2020: Looking Back on the Positives

Despite the devastating and challenging COVD-19 events of 2020, we are looking ahead to a bright New Year.  However, in 2020 some unexpected positives shone through in the rendering industry.  NARA recognizes and celebrates the helpful, talented, and flexible creativity that helped achieve them.

In spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic reached its first peak and the U.S. began shutting down, the rendering industry joined forces with other national agricultural organizations to advocate that rendering was essential for the country and should be allowed to continue operating due to its essential role in the meat and petfood supply chain.

In the rush to prepare the federal government’s “essential worker” list, renderers were omitted.  Rendering was successfully designated as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” with essential workers after enlisting assistance from the Food and Drug Administration that confirmed the high value of rendering to the Department of Homeland Security.

Renderers were able to operate their plants throughout the pandemic since employees could work safely at sufficient distance.   Rendering proved incredibly helpful when supply chain disruption in food and agriculture became apparent in spring and summer. Restaurant demand for meat dropped precipitously with widespread closures.  Suppliers had to quickly regroup and redirect supplies to grocery stores.

This was very challenging since cuts of meat and packaging are different for food service compared to the direct-to-consumer market of retail grocery stores.  And matters just got worse as meat packing and processing plants slowed and, in some cases, shut down production and processing of harvest-ready livestock and poultry.

Farmers struggled as they were forced overnight to find a solution about what to do with these market-ready animals. Normal processing couldn’t handle them, and animals backed up in the marketing chain.  Producers had to find new markets for their animals, try adjusting rations to slow growth, or sadly choose euthanization and the best disposal method for the animals.  With limited farm capacity, their younger animals were growing and needed space used by these larger animals.

“Depopulation” (euthanization) became the only viable solution for many livestock farmers. As they began this traumatizing process, these producers looked to the best disposal methods for their otherwise healthy meat animals due to the lack of demand for so much meat.

Rendering was able to make a valuable contribution to this otherwise terrible situation of necessary depopulation.  By rendering these animals, they were put to good use and not wasted as they would have been if buried, landfilled, or otherwise disposed of.

Renderers came forward and offered their services to process depopulated animals, usually at no charge to famers. This yielded rendered protein and fats that were used as ingredients for biofuel, pet food, industrial and consumer products, and other new items.  Rendering meant zero waste of the 1 million hogs and substantial poultry recycled in rendering plants.

As the pandemic raged on during 2020, renderers continued to report to work each day due to their essential status to keep meat on the table. Plants were able to keep running safely, unhindered by the usual fears of other industries due to the large percentage of high-tech machinery and workers spread out through the workspace.

As renderers continued their good work operating their plants, we at NARA also continued our work resulting in some positive events and projects of our own.

  • NARA donated 2,500 masks to front-line workers and members of a local retirement community, Greenspring Village in northern Virginia. The event was recorded for Greenspring’s news network and NARA staff did an interview about what rendering is and how it contributes to environmental sustainability and reduced food waste. Watch it here. The interview is also posted on YouTube.


  • NARA commissioned research to update data showing rendering’s extensive sustainability. Our members can also share this fresh information with their customers and communities.  One study refreshed basic facts about the rendering industry.  The other focused on pet food ingredients (where rendered protein and fat are primary ingredients) and was conducted in partnership with the Pet Food Institute and the American Feed Industry Association. NARA presented this important new data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, USDA, the pet food industry, the Pet Food Forum, and other audiences in special webinars during 2020. Learn more about the pet food study here.


  • NARA’s raised $29,000 for our nonprofit partner, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which pairs canine assistance animals with children, adults, and veterans in need. Contributions last year exceeded those from 2019, proving that difficult times only made NARA members even more willing to give to a worthy cause.


  • NARA’s two new educational infographics provided an introduction to rendering and described rendering’s sustainability to those who know little about the industry. One infographic covers the basics of rendering with a focus on its environmental and recycling benefits. Another, entitled “What If There Was No Rendering,” shows how beneficial rendering is and the harm that would occur without it. View and download NARA infographics here. 


  • Thanks to NARA’s exporting members, overseas sales of rendering products continued despite the pandemic with several noteworthy positives:


  • The Phase 1 China agreement took effect in February 2020, followed by retaliatory tariff relief. NARA’s work was instrumental for the U.S. government’s success in getting provisions expediting more plants to be registered for export and in creating a path for new plants to be registered in a timely manner in the future.  This enabled U.S. rendered exports to reach record levels in 2020.


  • The market for rendered bovine meat and bonemeal to Mexico reopened in 2020 after being closed for years due to restrictions imposed after discovery of BSE in the U.S. in 2003. BSE stands for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, (but often referred to as “mad cow disease”) which is a progressive neurological disorder of cattle. (BSE does not present a risk in the United States today). NARA worked both in Mexico and with the U.S. government to successfully advocate for opening this much needed market.


As we enter the New Year, NARA thanks our members and all those in rendering for their determination, flexibility, creativity and incredible work ethic through this difficult year. Like you, we at NARA remain committed to continuing to play our part and do our best as the pandemic continues.  For us this year, that includes serving our members to the utmost and supporting their valuable and essential industry from coast to coast.


Here’s to a (MUCH) better year in 2021!


The North American Renderers Association (NARA) is an Equal Opportunity Employer. It does not discriminate in the terms and conditions of employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other factor prohibited by law.

As a participant in USDA programs, we share the commitment to comply with all federal, state and local civil rights laws and those of the USDA. More about this commitment is available on the USDA website page here.