A recently uncovered report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on rendering plants is raising eyebrows about what is finding its way into commercial pet food. However, to those who have studied the pet food industry, the report provides no new information.
The statement getting the most attention reads quite simply:
"Meat rendering plants process animal by-product materials for the production of tallow, grease, and high-protein meat and bone meal. Plants that operate in conjunction with animal slaughterhouses or poultry processing plants are called integrated rendering plants. Plants that collect their raw materials from a variety of offsite sources are called independent rendering plants. Independent plants obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal, and entire animal carcasses, from the following sources: butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots, and animal shelters."
Combine this new EPA report with the knowledge that pet food manufacturers are the largest purchasers of..., and, well, there is obvious reason for pet owners to be concerned with whether they are, in fact, feeding Fido to Fido. It is a concern that has been gaining attention since the mid 1990’s.
The Food Pets Die for, a groundbreaking book released in 1997, was probably the first major publication to openly mention the cannibalistic nature of commercial pet foods. In it author Ann Martin chronicled her detailed efforts to discover what it was that was in pet food that was making so many animals sick.
Then, in 2001, Animal Ark reported on a study conducted by the Center for Veterin...(CVM), which is a division of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The study tested pet foods for the presence of Sodium Pentobarbital, the drug most often used to kill companion animals in shelters. Of the foods tested from which a definitive result could be determined, 53% contained this “euthanasia solution”.
At the time, apologists for the pet food industry insisted that euthanasia solution could be getting into pet food from other sources, like farm animals, which are sometimes euthanized with Sodium Pentobarbital. This hypothesis, however, did not really stand up to scrutiny in the eyes of many.
Dr. Linda Wolf, a Minnesota-based veterinary consultant, for example, pointed out that the original study concluded that the presence of the unwanted drug correlated to pet foods that contained unnamed animal sources for their ingredients.
“If farm animals were the likely source of Sodium Pentobarbital, you would probably find it in foods that were made exclusively from farm animal sources, like beef and chicken,” Wolf said. “But that is not the case. The study found the drug more commonly in products that used ‘generic’ sounding animal products, like ‘animal fat’, ‘animal tallow’, or ‘meat and bone meal’”.
Clearly, pet food companies looking for super-cheap “meat” sources would be hesitant to add Fluffy or Fido to the ingredients lists of their products. This resulted in a variety of strange-sounding ingredients appearing on pet food labels, like, for example, “spray-dried animal digest”. (Author’s note: Can anyone tell me what “spray-dried animal digest” is?)
More recently another book has shed light on some other dark spots of the pet food industry. Not Fit For a Dog, by Dr. Michael Fox, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins and Dr. Marion Smart uncovered issues relating to the quality of other ingredients as well, including the use of foods considered “unfit for consumption”. Hodgkins, it is worth noting, is a veterinarian who formerly worked in the nutrition department of Hill’s Pet Food Manufacturing, the makers of so-called “Science Diet”. Fox is a world-famous veterinarian and writer of the syndicated “Animal Doctor” column. None of the authors have much good to say about the pet food industry as a whole, or Hodgkin’s former employer in specific.
In the wake of all of these other reports and publishings this new simple statement from the EPA does not seem like big news. It probably isn’t, unless you are one of the people who bought into the glossy advertising and pretty labels put out by major pet food manufacturers.
On the other end of the pet food spectrum is a growing list suppliers of holistic or organic foods, as well as consumers that are learning to make their own pet foods. It’s a Pet’s Life, based in Plymounth, Minnesota, is a great example. There, you will not find any Purina or Science Dietproducts. Kibbles 'n Bits are verboten. At this store you will find a lot of customers and an amazing list of foods that have ingredients lists that sound like they came from a grocery store rather than ascience lab. The store even features upright freezers filled with frozen, raw, natural pet foods made from things like organic lamb or pheasant. For those in the Twin Cities that do not live near Plymouth, It’s a Pet’s Life also has free delivery, like a growing number of niche pet stores that have been catching the wave of public interest in better quality pet foods.
In the last 10 years, people’s attitudes and awareness of pet foods has clearly shifted. While some people are still expressing outrage over the recent EPA report, when it was posted on theFacebook Page for Animal Wise Radio, a number of people commented that this was ‘old news’ or that they had been making their own pet food for years because they knew this long ago.
In spite of the obvious down side to being found out to be mixing Fido and Fluffy into their pet foods, there is a serious possible up-side from a short-term business perspective. Each year, animal shelters in the USA destroy about 4 million dogs and cats. If each of those pets weighs on average 20 pounds (probably a conservative estimate) that equates to around 80 million pounds per year of very cheap “meat” source.
It is sort of ironic that these same pet food companies then turn around and sponsor the animal shelters that may be the source of their “meat”.