When people drive through Rochester New York for the first time, they usually remark how lovely it is.
That is, until they roll the windows down.
When they do, they are assaulted by a stench that some say is bad enough to gag a maggot.
If you ask the locals, they’ll tell you they’ve had to put up with the puke-inducing stench on and off for at least 50 years.
Wearily, they point to the culprit, a creaky old building tucked in the woods that’s been cooking up crap that smells like something from Satan’s kitchen.
Bob Reid, who lives less than a half-mile from Baker Commodities, is fond of likening its odorous releases to “a diabolical barbecue.”
Reid questions whether government officials are serious about helping.
“They don’t want to do anything unless all the canaries in the coal mine die,” he said.
The plant, hidden in trees on the far side of the wetlands, is a meat-rendering facility that turns animal flesh and restaurant grease into usable products.
Remarkably, considering the plant’s profound effect on the gag reflex, that several of the main products Baker Commodities cooks up its Hellish kitchen is something that is meant to be eaten.
Eaten, by cats and dogs, that is.
A century of smells
Baker Commodities, surrounded by woods and wetlands, is nearly invisible to outsiders.
But it’s not unnoticeable. Its fetid emanations surprise newcomers, who scan the horizon for its source expecting to find the bloated corpse of some ill-fated animal.
The locals will tell them it’s only Baker Commodities, where unfortunate critters of every description are boiled together in a witches brew of diseased farm animals, road kill, together with discarded and spoiled meat from supermarkets and slaughterhouses along with used cooking grease from restaurant kitchens.
The diabolical recipe turns waste into products such as tallow, animal feed, biodiesel fuel and of course, protein for pet food.
Renderers, referred to as the ‘original recyclers’, like Baker Commodities have provided a valuable, albeit gruesome, public service for decades. Where the plant now resides in Rochester, long before Baker Commodities came along, the land was used to make fertilizer from animal bones, as far back as 1892.
The smell of money
Baker Commodities, a California company with 21 rendering plants across the country, bought the facility in 1982. News stories document odor complaints at Baker plants in Oregon, California, Montana and Washington.
Unfortunately, for residents near the Rochester plant, this particular facility is said to be the only rendering plant in New York.
Often Baker Commodities is the only facility within hundreds of miles that will take road kill. Sometimes the rendering plant ships the animals they receive to a larger facility hundreds of miles away where they are eventually rendered.
Despite gas-guzzling long hauls across hundreds of miles, carting carcasses across the country for processing, the company boasts that it epitomizes sustainability, making use of wastes that otherwise would be buried in landfills or dumped down the drain.
Like modern alchemists, renderers, like Baker Commodities, have mastered the craft of turning garbage into gold.
Pick up n’ grind up
One of Baker’s services is collecting and recycle animal mortalities, which is a polite way of saying they pick-up and grind-up animals on farms that have died otherwise than by slaughter (aka 4D livestock).
In addition to dead stock removal, they pick up all animal by-products and recycle them to produce a number of “useful products,” including meat and bone meal for use in poultry and swine feed – and in the manufacture of pet food ingredients.
One of Baker’s lesser-known services is picking up euthanized pets from animal shelters. Once or twice a week, Baker Commodities, comes and picks up garbage cans full of dead cats and dogs as well as animals from local veterinarians and other businesses and takes them to a Baker’s plant for processing.
The rendering industry has largely denied that pets are rendered, saying it is rarely done because the practice has fallen out of favor with the public; admitting only that when it is done, pets are processed separately from livestock. They claim that the end product of rendered pets are used in fertilizers and not used for making animal feed or pet food.
Despite their reassurances, the logistics of separating livestock from pets would be impractical and cost prohibitive, therefore, I believe, that the animals are co-mingled.
While the sad trade of disposing of beloved pets is as necessary as disposing of a farmer’s cherished commodity – his farm animals – our society does not allow pets to be fed to pets for both legal and ethical reasons.
Such a pretty package
So, the next time you turn over that bag or can of pet food to check for ingredients that may have come from a renderer, like ‘diseased farm animals’, ‘cat meat’, ‘dog meat’, ‘horses’, ‘road kill’, ‘discarded or spoiled meat’ and ‘used restaurant grease’ – you won’t find it. Those ingredients will simply be labeled ‘animal by-product’, ‘animal digest’, ‘animal fat’, ‘meat meal’, or ‘meat and bone meal’. Ingredients, you’ll find on nearly every label of commercially available pet food.
Show me the smell
And if you ever happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Rochester, home of Baker Commodities; be sure to give the city an account of what you thought their town smelled like.
They want to know.
Really, they do.
Rochester wants you to add the location of any fair or foul aroma you catch a whiff of in their fair city. In fact, they encourage you to do so, by saying, “Don’t be shy: Tell us about your neighborhood smells”..
The smell map
But, should you wish to avoid the gag-a-maggot route, local residents are keeping track of the trail of gut-wrenching and gag-inducing smells on Rochester’s handy ‘Smell Map’.
Think I’m kidding?
There really is an honest-to-goodness Smell Map, where readers have cited various odors; complete with vivid descriptions, which vary widely from, the place smells like “burnt rotten pork, cloying and pervasive…”, and it “smells like a million urinal cakes”, to a heavenly mixture of “butterscotch and vanilla candy smells”, to a “delicious barbeque”.
A tiny travel tip
tip for travelers: If you’re planning on visiting Rochester – don’t forget your barf bag, because, as one resident warned, “it’s like visiting a disaster area where dead animals were baking in the sun!”
Food for thought
And if on your trip to Rochester you should stop on the way to buy some pet food, remember the sight of the dead critter you almost ran over lying flattened and frying in the sun that you caught a whiff of as you drove past on the way to the store. Pause for a moment before you buy that pet food and consider that perhaps the only benefit your purchase will make is to help drive industry growth as the pet market reaches projected sales of $73 billion by the end of 2014.