Footballs, Lipstick and other Surprising Uses of Beef By-Products

football-2.jpgIt’s Super Bowl week, and all the talk about football got me thinking about one of the biggest misconceptions in sports and agriculture – that footballs are made from pig skin!  While the term “pigskin” is synonymous with football, they are not made from pig skin.  All collegiate and pro footballs are actually from cattle hide.

In the early days of the sport, footballs were commonly made from a pig by-product; but not the skin.  Footballs were originally made from inflated animal bladders, often the bladders of pigs.  The resulting ball had an oval-shape without the pointed-tips of today’s footballs. While the process of cleaning and inflating probably wasn’t pleasant, bladders were less expensive and easier to come by than leather.  In later years the bladders were covered in animal hide, but pig skin was not commonly used.    

For as long as animals have been used as food for humans, the non-meat parts have been saved and used too. Indigenous people used bones for tools, hide for clothing, and even tendons for bow strings.  Little went to waste.

The same is true today.  On average, 64% of a heifer or steer is used for meat, but 99% of the animal is used.  Cattle by-products provide many things that we use every day. These “leftovers” are used in the manufacturing process for thousands of food, industrial, household, and medical products. 

You probably knew that leather goods are made from cattle hide, but here are some lesser-known uses of beef by-products.    

Jell-O, marshmallows, and gummy bears. Gelatin, which gives these products their structure, is made from skin, bones, and other connective tissue.    


Margarine & shortening. Beef fat, or edible beef tallow, is used in small amounts in the production of some margarine and shortening products. 

Lipstick, soap and cosmetics include inedible tallow.  This refined fat is also used to make many industrial oils and lubricants.    

Pharmaceuticals and medial supplies.  There are more than 100 individual drugs that contain beef by-products. Some help alleviate minor aliments like an upset stomach or hay fever.  Others, like blood thinners and insulin are truly life-saving. It takes the pancreases from 26 cattle to provide enough insulin to keep one diabetic person alive for a year.  Tissue from cattle can also be used to make heart valves and surgical sutures. 

These are just a few of the many uses of beef by-products. You will find hundreds of more around around your house, at home-improvement stores, and in hospitals and drug stores.     

– Cindy

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