On January 13, 2009, Tyson—one of the world's largest processors of chicken, beef, and pork—and the fuel company Syntroleum broke ground in Geismar, Louisiana, on a "renewable" diesel plant. The fuel will be produced in part with Tyson factory farm byproducts, including animal fat and poultry litter. ("Litter" is the euphemistic term for poultry poop mixed with feathers, leftover feed, bedding, and whatever else ends up on the factory floor.) Tyson says this plant, along with another one it's building with oil giant ConocoPhillips in Borger, Texas, will produce diesel destined for military and commercial aircraft. Once it is working at full capacity, the Geismar plant alone, Tyson estimates, will produce roughly one quarter of the country's current total output of biofuels.
Tyson claims these facilities produce eco-friendly, cleaner-burning fuels from scraps that would otherwise be wasted. But critics beg to differ, arguing that the fuel doesn't actually burn any cleaner and, worse, that these plants incentivize intensive livestock production and processing methods that are decidedly bad for the environment and the climate. They charge that this fuel is renewable only in the narrowest sense, if you ignore the complete life cycle of its production. The fuels depend on energy-intensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which require feed raised with methods that deplete topsoil and overuse synthetic fertilizer, contributing to carbon dioxide emissions.