Research aims to let less of our livestock be left behind
When you bite into a steak, you purposely don’t want the whole cow on your plate. You want to enjoy the specific slice of muscle tissue without the rest of the animal coming into the picture. That steak wasn’t made in a vacuum though (not yet,) and the rest of the animal was presumably carved up for other purposes. Even allowing for leather, hamburger, ribs, etc., less than half of each slaughtered animal is consistently put to use. Researchers have been looking for ways to cut down on this kind of waste and get us closer to using the whole animal.
Animal fashion beyond skins
One line of research aims to use less burger-friendly bits of animals like collagen, skin, bone and tendons to make textiles. At this stage, the yarn is comparable to Merino wool, although the goal is to compete with synthetic fibers like polyester or rayon. Aside from reclaiming resources from slaughtered livestock, this fiber could potentially be produced with lower energy demands than the fossil fuel-based materials we’re currently familiar with.
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Another extension of animal products is the further refinement of fat or captured gas for biofuels. In Louisiana, alligators are farmed in large numbers, mainly for their skins to be used in purses, shoes and coats. This $50 million industry also produces an estimated 15 million pounds of waste per year, which is being developed as a cheap fuel source. At this point the primary goal is to refine the process to make it efficient enough to compete with vegetable oils in biodiesel production.
Feeding humans and plants
A final option for slaughterhouse waste is to return it to the farm. Unused tissues can be processed and used as fertilizer for growing plants. Bones in particular may yield considerable amounts of phosphorus, which in some cases is being used to grow plants to feed cattle.
None of this eliminates the growing concerns with how resource-intensive it is to raise an animal for meat in the first place. A quarter-pound of hamburger still needs over six pounds of feed, 52 gallons of water plus 1,035 btus of fossil fuel to arrive on your plate. While this information is making some people pause when planning their meals, meat consumption around the world has been growing, and so it will only be increasingly important that we make the most of each animal we raise.
Source: Waste into Waistcoats: 3 Ways We’re Recycling Slaughterhouse Scraps by Andrew Amelinckx, Modern Farmer