Livestock hide disposal threatens processor viability

Ontario sheep and cattle producers who work with many of the province’s independent meat processors could soon find themselves fully responsible for their livestock’s hides.

In April, one of the few processing companies in the province that collects hides from small and medium-sized abattoirs, announced it was ceasing operations.

It had been serving Ontario abattoirs for more than 30 years. But its parent company, located in the U.S., has decided to consolidate operations there.

That leaves small and medium-sized abattoirs with very limited choices…and in some cases, a real sense of frustration.

“The situation we are facing is a crisis,” says one abattoir plant manager, Debbie Weedon. “We are desperate, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution for us. I feel that every time we look for a solution there is so much red tape. We don’t have time to waste.”

Brian Quinn, president of Brian Quinn’s Meats in Yarker, says the situation presents huge problems.

“As a business person, I am having serious thoughts about continuing slaughter services altogether,” he says. “We have already had to raise our prices considerably for our services. [There are] never-ending demands on us as well as continuing waste disposal costs for bones, fat, carcass waste and SRM material. The market will not survive another cost increase.”

Franco Naccarato, executive director of the Ontario Independent Meat Processors (OIMP), estimates that more than 95 per cent of the province’s 90 small to medium-sized abattoirs are affected. Over the course of a year, they typically process up to 100,000 bovines and 300,000 sheep.

Naccarato says few options are currently available to these provincially inspected abattoirs. Hides destined for most overseas markets must be federally inspected. He says China and Mexico will accept provincially inspected hides, but the competition to sell them there is fierce.

Naccarato is connecting with tanneries here to see if they can take more hides. Other options include burial or composting onsite, with approval from a regional veterinarian, or disposal at landfill.

Naccarato says landfills have accepted a few hide shipments, but they’re reluctant to get involved on a long-term, high-volume basis. And given the numbers, in most cases onsite composting is not practical or sustainable.

He says that if abattoirs are unwilling or unable to deal with the hides, producers may be required to take them back and come up with their own disposal solutions. Proper on-farm burial for dead stock is a legal option in Ontario, but the numbers Naccarato cites take the issue to a level that goes beyond handling dead stock.

Currently, Naccarato is compiling a list of municipalities, private sites and companies that offer waste and composting disposal services.  But it’s not encouraging.

“Right now the list is not very long, so we hope to find more options for operators,” he says.

Naccarato is also working with abattoirs to create a more sustainable, long-term model. He believes regional, dedicated composting facilities are the best approach. “It will shed abattoirs’ dependence on hide processors,” he says.

However, that could take years to come about. Developing new markets in pet food, energy and pharmaceuticals, which Naccarato says have potential use for hides, could take even longer.

The prospect of unwanted hides is new to Ontario agriculture. Up until a few months ago, hides were a profit centre for abattoirs, an important part of their business model, a money-making use of so-called waste products like offal and blood.

However, the bottom has fallen out of the world market for leather, shrinking abattoirs’ margins. Alternatives to leather have become popular with consumers – they’re gravitating towards synthetic materials, owing to the growing popularity of running shoes that don’t use leather and consumers’ interest in products not made from animals.

In the face of all this, Naccarato is trying to remain optimistic.  “Abattoirs are resilient,” he says. “Working together, I believe we will see our way through this situation.”

But plant manager Weeden says time is running out.

“We need help as soon as possible even if it is a temporary solution until we can find a more permanent method to our hide disposal,” she says.

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