The State’s “First Green Industry” Wants to Tax Itself — Gov. Brown Lets Them
California’s 44 registered renderers got their wish September 26 as Gov. Jerry Brown signed renderer-sponsored legislation to reimpose on themselves a lapsed $3,000 annual regulatory fee.
The hope is that more revenue will allow the state Food and Agriculture Agency to do a better job preventing thefts of a lucrative part of the rendering industry – inedible kitchen grease.
The same foul, food-flecked kitchen grease restaurants pour into special dumpsters and hire haulers to dispose of.
Except now the end product created by rendering the grease is so high-priced, haulers pay restaurants for the privilege of collecting it.
And robbers – not only in California but around the country — are eager to nab some of that action.
“Our industry is losing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to these rogue people every month,” says Michael Koehler, president of Sacramento Rendering Company. Koehler’s company has 2,500 customers from whom he collects grease.
Renderers, who call themselves the “invisible industry” and more recently “the first green industry,” still dispose of the unused parts of large animals by cooking them down into substances that can help create a variety of new products.
That’s something they’ve done since the Middle Ages.
But now a big part of the industry’s business is kitchen grease collection.
Of California’s 44 renderers, 26 make their living exclusively by hauling and processing grease.
When inedible cooking grease is purified and the moisture removed, it becomes “yellow grease,” a commodity used in making biofuels as well as chicken and livestock feed.
The burgeoning biofuel market – and the high price of gasoline and regular diesel — has driven the price for a pound of yellow grease to 43 cents. Six years ago, the per-pound price hovered around 6 cents.
Today, the roughly 2.5 billion pounds of yellow grease manufactured each year has a market value of nearly $1.1 billion.
A gallon of used grease is roughly eight pounds. So that makes purloining the contents of a half dozen 250-gallon grease containers a profitable, low-risk enterprise.
While thieves don’t get the full 43 cents a pound, they can pocket somewhere between 20 cents to 30 cents, state enforcement agencies say.
That’s money that would otherwise be paid to the legitimate haulers who are then forced to eat the cost of manpower, transportation and equipment when their grease is filched.
Fighting back, renderers sponsored legislation – SB 513 by Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Ceres Republican – to charge themselves to improve enforcement.
“Renderers play an integral role in California’s agricultural industry,” Cannella said in a statement after the bill signing. “I’m pleased Governor Brown has joined me in helping ensure the integrity of this important sector of our state economy.”
California has two full-time and two part-time inspectors on the trail of grease thieves.
Doug Hepper, chief of the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Meat, Poultry and Egg Safety readily admits that isn’t enough manpower to rein in the number of thefts.
“We catch people mainly through leads. We simply don’t have the personnel to stake out alleys at night,” Hepper said.
Unlike in some states, it’s a crime to steal grease in California. First offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $10,000 fine or up to one year in county jail or both. If previously convicted, subsequent violations can be punished with state prison time of up to one year.
“The difficulty we’ve had is getting district attorneys to prosecute,” said Hepper. “They’re stretched so thin and have to set priorities. The theft of inedible kitchen grease does not appear to be a high priority crime.”
Hepper also says the $3,000 kicked in each year by the state’s renderers won’t be enough to hire another investigator.
Canella’s bill also creates a seven-member rendering advisory board within the food and agriculture agency. The hope is the board will be another way to raise the industry’s “invisible” profile.
“In conjunction with the new advisory body, the agency will develop strategies to continue to provide better industry oversight as well as work to curtail kitchen grease thefts,” said Steve Lyle, a Food and Agriculture spokesman.
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