You are at: CarrTracks >Library

A Short History and Production
Statistics of the Meatpacking and
Rendering Industry for Railfans

The US livestock sector slaughters more than 150 million head of cattle, calves, hogs, and sheep and more than 55 billion pounds of poultry annually. In addition to protein for human consumption, the meat production system produces an enormous amount of byproducts that are in turn transformed into nearly 10 million tons of valuable feed and industrial products in the form of various types of fats and proteins.

Before 1950, meatpacking plants were located on rail lines close to major population centers, like Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, and Fort Worth. Trains of stock cars brought animals from the rural areas to these processing centers. The meat was then loaded into iced reefers for movement to cold storage warehouses across the country. Refrigerated trucks and better highways decentralized the meatpacking industry during the 50s and 60s. Meat processors are now found mostly near the livestock and poultry producing areas. The top livestock and poultry slaughtering states for cattle are Nebraska, Kansas, Texas; hogs: Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota; chickens: Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama; and turkeys are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas. In 2013 American meat companies produced: 38.4 billion pounds of chicken, 25.8 billion pounds of beef, 23.2 billion pounds of pork, 5.8 billion pounds of turkey, and 286 million pounds of veal, lamb and mutton.

Every year, the North American rendering industry recycles approximately 59 billion pounds of perishable material generated by the livestock and poultry processing, food processing, supermarket and restaurant industries. The dry rendering process begins with crushing and grinding the material, followed by heat treatment to reduce moisture content and eliminate any microorganisms. The melted fat is then separated from the solid protein through draining and pressing, and the solid material is ground into powder to become meat meal, meat and bone meal, feather meal and blood meal. About two-thirds of the rendering plants use this dry rendering method. From a slaughtered 1,000-pound steer, about 430 pounds are unusable for direct human consumption. From these materials come 37 pounds of meat and bone meal, 6 pounds of blood meal, and 45 pounds of animal fat (tallow) and grease. The tallow and grease is generally loaded into railroad tank cars and the dry meal in covered hoppers for movement to other processing plants. Production is around 800,000 tons of edible tallow, 1.9 million tons of inedible tallow, 600,000 tons of lard, 1.3 million tons of yellow grease and 1.1 million tons of poultry fat a year. Export of US tallow dropped from around 900,000 tons in 2000 to a little less than 800,000 tons in 2005. The two largest importers in 2005 were China at 300,000 tons and Mexico at 430,000 tons. Production of dry meal has declined some from 4.2 million tons in 2000 to 3.9 million tons in 2005. Exports of meat and bone meal declined significantly from around 486,000 tons in 2000 to 193,000 tons in 2005. From the stats I've seen and observations at some Texas rendering plants, tank cars out number covered hoppers by about two to one.

Swine and poultry feeds are the predominant uses of meat and bone meal as it is a rich source of lysine, calcium, and phosphorus. Blood meal is most often incorporated in cattle and calf feeds. The pet food industry also uses these nutrient rich ingredients. In the U.S. about 300 manufacturers produce more than 7 million tons of pet food each year. The primary ingredients in pet food are byproducts of meat, poultry, and seafood, feed grains, and soybean meal. Additional ingredients used for dry foods include corn gluten feed, meat and bone meal, animal fats, and oils.

Animal fat is rendered by chopping the fatty animal tissue into small pieces, which are boiled in open vats or cooked in steam digesters. The United States is the world's largest producer of tallow, accounting for about half of world production. Production of inedible tallow is an estimated 2.8 million tons per year. Fats and oils are used throughout the world for both food applications and industrial uses. They are used in the production of butter, shortening, margarine, salad oils, and cooking oils, as well as in animal feeds, soaps, cosmetics, biodiesel, paints, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, leather, textiles, varnishes, explosives, lubricants, and greases. The top soap producers that use animal fat are Lever Brothers, Jergens, Colgate-Palmolive, Dial Corporation, and Procter & Gamble. About three-fourths of the worldwide consumption of fats and oils is in food applications.

About 10 percent of U.S. beef and 25 percent of U.S. pork was exported in 2014. For beef, that was 1.7 million metric tons or about 150,000 containers. On a volume and value basis, the top four markets for U.S. beef in 2014 were Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Hong Kong.

The top beef processors, number of plants and head of cattle processed in 2012

Tyson Foods 7 6,864,000
JBS USA 9 6,700,000
Cargill Beef 8 7,000,000
National Beef Packing Co. 3 3,675,000
American Foods Group LLC 5 1,800,000
Greater Omaha Packing Co. 1 780,000
Caviness Beef Packers 1 470,000