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Could Dogs and Cats Be Ingredients in Your Pet’s Food?

I am not aware of any pet food companies who have admitted using dead dogs and cats as an ingredient in pet food.  However, to my knowledge, dead dogs and cats are not prohibited as an ingredient in pet food by any state or federal agency, nor by AAFCO (the group which defines pet food ingredients).  Nor is any pet food manufacturer required to disclose whether they use dogs and cats in their product.

As a consumer, what I am looking for in terms of reassurance that dogs and cats are not used as an ingredient in pet food is definitive denial.  For example, if AAFCO’s list of ingredient definitions specifically excluded dogs and cats, then I would know that any pet food product which carried the AAFCO statement of approval would not contain dogs and cats.  As things stand, that’s not the case.

From AAFCO (pdf):

If consumers have a preference for certain ingredients, they should review the ingredient list to determine if their preferences are being met.

OK, let’s do that.  The ingredient list on a random package of pet food pulled off the shelf at a pet supply megastore includes “meat and bone meal” and I’m wondering exactly what type of meat it is.  The images on the front of bag look like prime cuts of beef, such as what a person might eat.  Here are the related AAFCO definitions:

The takeaway here is that “meat” from an unspecified source on a pet food ingredient list indicates “mammals”.  Dogs and cats are mammals.  It does not say “mammals except for dogs and cats” or anything similar.  Meat=mammals.

Also from the AAFCO pdf:

7. Does most of the protein come from scrap and byproducts left over from human meat processing?
The animal proteins used in feeds are frequently, but not exclusively derived from the production of human food.

Frequently.  So some protein in pet foods is derived from sources outside the production of human food.  Rendered dogs and cats could be accurately described as such.  Again, there is no statement containing a definitive denial of the practice of obtaining the rendered remains of dead pets and using them in pet food.  Not here, not anywhere that I’ve found in AAFCO’s publications.

In an undated vid clip from KING5 news in Seattle, former AAFCO president Hersh Pendell states that “meat and bone meal” on the label may mean “Fluffy” is an ingredient in your pet’s food.

Here is a graphic 2007 video of D & D Disposal/West Coast Rendering grinding and boiling pets into protein meal.  Obviously they are creating this product for sale to some company (or companies).  Is it being sold to pet food manufacturers?  Some other type of company?  I don’t know.  The only thing for certain is that if the protein meal was used in a pet food product, it would be acceptable according to AAFCO as well as state and federal regulating agencies.  Again, because dogs and cats as a pet food ingredient are not prohibited by any of these groups.

More on rendering practices from a 1997 article in the NY Times:

Renderers in the United States pick up 100 million pounds of waste material every day — a witch’s brew of feet, heads, stomachs, intestines, hooves, spinal cords, tails, grease, feathers and bones. Half of every butchered cow and a third of every pig is not consumed by humans. An estimated six million to seven million dogs and cats are killed in animal shelters each year, said Jeff Frace, a spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City.

For example, the city of Los Angeles sends 200 tons of euthanized cats and dogs to West Coast Rendering, in Los Angeles, every month, according to Chuck Ellis, a spokesman for the city’s Sanitation Department.

Pet food companies try not to buy meat and bone meal from renderers who grind up cats and dogs, said Doug Anderson, president of Darling International Inc., a large rendering company in Dallas. ”We do not accept companion animals,” he said. ”But there are still a number of small plants that will render anything.”

A 1995 document (pdf) from the Environmental Protection Agency on rendering processes states:

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.

Animal shelters would presumably be supplying dead dogs and cats to these rendering plants, not Angus beef.

In January 2002, the L.A. Times wrote about the public outcry in the aftermath of a St. Louis news story documenting the use of dead pets in pet food.  The reporter has since left the station in St. Louis but the report is preserved in text form here.  The story begins at the local pound:

A dozen or more former pets are put to death because no one wants them — alive that is.

Unwanted by their owners, their bodies are in high demand. Loaded into a city refuse truck, they are taken five miles across the river to Illinois to a rendering plant in Millstadt. Along with dead cows and road kill, they will be piled into a vat and boiled, turned into raw tankage or protein.

We were asked to leave the property before we could ask where it all eventually goes. But it soon became evident as a tanker truck made its way into the plant to be filled. The truck was from a southern Missouri company, its mission spelled out on the tank itself: “serving the pet food industry.”

“It may be objectionable. People may not want to know what goes in there,” says Don Aird of the Food and Drug Administration.

But the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees pet food ingredients, allows dead dogs and cats in pet food, saying disease or the drugs used to sedate the animals dissipates through cooking.

“Well, we don’t believe it’s going to cause problems for the animals. If we did, we would not allow it to happen,” Aird says.

Salon addressed the issue of rendered pets in pet food in a broader article from 2007:

For years the pet food industry has been, well, dogged by persistent rumors that meat from horses and from euthanized cats and dogs finds its way into pet food. “They do not use horse meat,” [Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute] says, and “as a condition of membership, [Pet Food Institute members] affirm that none of their rendered material will contain cats and dogs. The public just wouldn’t stand for it.”

So we’re probably not feeding cats and dogs to our cats and dogs.

Is “probably not” a strong enough reassurance for you?  It doesn’t work for me.  By the way, the Pet Food Institute (PFI) is not a regulatory body with enforcement powers but a lobbying group.  Any members who might pledge to the PFI with their hands over their hearts that they don’t use rendered pets could have their fingers crossed behind their backs.  They’d still be legal.

The bottom line for me is that pets are legally allowed as an ingredient in pet food.  I can’t state definitively that pets are used in pet foods but there is sufficient historical evidence to make me consider the possibility.  I’d like to see AAFCO change their definitions related to non-specific types of meat to include wording that excludes dogs and cats.  But unless a government regulatory agency steps up and specifically makes it a crime to include dogs and cats in pet food, it will always be legal, no matter what pinky promises are made to consumers by corporations or lobbying groups.

H/T:  Truth About Pet Food

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