THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS
by Ann Martin
The pet food industry, a billion-dollar,
unregulated operation, feeds on the garbage that otherwise would wind
up in landfills or be transformed into fertiliser. The hidden
ingredients in a can of commercial pet food may include roadkill and
the rendered remains of cats and dogs. The pet food industry claims
that its products constitute a "complete and balanced diet" but, in
reality, commercial pet food is unfit for human or animal
"Vegetable protein", the mainstay of dry dog foods, includes
ground yellow corn, wheat shorts and middlings, soybean meal, rice
husks, peanut meal and peanut shells (identified as "cellulose" on
pet food labels). These often are little more than the sweepings from
milling room floors. Stripped of their oil, germ and bran, these
"proteins" are deficient in essential fatty acids, fat-soluble
vitamins and antioxidants. "Animal protein" in commercial pet foods
can include diseased meat, roadkill, contaminated material from
slaughterhouses, faecal matter, rendered cats and dogs and poultry
feathers. The major source of animal protein comes from dead-stock
removal operations that supply so-called "4-D" animals dead,
diseased, dying or disabled to "receiving plants" for hide,
fat and meat removal. The meat (after being doused with charcoal and
marked "unfit for human consumption") may then be sold for pet food.
Rendering plants process decomposing animal carcasses, large
roadkill and euthanised dogs and cats into a dry protein product that
is sold to the pet food industry. One small plant in Quebec,
renders 10 tons (22,000 pounds) of dogs and cats per week. The Quebec
Ministry of Agriculture states that "the fur is not removed from dogs
and cats" and that "dead animals are cooked together with viscera,
bones and fat at 115° C (235° F) for 20 minutes".
The US Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary
Medicine (CVM) is aware of the use of rendered dogs and cats in pet
foods, but has stated: "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 the CVM."
In both the US and Canada, the pet food industry is virtually
self-regulated. In the US, the Association of American Feed Control
Officials (AAFCO) sets guidelines and definitions for animal feed,
including pet foods. In Canada, the most prominent control is the
"Labeling Act", simply requiring product labels to state the name and
address of the manufacturer, the weight of the product and whether it
is dog or cat food. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
(CVMA) and the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) are voluntary
organisations that, for the most part, rely on the integrity of the
companies they certify to assure that product ingredients do not fall
below minimum standards.
The majority, 85 to 90 per cent, of the pet food sold
in Canada is manufactured by US-based multinationals. Under the terms
of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement, neither the CVMA nor PFAC
exercises any control over the ingredients in cans of US pet food.
Pet food industry advertising promotes the idea that, to keep pets
healthy, one must feed them commercially formulated pet foods. But
such a diet contributes to cancer, skin problems, allergies,
hypertension, kidney and liver failure, heart disease and dental
problems. One more item should be added to pet food labels: a
(Ann Martin is an animal rights activist and leading critic of
the commercial pet food industry. She lives in London, Ontario,
FOOD NOT FIT FOR A PET
by Dr Wendell O. Belfield, D.V.M.
The most frequently asked question in my practice is, "Which
commercial pet food do you recommend?" My standard answer is "None."
I am certain that pet-owners notice changes in their animals after
using different batches of the same brand of pet food. Their pets may
have diarrhoea, increased flatulence, a dull hair coat, intermittent
vomiting or prolonged scratching. These are common symptoms
associated with commercial pet foods.
In 1981, as Martin Zucker and I wrote How to Have a Healthier
Dog, we discovered the full extent of negative effects that
commercial pet food has on animals. In February 1990, San
Francisco Chronicle staff writer John Eckhouse went even further
with an exposé entitled "How Dogs and Cats Get Recycled into
Eckhouse wrote: "Each year, millions of dead American dogs and
cats are processed along with billions of pounds of other animal
materials by companies known as renderers. The finished
product...tallow and meat meal...serve as raw materials for thousands
of items that include cosmetics and pet food."
Pet food company executives made the usual denials. But federal
and state agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, and
medical groups, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association
and the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), confirm
that pets, on a routine basis, are rendered after they die in animal
shelters or are disposed of by health authorities, and the end
product frequently finds its way into pet food.
Government health officials, scientists and pet food executives
argue that such open criticism of commercial pet food is unfounded.
James Morris, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at
Davis, California, has said, "Any products not fit for human
consumption are very well sterilized, so nothing can be transmitted
to the animal." Individuals who make such statements know nothing of
the meat and rendering business.
For seven years I was a veterinary meat inspector for the US
Department of Agriculture and the State of California. I waded
through blood, water, pus and faecal material, inhaled the fetid
stench from the killing floor and listened to the death cries of
Prior to World War II, most slaughterhouses were all-inclusive;
that is, livestock was slaughtered and processed in one location.
There was a section for smoking meats, a section for processing meats
into sausages, and a section for rendering. After World War II, the
meat industry became more specialised. A slaughterhouse dressed the
carcasses, while a separate facility made the sausages. The rendering
of slaughter waste also became a separate speciality no longer
within the jurisdiction of federal meat inspectors and out of the
To prevent condemned meat from being rerouted and used for human
consumption, government regulations require that meat be "denatured"
before removal from the slaughterhouse and shipment to rendering
facilities. In my time as a veterinary meat inspector, we denatured
with carbolic acid (a potentially corrosive disinfectant) and/or
creosote (used for wood-preservation or as a disinfectant). Both
substances are highly toxic. According to federal meat inspection
regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid and citronella
(an insect repellent made from lemon grass) are all approved
Condemned livestock carcasses treated with these chemicals can
become meat and bone meal for the pet food industry. Because
rendering facilities are not government-controlled, any animal
carcasses can be rendered, even dogs and cats. As Eileen Layne
of the CVMA told the Chronicle, "When you read pet food
labels, and it says "meat and bone meal", that's what it is; cooked
and converted animals, including some dogs and cats."
Some of these dead pets, those euthanised by
veterinarians, already contain pentobarbital before treatment
with the denaturing process. According to University of Minnesota
researchers, the sodium pentobarbital used to euthanise pets
"survives rendering without undergoing degradation". Fat stabilisers
are introduced into the finished rendered product to prevent
rancidity. Common chemical stabilisers include BHA (butylated
hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), both known
to cause liver and kidney dysfunction, and ethoxyquin, a
suspected carcinogen. Many semi-moist dog foods contain propylene
glycol, first cousin to the anti-freeze agent, ethylene glycol,
that destroys red blood-cells. Lead frequently shows up in pet foods,
even those made from livestock meat and bone meal. A Massachusetts
Institute of Technology study, titled "Lead in Animal Foods", found
that a nine-pound cat fed on commercial pet food ingests more lead
than the amount considered potentially toxic for children.
I have been practising small-animal medicine for more than 25
years. Every day I see the casualties of pet industry propaganda. But
the professors in the teaching institutions of veterinary medicine
generally support an industry that has little regard for the quality
of health in our companion animals.
One last word of caution: meat and bone meal from sources not fit
for human consumption have found their way into poultry feed. This
means that animal products rendered under questionable conditions are
fed to birds that may wind up on your table. Remember this when you
are eating your next piece of chicken or turkey.
(Dr Belfield is a graduate of Tuskegee Institute of Veterinary
Medicine and is now in private practice in San Jose, California. Dr
Belfield established the first orthomolecular veterinary hospital in
the US. He is co-author of The Very Healthy Cat Book and
How to Have a Healthier Dog. This article first appeared in
Let's Live Magazine, May 1992.)
A LOOK INSIDE A RENDERING PLANT
by Gar Smith
Rendering has been called "the silent industry". Each year in the
US, 286 rendering plants quietly dispose of more than 12.5 million
tons of dead animals, fat and meat wastes. As the public relations
watchdog newsletter PR Watch observes, renderers "are thankful that
most people remain blissfully unaware of their existence".
When City Paper reporter Van Smith visited Baltimore's
Valley Proteins rendering plant last summer, he found that the
"hoggers" (the large vats used to grind and filter animal tissues
prior to deep-fat-frying) held an eclectic mix of body parts ranging
from "dead dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, deer, foxes [and] snakes"
to a "baby circus elephant" and the remains of Bozeman, a Police
Department quarterhorse that "died in the line of duty".
In an average month, Baltimore's pound hands over 1,824 dead
animals to Valley Proteins. Last year, the plant transformed 150
millions pounds of decaying flesh and kitchen grease into 80 million
pounds of commercial meat and bone meal, tallow and yellow grease.
Thirty years ago, most of the renderer's wastes came from small
markets and slaughterhouses. Today, thanks to the proliferation of
fast-food restaurants, nearly half the raw material is kitchen grease
and frying oil.
Recycling dead pets and wildlife into animal food is "a very small
part of the business that we don't like to advertise," Valley
Proteins' President, J. J. Smith, told City Paper. The plant
processes these animals as a "public service, not for profit," Smith
said, since "there is not a lot of protein and fat [on pets]..., just
a lot of hair you have to deal with somehow."
According to City Paper, Valley Proteins "sells inedible
animal parts and rendered material to Alpo, Heinz and
Ralston-Purina". Valley Proteins insists that it does not sell "dead
pet by-products" to pet food firms since "they are all very sensitive
to the recycled pet potential". Valley Proteins maintains two
production lines, one for clean meat and bones and a second
line for dead pets and wildlife. However, Van Smith reported, "the
protein material is a mix from both production lines. Thus the meat
and bone meal made at the plant includes materials from pets and
wildlife, and about five per cent of that product goes to
A 1991 USDA report states that "approximately 7.9 billion pounds
of meat and bone meal, blood meal and feather meal [were] produced in
1983". Of that amount, 34 per cent was used in pet food, 34 per cent
in poultry feed, 20 per cent in pig food and 10 per cent in beef and
dairy cattle feed.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) carried in pig- and
chicken-laden foods may eventually eclipse the threat of "mad cow
disease". The risk of household pet exposure to TSE from contaminated
pet food is more than three times greater than the risk for
(Gar Smith is Editor of Earth Island Journal.)
THE DARK SIDE OF RECYCLING
[Author's name withheld]
[In February 1990, the San Francisco Chronicle carried a
macabre two-part story detailing how stray dogs, cats and pound
animals are routinely rounded up by meat renderers and ground up
into, of all things, pet food. According to the
researcher who brought the information to the Chronicle, the paper
buried the story and deleted many of the charges he had documented. A
report he worked on for ABC television's 20-20 was similarly watered
down. In exasperation, he sent the story to Earth Island Journal.
NEXUS has been asked to withhold the name of the author/researcher,
who has been forced to flee San Francisco with his wife and go into
hiding as a result of the threats made against his well-being. Ed.]
The rendering plant floor is piled high with "raw product":
thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep,
pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons, all waiting
to be processed. In the 90-degree heat, the piles of dead animals
seem to have a life of their own as millions of maggots swarm over
Two bandana-masked men begin operating Bobcat mini-dozers, loading
the "raw" into a 10-foot- deep stainless-steel pit. They are
undocumented workers from Mexico, doing a dirty job. A giant
auger-grinder at the bottom of the pit begins to turn. Popping bones
and squeezing flesh are sounds from a nightmare you will never
Rendering is the process of cooking raw animal material to remove
the moisture and fat. The rendering plant works like a giant kitchen.
The cooker, or "chef", blends the raw product in order to maintain a
certain ratio between the carcasses of pets, livestock, poultry waste
and supermarket rejects.
Once the mass is cut into small pieces, it is transported to
another auger for fine shredding. It is then cooked at 280 degrees
for one hour. The continuous batch cooking process goes on non-stop,
24 hours a day, seven days a week as meat is melted away from bones
in the hot 'soup'. During this cooking process, the 'soup' produces a
fat of yellow grease or tallow that rises to the top and is skimmed
off. The cooked meat and bone are sent to a hammermill press, which
squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverises the product into a
gritty powder. Shaker screens sift out excess hair and large bone
chips. Once the batch is finished, all that is left is yellow grease,
meat and bone meal.
A Meaty Menu
As the American Journal of Veterinary Research explains,
this recycled meat and bone meal is used as "a source of protein and
other nutrients in the diets of poultry and swine and in pet foods,
with lesser amounts used in the feed of cattle and sheep. Animal fat
is also used in animal feeds as an energy source." Every day,
hundreds of rendering plants across the United States truck millions
of tons of this "food enhancer" to poultry ranches, cattle feed-lots,
dairy and hog farms, fish-feed plants and pet-food manufacturers
where it is mixed with other ingredients to feed the billions of
animals that meat-eating humans, in turn, will eat.
Rendering plants have different specialities. The labelling
designation of a particular "run" of product is defined by the
predominance of a specific animal. Some product-label names are: meat
meal, meat by-products, poultry meal, poultry by-products, fish meal,
fish oil, yellow grease, tallow, beef fat and chicken fat.
Rendering plants perform one of the most valuable functions on
Earth: they recycle used animals. Without rendering, our cities would
run the risk of becoming filled with diseased and rotting carcasses.
Fatal viruses and bacteria would spread uncontrolled through the
The Dark Side
Death is the number one commodity in a business where the demand
for feed ingredients far exceeds the supply of raw product. But this
elaborate system of food production through waste management has
evolved into a recycling nightmare. Rendering plants are unavoidably
processing toxic waste.
The dead animals (the "raw") are accompanied by a whole menu of
unwanted ingredients. Pesticides enter the rendering process via
poisoned livestock, and fish oil laced with bootleg DDT and other
organophosphates that have accumulated in the bodies of West Coast
mackerel and tuna.
Because animals are frequently shoved into the pit with flea
collars still attached, organophosphate-containing insecticides get
into the mix as well. The insecticide Dursban arrives in the form of
cattle insecticide patches. Pharmaceuticals leak from antibiotics in
livestock, and euthanasia drugs given to pets are also included.
Heavy metals accumulate from a variety of sources: pet ID tags,
surgical pins and needles.
Even plastic winds up going into the pit. Unsold supermarket
meats, chicken and fish arrive in styrofoam trays and shrink wrap. No
one has time for the tedious chore of unwrapping thousands of
rejected meat-packs. More plastic is added to the pits with the
arrival of cattle ID tags, plastic insecticide patches and the green
plastic bags containing pets from veterinarians.
Skyrocketing labour costs are one of the economic factors forcing
the corporate flesh-peddlers to cheat. It is far too costly for plant
personnel to cut off flea collars or unwrap spoiled T-bone steaks.
Every week, millions of packages of plastic-wrapped meat go through
the rendering process and become one of the unwanted ingredients in
The most environmentally conscious state in the nation is
California, where spot checks and testing of animal-feed ingredients
happen at the wobbly rate of once every two-and-a-half months. The
supervising state agency is the Department of Agriculture's Feed and
Fertilizer Division of Compliance. Its main objective is to test for
truth in labelling: does the percentage of protein, phosphorous and
calcium match the rendering plant's claims; do the percentages meet
state requirements? However, testing for pesticides and other toxins
in animal feeds is incomplete.
In California, only eight field inspectors regulate a rendering
industry that feeds the animals that the state's 30 million people
eat. When it comes to rendering plants, however, state and federal
agencies have maintained a hands-off policy, allowing the industry to
become largely self-regulating. An article in the February 1990 issue
of Render, the industry's national magazine, suggests that the
self-regulation of certain contamination problems is not working.
One policing program that is already off to a shaky start is the
Salmonella Education/Reduction Program, formed under the auspices of
the National Renderers Association. The magazine states that
"...unless US and Canadian renderers get their heads out of the
ground and demonstrate that they are serious about reducing the
incidence of salmonella contamination in their animal protein meals,
they are going to be faced with...new and overly stringent government
So far, the voluntary self-testing program is not working.
According to the magazine, "...only about 20 per cent of the total
number of companies producing or blending animal protein meal have
signed up for the program..." Far fewer have done the actual testing.
The American Journal of Veterinary Research conducted an
investigation into the persistence of sodium phenobarbital in the
carcasses of euthanised animals at a typical rendering plant in 1985
and found "...virtually no degradation of the drug occurred during
this conventional rendering process and that "...the potential of
other chemical contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, pesticides and
environmental toxicants, which may cause massive herd mortalities) to
degrade during conventional rendering needs further evaluation."
Renderers are the silent partners in our food chain. But worried
insiders are beginning to talk, and one word that continues to come
up in conversation is "pesticides". The possibility of
petrochemically poisoning our food has become a reality. Government
agencies and the industry itself are allowing toxins to be
inadvertently recycled from the streets and supermarket shelves into
the food chain. As we break into a new decade of increasingly complex
pollution problems, we must rethink our place in the environment. No
longer hunters, we are becoming the victims of our technologically
altered food chain.
(First published in Earth Island Journal, Fall 1990.)