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Online update: Author pulls bill that could have cut use of recycled food waste for livestock feed

Issue Date: August 12, 2020
By Kevin Hecteman

A bill that threatened livestock and dairy producers' access to recycled and upcycled food waste for animal feed has been shelved, in the face of opposition from the California Farm Bureau Federation and others in the agricultural community.

Assembly Bill 2959, from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, cleared the Assembly in June and was to have been heard this week in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee before being pulled Tuesday.

"We are pleased to see that restrictions on livestock feed, through AB 2959, will no longer be pursued this year," said Taylor Roschen, a CFBF policy advocate. "As the state works toward managing its organic waste, our farms, dairies and ranches provide an invaluable service. We look forward to continuing to highlight that work." 

Under the bill, livestock producers would no longer have been able to receive food byproducts from retail and commercial establishments, including grocers, restaurants and others, if the local jurisdiction has a contract with a franchise waste hauler.

These byproducts include fruit and vegetable rinds, tomato and grape pomace, nut hulls, milk byproducts and bakery waste, Roschen said.

CFBF led a coalition of agricultural, livestock and food-processing organizations that opposed the bill. Restaurant and grocery coalitions also worked against it, Roschen said.

The bill did not sit well with Frank Konyn of Escondido, who operates one of two remaining dairies in San Diego County. He also runs a hauling business, picking up byproducts from breweries, bakeries, and fruit and vegetable juice makers. He uses much of the feed at his own operation and sends the rest to another local dairy farmer.

"If there wasn't operations like myself, that is material that would be ending up in the landfill," Konyn said. "It all gets upcycled. ... It gets fed to cows. The cows produce milk. That milk gets shipped out into various dairy products—butter, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, chocolate milk, etc. That's how that waste product gets transformed back into human, edible food."

Such waste that ends up in the dump poses its own environmental hazards, said Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air-quality specialist at the University of California, Davis.

"Every time you put organic waste in a landfill, it will be stored under anaerobic conditions," which means no oxygen, Mitloehner said. "That means it will produce methane."

Landfills, he added, are among the top three methane producers in the country.

"By taking this material and feeding it to animals directly, we make use of a very unique digestive tract these animals have," Mitloehner said, noting that livestock can eat and digest feed humans can't, "and make it into highly valuable and nutritious animal source food."

If the bill would have cut off access to byproducts, replacement feed would have to be grown in the state, using resources that could be put to other uses, or brought in from out of state, Roschen said.

In Konyn's case, transportation would be the main issue. Trainloads of corn go to the Central Valley and are largely distributed regionally, he said. His corn, however, would then have to be trucked nearly 300 miles from Goshen.

He figures corn would be about $22 per ton more expensive for him than for his Central Valley peers. Picking up byproducts in his neighborhood has been a lifeline for him, he said.

"By creating this niche market over here of picking up these animal feeds, that's how I was able to find a way to reinvent myself and survive down here," Konyn said.

The measure could have posed particular problems for organic dairy farmers, Roschen said.

"Organic dairies have another stressor, in that they have to source organic byproduct for their feed," she said. "They really depend on having those local connections with organic bakery waste, or almonds that are grown organically."

Simply having the trash haulers bring byproducts to the farm wouldn't work, Konyn said. To the trash hauler, he said, "animal feed is animal feed."

But there's a balancing act. Bakery products act essentially as corn substitutes, he said, whereas grain is higher in moisture but still high in protein. These would be fed to a skinny cow, whereas vegetable and fruit waste—mostly fibrous, with no protein—would go to a fatter cow.

"I can't mix all that stuff together," he said. "Each of those has different nutritional properties, and they're going to go to different segments of animals."

Roschen said there's also a food-safety issue with trash haulers carrying food waste.

"When a hauler goes to pick up the waste, they're not separating the byproducts that would be available for animal feed from all other organic waste materials that they're picking up. So it's all going in the same truck"—and farmers wouldn't accept that product, she said.

"It's not safe. It's not healthy. It needs to be separated by the generator of the byproduct in the first place. That's why we have haulers who are unique and distinct for the agricultural community," Roschen said.

Mitloehner said a conservative estimate is that 2.5 million tons of food waste from grocery stores and restaurants is hauled away by nonfranchise haulers to become animal feed.

"What we don't want happening is that this amount of organic waste is going to landfills, or goes into a system where it needs to be composted or digested with facilities that have not yet been built," he said. "In my opinion, if you have a system that works, why change it?"

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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