More than you can imagine. The abattoir's detritus is used in 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.


For while the renewed outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain led to no small panic as humanity imagined a world without Big Macs or Quarter Pounders, the fact is, the doomsday scenario is much worse. "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.


Although mad cow disease is not a threat to the United States cattle industry, there are other concerns. Persistent problems are E. coli bacteria - which killed three children in 1993 who ate undercooked hamburgers at Jack In The Box restaurants - and salmonella contamination afflict many thousands of Americans a year.


While the meat industry downplays the threat, it has taken steps to clean up its act. Most large meat plants now spray steam on carcasses to kill bacteria. They routinely check meat for microbes and have established hazard checkpoints. In addition, consumers can safeguard themselves by thoroughly cooking all meat.


Still, there are ever-present ethical questions, even for those who do not think meat is murder. The industry's cold-eyed view of animals as products to be optimally exploited is no doubt disquieting to many people. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that no animals are slaughtered just to make floor wax or lipstick - 80 to 90 percent of a cow or pig's value is in the meat people eat. And, as cattle prices have slid to their lowest levels in a decade, prompting President Clinton to try to shore up beef prices last week, meat packers are all the more concerned with squeezing out every penny.


"Selling the byproducts means the difference between profit and loss for the industry, and affordable and unaffordable meat for the consumer," says Dr. Breiter.


Dr. Bums adds: "If we didn't develop markets for the byproducts, we would have to dispose of them, which would create a different set of problems."


Still, visiting a modern meat-packing operation can inspire awe as well as a new appreciation for vegetarianism - just as more people would probably cook at home if they could peer into the kitchen of their favorite bistro.

American Slaughterhouse Statistics:

On an average day in America following animals and birds are killed:



Number Killed per day in USA










Slaughterhouse Process:

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 carcass 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 into the animal's jugular vein. As the cow dies, the spurting blood is collected in a trough; later it is baked to a dark red powder that is 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 linings, another lungs. Other workers remove hearts, pancreases 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.


Slaughterhouse Products:

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, which sell for 58 cents a pound, for the most part are shipped to Mexico, where they are shredded, spiced, grilled and used for taco filling.


Many cow hearts, 27 cents a pound, are exported to Russia to make sausage. Much of the meat from the cow's cheek, 55 cents a pound is sold to American meat processors for sausage and baloney. Of course, many of these "variety 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 recipes calling for different quantities of hearts, livers and so forth to get the right taste and nutritional content," says Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill, the Minneapolis-based meat packing company.


Until the rise of biotechnology - 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 ($19.50 a pound) are collected to make medicines that control blood pressure and heart rate. Twenty different steroids are made from fluids pulled from the adrenal glands ($2.85 a pound). The lungs (6 cents a pound) go into Heparin, an anti-coagulant. And the pancreas (63 cents a pound) is still a source of insulin for diabetics allergic to the synthetic kind; it takes about 26 cows to maintain one diabetic 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 that 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 PEG150 distearate.


Collagen, a protein extracted from the hides, hooves and bones, is the key ingredient in age-defying moisturizers 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.


Soaps may trumpet their use of cocoa butter and exotic plant extracts, but most are still made from animal fats. Indeed, the word soap is said to derive from Mount Sapo, a prime spot for animal sacrifice in ancient Rome. The locals who washed their tunics in the nearby valley streams noticed that the runoff of animal fat and ashes made their whites whiter and their colors brighter....


During the lost 30 years, fewer Americans have had the hankering to dine on cow brains, pig�s feet and bull testicles. But our appetite for hooves - which are used to make gelatin, is insatiable. An odorless, tasteless protein, gelatin is used in hundreds of products including Gummy Bears, ice cream, hard candies and, of course, Jell-O. It is also the secret behind many "fat free" products. "Gelatin gives the creamy mouth feel people want without the calories," says John Barrows, manager of marketing communications for Nabisco Inc.


A back-to-nature movement among pet lovers has treated another expanding market for animal by products. Squeaky plastic toys are giving way to knuckle joints and beef tendons, ox tails and toenails, chew hooves and 10-pound mammoth bones taken from cows' thighs.


Which leaves one question. What do they do with the undigested paunch material? Until now, not much. But Dr. Bums of the Kansas Department of Agriculture says there's an exciting development just around the corner. "I can't spill the beans just yet," he says. "But pretty soon we'll announce for a new process for converting it back into animal feed."