Link to Earth Island Journal, source of this story

Fall 1997
Vol. 12, No. 4


Book Excerpt: Food Pets Die For

by Ann N. Martin

Pets in pet food? No, you say? Be assured that this is happening. Rendered companion animals are just another source of protein used in both pet foods and livestock feeds.

Rendering is a cheap, viable means of disposal. Pets are mixed with other material from slaughterhouse facilities that has been condemned for human consumption - rotten meat from supermarket shelves, restaurant grease and garbage, "4-D" (dead, diseased, dying and disabled) animals, roadkill and even zoo animals [Summer '96 EIJ].

In 1990, John Eckhouse, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a two-part exposé on the rendering of companion animals in California. While the pet food companies vehemently denied that this was happening, a rendering plant employee told Eckhouse that "it was common practice for his company to process dead pets into products sold to pet food manufacturers."

Eckhouse's informant, upset that some of the most disturbing information was left out of the Chronicle article, subsequently brought his story to Earth Island Journal. (After the Journal published this insider's extensive report ["The Dark Side of Recycling," Fall 1990], the author placed a frantic call to the Journal to say that he was "going underground" because he feared for his safety.)

A Search for the Truth

I had always assumed that deceased pets were either buried or cremated. I had never heard of rendering. In early 1992, I decided to find out what was happening to the euthanized pets in London, Ontario.

Veterinary clinics advised me that dead pets were incinerated by a local disposal company. After hearing US horror stories, I was skeptical. I obtained the name of the company that was picking up the pets, a dead-stock removal operation. Classified as "recollectors," these companies - along with "receiving plants," "brokers," and "rendering plants" - are licensed by Canada's Ministry of Agriculture.

I asked the ministry how the recollector disposed of the dogs and cats that it picked up. Two months later, I received a letter along with a document from the dead-stock removal company. This document, addressed to the investigator, was stamped with the warning that the information in the document was "not to be made known to any other agency or person without the written permission of the Chief Investigator."

Small wonder. The document confirmed that dead pets were, in fact, disposed of by rendering (unless cremation was "specially requested" and "paid [for] by their owners or by the veterinary clinic").

The dead animals were shipped to a broker located about 300 miles away who sold the bodies to a rendering plant in Quebec. When I contacted the rendering plant, the owner admitted that cats and dogs were rendered along with livestock and roadkill. "Do pet food companies purchase this rendered material?" I asked. Again, his reply was, "Yes."

I was numb. How had this barbaric practice gone undetected all these years?

When I advised the veterinarians in my city about what was happening, most of them immediately ceased using the dead-stock company and began using the local humane society where the animals are cremated.

In the US and Canada, the rendering of companion animals is not illegal. Millions of pets are disposed of by rendering each year. According to the Eckhouse article, an employee and ex-employee of Sacramento Rendering, a plant in California, stated that their company "rendered somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 pounds of dogs and cats a day out of a total of 250,000 to 500,000 pounds of cattle, poultry, butcher shop scraps and other material." The rendering plant in Quebec was rendering 11 tons of dogs and cats per week - from one province alone.

The Situation in the US

If this was the case in Canada, I wondered if the US government was aware of what was happening?

The Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) responded to my query regarding the disposal of pets, stating: "In recognizing the need for disposal of a large number of unwanted pets in this country, CVM has not acted to specifically prohibit the rendering of pets. However, that is not to say that the practice of using this material in pet food is condoned by CVM."

The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) informed me that dog and cat cadavers are excluded as an ingredient in pet foods under FSIS regulations. But, when I asked the USDA if it could provide me with a list of the companies that were using this inspection service, I was told that only two small facilities were licensed for this service and neither had subscribed to the service for four years.

Pet food companies advertise that only quality meats are being used in their products. As of 1996, however, not one of the major pet food companies was using the USDA's inspection service.

What's in the Can?

Television commercials and magazine advertisements for pet food would have us believe that the meats, grains and fats used in these foods could grace our dining tables. Over seven long years, I have been able to unearth information about what actually is contained in most commercial pet food. My initial shock has turned to anger as I've realized how little consumers are told about the actual contents of pet food.

Animal slaughterhouses strip the flesh and send the remains - heads, feet, skin, toenails, hair, feathers, carpal and tarsal joints and mammary glands - to rendering plants. Also judged suitable for rendering: animals who have died on their way to slaughter; cancerous tissue or tumors and worm-infested organs; injection sites, blood clots, bone splinters or extraneous matter; contaminated blood; stomach and bowels.

At the rendering plant, slaughterhouse material, restaurant and supermarket refuse (including Styrofoam trays and Shrink-wrap), dead-stock, roadkill and euthanized companion animals are dumped into huge containers. A grinding machine slowly pulverizes the entire mess. After it is chipped or shredded, it is cooked at temperatures between 220 F and 270 F (104.4 to 132.2 C) for 20 minutes to one hour. The grease or tallow that rises to the top is used as a source of animal fat in pet foods. The remaining material is put into a press where the moisture is squeezed out to produce meat and bone meal.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials describes "meat meal" as the rendered product from mammal tissue exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, hide, trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen (the first stomach or the cud of a cud-chewing animal) contents - except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in "good processing" practices. In his article, "Animal Disposal: Fact and Fiction," David C. Cooke asks, "Can you imagine trying to remove the hair and stomach contents from 600,000 tons of dogs and cats prior to cooking them?"

Drugs, Metal, Pesticides, Pathogens

Pet food labels only provide half the story. Labels do not indicate the hidden hazards that lurk in most pet food. Hormones, pesticides, pathogens, heavy metals and drugs are just a few of the hidden contaminants.

Sodium pentobarbital and Fatal Plus� are barbiturates used to euthanize companion animals. When animals eat pet food that has gone through the rendering process, it is likely that they are ingesting one of these euthanizing drugs.

Almost 50 percent of the antibiotics manufactured in the US are dumped into animal feed, according to the 1996 Consumer Alert brochure, "The Dangers of Factory Farming." Pigs, cows, veal calves, turkeys and chickens are continually fed antibiotics (primarily penicillin and tetracycline) in an attempt to eradicate the many ills that befall factory-farmed animals - pneumonia, intestinal disease, stress, rhinitis, e-coli infections and mastitis.

While this high-level application of antibiotics means millions of dollars for the pharmaceutical companies, the US Centers for Disease Control, National Resources Defense Council and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all warn that these "levels of antibiotics and other contaminants in commercially raised meat constitute a serious threat to the health of the consumer."

Zinc, copper and iron are listed on most pet food labels. But the metals in pet foods that do not need to be listed on the label include: silver, beryllium, cadmium, bismuth, cobalt, manganese, barium, molybdenum, nickel, lead, strontium, vanadium, phosphorus, titanium, chromium, aluminum, selenium and tungsten.

The US FDA and Health and Welfare Canada would be very concerned if the level of lead found in pet food were found in the human food chain. For the dog food I had tested, for example, a dog ingesting 15 ounces would receive .43 to 2.4 mg of lead per day. Three mg per day is considered hazardous for a child. But when it comes to pet food, no testing is undertaken by state officials for heavy metals, pathogens, pesticides or drugs.

Although the pet food industry is not regulated in the US and Canada, we as consumers have been lulled into believing that government and voluntary organizations are overseeing every ingredient stuffed into a container of pet food. What is required is government-enforced regulation of the industry. Only state legislatures can turn the tide, but it will be a long and difficult battle to persuade our representatives to take up the fight.

In the meantime, let the buyer beware!

Ann N. Martin, an animal rights activist and commercial pet food critic, lives in London, Ontario. Her article, "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," appeared in the Summer 1996 Earth Island Journal. Excerpted from Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food (forthcoming in November by NewSage Press, PO Box 607, Troutdale, OR 97060-0607, (503) 695-2211, fax: -5406).

"Ann Martin is to the pet food industry what Rachel Carson was to the petrochemical-pesticide industry."
- Dr. Michael W. Fox, The Humane Society of the US