RALL: Rendering Madness: The Terrible Truth About Gummy Bears

As I type this, my cat, Indy, is peering at me through the haze of a mid-afternoon nap as he bakes his furry carcass on the radiator. I demand nothing more from him than an occasional cute look and a watchful eye for roaches; in return, I feed him a bland diet of water and dry cat food. It's a good arrangement, so it can't last forever. It's hard to see now, but unless he sails out the window after a passing pigeon beforehand, I'll eventually be forced to face an Indy so crippled by advancing age that he won't even be able to perform such feline basics as walking.What would Indy think, I wonder, if his little brain could process the information that after he gets put to sleep someday, his corpse will be ground up with a batch of other dead pets and steamed at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit between 20 and 90 minutes, forcing his body fat to rise to the surface of the stew, where it will be harvested for use in cosmetics, drugs, soaps, gummy candies and pet food? Or that he owes his handsome coat of orange fur to the 43.9 billion pounds of restaurant sludge, hooves, heads, vertebrae, feathers and eyes that passed through the animal waste recycling industry in 1996--part of which went into cat food?This distasteful miracle of modernity is made possible through the icky $2.4 billion-per-year industry known as "rendering." The practice of harvesting dead flesh for animal feed, cleansers and even products eaten by humans dates back to ancient Egypt, but is seldom discussed in public. Scientists now believe that Britain's mad cow disease was caused by the use of diseased sheep heads in cattle feed, but that the 1989 decision of American renderers to refuse sheep heads will prevent the ailment from occurring here. Nonetheless, one has to wonder what other health repercussions we could face from the common practice of using road kill for, of all things, homeopathic medicines. It doesn't take a cellular biologist to foresee problems caused by feeding livestock food made from euthanized dogs killed by lethal injection or using lipstick composed of rotted prairie dogs scavenged from the crows on Nevada's Route 50--but it goes on every day.On the other hand, rendering solves the tricky issue of disposing of all of that dead flesh. "If you put it all into landfills, you'd have a colossal public health problem, not to mention stench," says William Heuston, an associate dean at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md. told The New York Times. And it's big business: Consider that a billion pounds of pig blood that comes back as car wax, paint dye and candles every year. Think about the 200 tons of euthanized cats and dogs that the City of Los Angeles sells to renderers every month. Without rendering, lots of products would be a lot more expensive, reducing everyone's quality of life. With that in mind, we may want to consider expand ing, rather than reducing the scope of rendering--to human beings.Roughly 2.3 million people die in America every year. Since the average weight of an American is 175 pounds per male and 140 pounds per female, that comes to 362 million pounds of deceased citizens going to waste in American cemeteries, crematoria and burials-at-sea every year. Rather than squander millions of acres of pricey real estate and hand-polished metal caskets on these people, why not put them to good use? And we're not just talking about people who die now--we could dig up everyone who died in the last decade, render what's left of the bodies after decomposition and pave over the cemeteries--which often feature breathtaking views--with luxury high-rise condominiums. Instead of disguising the practice a la Soylent Green, we could be up-front about recycling the dead. And unlike the Nazis, who used their victims' bodies to make soap, human recycling would be non-discriminatory. Wouldn't it be heart-warming to know that you've just sprayed your hair with the minced internal organs of an Vietnam vet from Alabama or a tool-and-die operator from Alaska? Rendering people would provide a brand of immortality that organized religion just can't touch. The following first chat about death between a parent and a child is easy to foresee:"Where's Grandpa?""Grandpa's gone, honey.""Where'd he go?""Well, Grandpa's still with us, although we can't see him any more.""You mean, figuratively?""No, literally. The dog biscuits are composed of his pulverized brains."In the next century, nations that develop innovative methods to make efficient use of their resources will pull ahead of the competition in the global economy. While some namby-pamby types will undoubtedly object to utilizing cadavers as raw materials, it's useful to recall that pessimists once opposed the space program as well. Similarly, we must begin mincing, pounding, boiling and filtering our corpses as soon as possible before other countries start their own human resource recovery programs. These are challenging times, so we must all do our part to maintain our competitive edge. And that includes the dead, dammit.

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