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Rendering: the "Invisible Industry" Gets a Green Facelift
by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton
The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls "rendering" a process of heat-treating fat, bone, offal and related material derived from the carcasses of livestock, poultry, fish and used cooking fats and oils. Renderers call themselves "the invisible industry" and are thankful that most people remain blissfully unaware of their existence.
Each year, at hundreds of plants in the U.S., more than 12.5 million tons of dead animals, fat and meat waste are melted down, most of it to become protein supplements fed to pets, chickens, cows, sheep and other animals, the rest to make products ranging from gelatin to cosmetics.
When "the invisible industry" needs to speak, it hires PR experts. In 1990 the Iowa-based PR firm of CMF&Z, owned by advertising giant Young & Rubicam, managed a local political crisis for a big rendering firm in Des Moines called National By-Products Inc.
According to CMF&Z internal documents, "National By-Products Inc. had never felt the need for public relations" until Des Moines passed an odor control ordinance. Then, CMF&Z "was retained to implement a public affairs program to 'reshape' public opinion. . . . Ten months [and $20,000] later--after the public affairs program was executed--residents and regulatory officials were asking company officials to help compose mutually acceptable rules."
In 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, CMF&Z deployed a greenwashing theme to portray the renderer as "socially responsible" and "dedicated to environmental responsiveness."
A brochure prepared by CMF&Z noted that the 1990s "have been described as a new era of ecological responsiveness. But, the rendering industry has long been ahead of its time. By collecting solid waste generated by the meat processing industry and converting it to a wide variety of useful consumer products, renderers were recyclers long before such practices became fashionable. . . . Such products include animal fats, animal proteins and hides. These in turn are used to produce, among other things, livestock and poultry feeds, pet foods, soaps, cosmetics."
CMF&Z developed important "third party" advocates for the rendering industry, including state officials. "Rendering is an environmental necessity," proclaimed Pete Hamlin, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Before the PR blitz, Des Moines had an "overwhelming negative public opinion" of the renderer, due in part to the company's refusal to communicate: "No comment" had served as the company's official media statement. After CMF&Z's media training, National By-Products' district manager Stan Rutherford sent a letter to city residents affirming that "the rendering industry is the purest form of recycling," and that "we are very concerned with the environment."
CMF&Z arranged a successful editorial board meeting with the local newspaper, the Des Moines Register, and subsequently "several positive stories appeared in the media." Since then, CMF&Z has touted this success story to attract other clients.