Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Soylent pet food?

Where does pet food come from? It's a question many of us don't think about. We see pictures of whole grains, prime cuts of meat and human grade vegetables on the bag, and we assume there's some chef in a pet food kitchen cooking up the best for our loved ones. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

Most of what makes up dog and cat food comes from the rendering plant. When chickens, lambs, cattle, swine, and other animals are slaughtered for food, usually only the lean muscle is cut off for human consumption. This leaves about 50 percent of a carcass left over. These leftovers are what become what we so commonly find on pet food labels, such as "meat-and-bone-meal" or "by-products." So basically, what pets eat are lungs, ligaments, bones, blood and intestines.

Some other things that may go into rendering are:
  • Spoiled meat from the supermarket, Styrofoam wrapping and all
  • Road kill that can't be buried on the roadside
  • The "4 D's" of cattle: dead, dying, disease and disabled
  • Rancid restaurant grease
  • Euthanized companion animals

For a more detailed, and very disturbing, look at what goes into a rendering plant and into your pet's food, read here - Health Hazards of Meat-Based Commercial Diets for Cats and Dogs

To prevent the condemned meat from being rerouted and used for human consumption, government regulations require that the meat must be "denatured" before it is removed from the slaughterhouse. (Denaturing in this context means altering the carcass enough so that it cannot be mistaken for human-quality meat) The denatured carcasses and other waste can then be transported to the rendering facility.

According to federal meat inspection regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, and citronella (an insect repellent made from lemon grass) are the approved denaturing materials. The condemned livestock carcasses treated with these toxic chemicals can then become meat and bone meal for the pet food industry. (From Wendell O. Belfield's site, a veterinarian who spent seven years as a veterinary meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of California.)

And it isn't just livestock and roadkill carcasses that go into the rendering plants. Companion animals, cats & dogs euthanized by shelters and vets, are also part of the rendering industry's "raw materials". Most rendering plants and pet food manufacturers claim that pet carcasses do not go into the manufacture of pet food, but many people claim otherwise. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, John Eckhouse, brought the issue to light in the 1990's.

He quoted an employee of Sacramento Rendering as saying, "Thousands and thousands of pounds of dogs and cats are picked up and brought here every day." When a vet tells a grieving owner that they'll "take care" of their dead loved one, they usually mean sending it off with the disposal company for rendering. This is all perfectly legal. Many veterinarians and especially shelters don't have the money to bury or cremate animals.

Although many in the pet food industry deny that they use euthanized animals, proof that the practice goes on continues to surface. Over a few years in the 1990’s, veterinarians began reporting to the FDA/CVM that the drug they used for anesthetizing, and euthanizing, dogs—sodium pentobarbital—seemed to be losing its effectiveness. This prompted the CVM to explore the most likely cause: animals were becoming immune to the drug because they had been eating food with trace amounts of sodium pentobarbital for years. The likely source of the drug in their food? Euthanized animals. (The FDA/CVM claims the pentobarbital found in pet food comes from euthanized cattle and horse, but large animals are generally killed by cheaper, mechanical means. Read their report and draw your own conclusions.) In 1998, the CVM went about testing dry dogs foods containing the ingredients meat and bone meal, animal digest, animal fat and beef and bone meal. They found the drug in 31 of 37 foods tested. (Borrowed from a very informative website - The Truth About Pet Food.)

Though the rendering industry is understandably reluctant to allow much investigation into their proecesses, the outcry regarding making pets into pet food has caused some changes. Most of this rendered material is now going to China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan according to Martin, where it is used as a protein source for fish and shrimp food. These fish are than sent back to the US and sold to brokers all over the country. According to one report the FDA finally blocked the sale of five species of farm-raised seafood from China because of repeated instances of contamination from unapproved animal drugs and food additives.

Ann Martin, author of Food Pets Die For, who has been investigating the multi-billion-dollar, commercial pet food industry since 1990, says that "She feels that it’s extremely doubtful if the FDA tested these fish for levels of pentobarbital.In fact Martin said that the FDA inspected only 0.59% of the seafood imported to the US in 2006, this, given the fact that the demand for seafood has grown tremendously in the last five or six years. (Read more at - "Pet meal backfires in shrimp" from AllAboutFeed.)

So it seems that not only are our pets most likely eating recycled companion animals in their cans & kibble, we humans are also taking part in the recycling effort by eating cheap farmed seafood, raised on rendered cats & dogs. All the more reason to be an educated eater. Read labels, buy local, and vote with your dollar!

On a more cheery note - today is Repeal Day!

Raise a glass to the 74th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing alcohol. And read more about it at the Repeal Day website:

"Unlike St. Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo, Repeal Day is a day that all Americans have a part in observing, because it's written in our Constitution. No other holiday celebrates the laws that guarantee our rights, and Repeal Day has everything to do with our personal pleasures.
It's easy!
There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can.
Thanks for reading about what we hope will become a celebrated day in this country. Please help spread the word about Repeal Day, and tell a friend."


Night Monkey said...

Any recommendations for alternatives - name brands or recipes? Thanks.

Seven Trees said...

We use Wellness canned food for the kittens, Canidae dry food for the dogs, and a prescription food for the older cats due to the kidney crystal thing that we just had to deal with.

We're also starting to make some dog food, with liver and veggies and broth, mostly homegrown stuff. Not enough to replace their kibble, but a good adjunct. As we learn more about homemade pet food, we'll make more.

The best bet is to read labels. Look for identified ingredient sources, like lamb/chicken/fish as opposed to generic "meat" or "protein" derivatives. But thanks to government policies that protect corporations over people, there isn't any real guarantee to what goes in pet or people food. A sorry state of affairs.

There are also plenty of raw/homemade pet food groups online that have more details about brands and ingredients, but I haven't had time to dig deeper yet. In fact today's chore is to cook and can another big batch of dog food!