AR-News: One cow, hundreds of uses

jim robertson wolfcrest at
Mon Jan 5 18:24:23 EST 2004

One cow, hundreds of uses



The mad cow scare may have prompted some consumers to give up T-bone steak.

But there's no escaping the humble cow.

Gel capsules often are made from bovine gelatin. Bars of soap probably come 
from processed cow tallow, which is solid fat. Asphalt roads may contain 
bovine fatty acids. Cars and trucks may ply those roads on rubber tires made 
with cow oils.

Even wars can depend on cows. The explosive nitroglycerine is manufactured 
from glycerine, which is extracted from cow fat.

Cattle byproducts, simply put, are one of the glues that hold together the 
industrialized world.

The discovery of a Washington Holstein with mad cow disease turned the 
spotlight on the world of beef cattle, brains, spinal cords and meat. The 
discovery also pointed to a largely unseen world in which cattle parts turn 
into chicken feed, mayonnaise and sex hormones -- and the potential that 
byproducts from an infected cow might transmit bovine spongiform 
encephalopathy to humans. Federal authorities insist that is not a 
significant risk.

The diseased Washington cow had enormous reach, it turns out. The 
1,200-pound Holstein was cut, ground and added to 20,000 pounds of 
potentially infected meat in eight states, while its nonmeat parts might 
have made their way into as much as 1.5 million pounds of animal byproducts 
processed by Baker Commodities, one of the nation's largest renderers.

That multiplier effect illustrates the cow's pervasiveness in modern life -- 
and the high stakes of tracking mad cow disease. Cattle byproducts go into 
everything from photographic film to matchstick heads, says Bob Dickson, 
manager of the Clark Meat Center at Oregon State University.


Glue made from cow's blood is widely used to make plywood.

The cow's nasal septum is processed into chondroitin sulfate, an alternative 
medical treatment for arthritis.

Extracted protein from horns and hooves goes into foam for fire 

The root gland of the tongue yields pregastric lipase, which is used in 
cheese production as a curdling agent.

Tissue from the small intestines becomes catgut for racket strings or 
surgical sutures.

And, of course, cowhide becomes leather shoes or sporting goods. According 
to "Scientific Farm Animal Production," a 1998 textbook, one cowhide can 
yield about 144 baseballs, or 20 footballs, or 18 soccer balls, or 12 

British inventory of uses The most extensive inventory of the uses of cow 
parts was completed in 2000 by the British government, which held an inquiry 
into mad cow disease and its human counterpart, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob 
disease, in the United Kingdom.

That inventory documented that cow heads, meat, organs, blood, hide, feet 
and fluids made their way into a variety of human food, pet food, animal 
feed, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and industrial uses.

"Indeed, it has been said, and not altogether facetiously, that the only 
industry in which some part of the cow is not used is concrete production," 
the inquiry reported.

Even that is no longer true. France and Switzerland now allow incinerated 
meat and bonemeal to be added to cement, according to the London Sunday 

"Until the latter half of the 20th century, the only major uses for beef 
byproducts were leather and soap and candles," wrote author Verlyn 
Klinkenborg in the August 2001 issue of Discover magazine. "But given an 
extraordinary spike in beef consumption after World War II, as well as a 
parallel explosion in industrial diversity, cows were suddenly fractionated 
right down to the molecular level."

Though most byproducts go into animal feed, there is perhaps no more 
miraculous use of a cow than in pharmaceuticals.

Many health products Heparin, an anticoagulant used to thin blood, comes 
from a cow's lungs and intestines.

Epinephrine from the adrenal gland can treat hay fever, asthma or other 
allergies, or stimulate the heart in the event of cardiac arrest.

Catalase, a liver enzyme, goes into contact lens care products.

Are these products safe from mad cow disease, scientifically known as bovine 
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)?

For example, cholesterol, which is used to make male sex hormone, comes from 
the cow's spinal cord, a tissue at high risk for containing prions, the 
rogue protein that causes mad cow disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the rigorous preapproval process 
for new drugs assures the public that prions don't make their way into 

"There are ways to assure that bovine-derived products are indeed products 
that come from BSE-free areas," said Murray Lumpkin, principal associate 
commissioner of the FDA. "That's what we've been doing for years."

Vaccines, he noted, are grown in fetal calf serum, not central nervous 
system tissue.

But the preapproval process doesn't cover dietary supplements, which are 
regulated as food, not drugs.

So supplements such as Brain 360, which are 360-milligram tablets of raw cow 
brain concentrate made by Illinois-based Atrium, face less stringent 

Limits on supplements Banning potentially dangerous dietary supplements 
isn't easy under FDA food regulations. The FDA's recently announced ban on 
ephedra, for example, took place only after the herbal supplement was linked 
to more than 100 deaths.

"On something like bovine brain, the law says they have to prove beyond a 
reasonable doubt that people have died as a result," said Jean Halloran, a 
food safety expert with the Consumers Union.

Lumpkin said foreign-made supplements are governed by import laws, which 
restrict the importation of supplements made from ruminants such as cows. 
But U.S.-made supplements face no such restrictions.

"We're going to have to look at companies sourcing domestically," he said, 
adding the agency will act against sellers of food "to the extent it's not 
fit for human consumption."

Cattle byproducts also find other ways into the human food supply, largely 
through the use of gelatin, which is created by treating bones with acid. 
According to the 2000 British government report, 60 percent of gelatin is 
used in food preparation. The rest is used to coat tablets, bind chemicals 
to photographic film and other nonfood uses.

Take a simple example of pie a la mode. The pie crust probably is made with 
gelatin. The dollop of ice cream probably contains gelatin for a binder. In 
addition, the sugar for the pie filling may have been bleached with cow 

Other gelatin-based foods include jelly beans, marshmallows and, naturally, 
instant gelatin.

Halloran said gelatin is safer than muscle meats, which government and 
industry officials say are safe to eat because they don't contain central 
nervous system tissue. Still, she doesn't recommend eating any product, 
including gelatin, that comes from an animal with mad cow disease.

"It falls under saying that no part of an infected animal should be eaten," 
she said.

Plenty to render, recycle Only about half of a beef cow ends up in the meat 
case, according to the National Renderers Association. The castoffs from 
beef production -- 35 million cattle slaughtered annually -- would quickly 
overflow the nation's landfills if they weren't rendered and recycled.

So the humble cow continues to yield fertilizer from dried blood, buttons 
from hooves, neat's-foot oil from shin bones and toothpaste from fats. Even 
the lowly gallstone is exported to China, where it is thought to have 
mystical values, according to "The Meat We Eat" (Interstate Publishers, 
1994, 1,193 pages).

"We're sometimes referred to as the original recyclers," said Tom Cook, 
president of the National Renderers Association. "We take a lot of material 
that would otherwise have no value and convert it into products that do have 

Steve Woodward: 503-294-5134; stevewoodward at

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

“Religious tradition is one of abuse of animals...If we cling to the notion 
that we are somehow better than our fellow animals we will continually 
engage in behavior which is destructive to them and consequently to us as 
fellow inhabitants of the ecosystem called earth.”
- Robin Murray O’Hair,  American Atheist magazine, October, 1988

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