February 13, 2024
National Chicken Council highlights US chicken industry's efforts to reduce food waste
In comments submitted to the United States' Environmental Protection Agency, the National Chicken Council (NCC) outlined the many ways in which US chicken producers reduce food waste, recycle byproducts and utilise products that would otherwise be destined for landfills.
The comments were in response to the agency's proposed "Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics".
In its comments, NCC emphasised several important points and areas for enhancing the national strategy, including:
- The use of byproducts: An example of minimising food waste is the use of various byproducts in chicken feed, including bakery meal, animal proteins/fats, distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and peanut meal. By nature, chickens are excellent at upcycling as they can readily digest these byproducts that would otherwise go to waste and turn them into protein for energy;
- Rendering: This is the process of using high heat and pressure to turn various meat and poultry byproducts into reusable, nutrient-dense items for consumption by livestock and pets or into organic fertiliser. Poultry processing facilities across the United States use rendering facilities to process inedible parts of the bird or those parts that do not meet standards for human consumption. One of the most common byproducts from the poultry industry is feather meal. Feathers are collected at the processing plants, ground, and dried and made into a slow-release, organic fertiliser or a feed additive for livestock;
- Automation and transportation: Technological expansions in poultry processing plants have greatly reduced food waste. Automated technologies help ensure chicken is cut into parts more accurately thereby minimising miscuts, downgrades and products that may be sent to rendering. These technologies have greatly improved yield, ensuring that more meat is removed from the bone and enters the food supply. As artificial intelligence develops and technologies are perfected, the industry will continue to minimise food waste from chicken production, ensuring that everything from the bird is yielded and little goes to waste.
However, several current and pending regulatory policies either do or would contribute to food waste in the chicken industry, according to NCC. Thus, the council is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reevaluate these policies.
The first is for FDA to allow surplus hatchery eggs into the breaking egg market that would reduce waste and decrease costs. Due to fluctuating market conditions, broiler hatcheries, in some instances, have more eggs on hand than what they want to hatch. These are known as surplus hatching eggs.
Prior to 2009 when FDA implemented new rules that changed the temperature requirements for storage, broiler producers were able to sell these surplus eggs to egg processors, known as "breakers," to be pasteurised (cooked) and used as ingredients in products such as salad dressings, bread, cake mix, pasta, pancake mix, mayonnaise, ice cream, pie crusts, sauces and many other everyday food products.
But FDA's policy forces the US broiler industry to send perfectly nutritious and safe eggs to landfills instead of for human consumption – the very definition of wasting food, NCC noted.
The second is a proposed Salmonella Framework being pushed by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is being drafted with the goal of improving food safety – decreasing salmonella on raw poultry products, specifically – but is not based on scientific data nor is it associated with any known public health outcomes.
This regulation will likely result in entire days of production being wasted, farmers having extended out times, delayed shipments of birds and chicks and grocery stores and restaurants receiving fresh products late. If any test comes back positive, processing facilities will be forced to either cook, render or throw away the chicken when, otherwise, it is safe to consume when properly cooked and handled.
As a low estimate, if just 1% of the over 46 billion pounds of chicken produced each year were discarded or rendered, this would lead to over 460 million pounds of fresh chicken being wasted annually, according to the NCC.
"Without spending additional resources, agencies can take action to not only reduce waste but also decrease food prices while increasing their availability for consumers," NCC's comments concluded. "By working cooperatively towards achieving this goal, innovative solutions can be found."