In the “modern” slaughterhouses in this country, live cattle, pigs and chickens are hung upside down by one leg, breaking the pelvis bone immediately. They are sent down the assembly line, which takes hours. Boiling water is poured on them to loosen their skins. Then their throats are slit so that blood comes out steadily before they die. The blood is accumulated in troughs. The quantity is vast. It is stored in huge vats until tankers come to collect it. It is taken to rendering plants with blood processing facilities, or disposed of in sewers (which lead into the nearest water body), in landfills or spread over land. Some amount is used to make human food and animal feed.
According to the FAO , approximately 304 million cattle, 959 million sheep and goats, and 1374 million pigs were killed for their meat in 2010. By 2016 this has increased by 10%. 15 litres of blood from each cattle and 2 to 3 litres per pig. 4.56 billion litres of blood from cattle annually. In just one month, 9 million pigs are slaughtered in the USA alone – 114.79 million pints of blood going down the drains. China produces 150 thousand tons of porcine blood yearly. The world is soaked in blood every day.
The food industry uses about 30% of this blood. It is used in food as an emulsifier (an agent that mixes different liquids), a stabilizer to prevent oil and water from separating in the finished food product, a clarifier, a colour additive, and as nutrition.
Blood from slaughterhouse animals is collected in two ways. The first is open draining, where blood from the animal is collected in buckets or trays. The second is via a closed draining system, where a hollow knife is stuck in the animal’s throat and this is connected to vacuum piping. The animal is, by the way, alive through both these processes so that the blood can continue to be pumped by its heart.
The rendering plant is a unit that processes every bit of what comes into a slaughterhouse in order to maximise profit. What does it do with the blood?
The bulk of the blood goes to feed animals themselves. Whole blood from cow, sheep, pig, or chicken is added to pet food and fish food as a cheap protein source. In some cases, the plasma is separated from the red blood cells and used as a protein supplement for piglets, who are taken away from their mothers and need a substitute for mother’s milk. Spray dried blood and porcine plasma is used as growth enhancers in animal feed, and haemoglobin is used to feed carnivorous fish and shrimp.
Blood is used in livestock feed as a protein supplement. These vegetarian animals are fed the blood of their own kin. The British have accused India of being the originators of Mad Cow Disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) which destroys the brain. Apparently, the soya bean that we sent for their cattle feed was made into blocks by using blood as a glue. So the cows ate blood and developed the disease which they passed on to humans. Over 30 lakh cows were killed in the UK alone to put an end to the disease, but it is still found all over the world and is a direct result of animals being fed blood. We have just had one Mad Cow death in Dehradun. It kills one person per million.
Dried blood-meal is also used as fertiliser.
Some blood is used in both animal and human medicines. Purified bovine albumin is used to replenish blood or fluid loss in animals. It is used in testing for the Rh factor in human beings, and as a stabilizer for vaccines. It is also used in antibiotic sensitivity tests.
Porcine plasma is used to dissolve blood clots in heart attack patients. Bovine thrombin is used to promote blood coagulation in humans, treat wounds and hold skin grafts in place. Bovine plasma is used as a medium in laboratories to grow probiotic lactobacilli, and for human medicines like porphyrin. Blood products are used as nutrients for tissue culture media.
Even people who eat meat find the thought of eating blood distasteful (unless you are an African Masai tribesman, who drinks it directly from the neck of his animal). But, industry is working to use the blood in different ways.
Plasma proteins from pigs and chickens are used in the making of surimi, a form of fish gel. Surimi products usually are imitation seafood products, such as crab, abalone, shrimp, calamari, and scallop. Several companies produce surimi sausages, luncheon meats, hams and burgers.
Porcine blood enzymes and proteins – transglutaminase, fibrinogen, and thrombin – have been used as binders in restructured meat products. These are used to rearrange bits of left over low value meat, so that it appears to be a product of higher value, that resembles intact meat like steaks, chops or roasts. While many companies in the US have been caught for their fraudulent use of using blood plasma, instead of real meat, to increase their profits and upgrade their meat product, no action has been taken so far. In May 2010, the EU voted to ban the use of Fibrimex®, which is a blood protein used to reconstitute meat, as the EU believes the product has no proven benefit and its usage carries a high risk of misleading consumers – meaning that Fibrimex® reconstituted meat products would find their way into meat dishes served in restaurants, given the higher prices that can be obtained for leftover pieces of meat glued together and sold as a single meat product. The ban, however, never took effect.
In recent years, much attention has been paid to the extraction of peptides from animal blood. These are short chains of amino acids linked together. They are sold as tonics. For instance, many companies sell Heme iron polypeptide tonics, made from animal haemoglobin, to treat iron deficiency. (Side effects include upset stomachs and allergic reactions, like swelling of the face and throat). Other bio-peptide tonics claim to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, enhance mineral absorption, increase immunity, and as opioids. Animal blood derivative peptides are used in commercial food and nutraceuticals (non-medicinal nutrients used as supplements). Some companies admit that their dietary supplement is derived from bovine serum, but many still hide it.
Haemoglobin powders from cow and pig blood are used as meat colorants.
Blood plasma has the ability to form a gel, and looks like cooked egg whites. Cooked ham pate, minced meats and hot dogs often have this added to them.
Among the uses being considered for blood plasma is for it to replace egg whites in the commercial baking industry, as it is much cheaper
Several countries use whole blood to make popular foods, like blood sausages, black puddings, or blood tofu. Blood pudding is popular in Italy – coagulated blood that is baked like a cake and served in slices. Czarnina is a Polish duck soup made of duck’s blood, and nam tok is a soup from Thailand made from cow and pig’s blood.
Efforts are on to persuade developing countries, with malnourished children, to mix blood proteins in cereal in diets that are used to supplement breast feeding during the transition from exclusive breast feeding to a mixed diet (between the ages of 6 to 8 months), and thereafter as a major breakfast meal (between age 1 to 6 years). Government and international bodies have till now used plant protein in the formulation of weaning diets. However, research (and pressure) is on to put blood proteins into infant formula by labelling them abundant, cheap, readily available, with a proven track record in animal nutrition. Another area that has been selected for commercial use is targeting anaemia (iron deficiency) in developing countries, by adding bovine blood iron supplements to staple foods. If I am not mistaken, our Health Ministry has just passed an order asking for grains to be fortified with iron.
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Union minister in the Narendra Modi government. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.peopleforanimalsindia.org