Discussion: Will Big Food Protect Our Pets from Toxic Ingredients?

Charlie enjoying a homemade treat.

Charlie enjoying a homemade treat.

One of the revelations resulting from the massive 2007 pet food recall was that many different brands of dog and cat food are made by a few large corporations.  When news first broke that Pet Food Brand A, found to be contaminated with melamine, was sickening and killing family companions, many owners felt their pets were safe because they were feeding Pet Food Brand B or C or whatever.  As the facts slowly escaped, despite a massive cover up effort by pet food manufacturers, consumers learned that the melamine used in A was also used in making B, C, and a host of other brands.  Then no one felt safe.

Since then, the corporations have tightened their grip on the market.  J.M. Smucker announced this month it was purchasing Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods) whose products include Meow Mix and Kibbles ‘n Bits. And it’s big business:

The nation’s pet-food sales have nearly doubled since 2000, to more than $22 billion last year, American Pet Products Association data show.
Smucker expects pet food will contribute more to its bottom line than Jif, Pillsbury, Crisco and its namesake jams and jellies, combined.

Iams and Eukanuba were bought by Mars in 2014.  (Iams was key in forcing news of the massive melamine poisoning in 2007 to go public.)  While there are some smaller companies left, they represent a tiny portion of the market:

About 93 percent of the mid-priced dog and cat food sold in North America goes to only three companies: Big Heart, Mars and Nestle, the giant behind Purina, Dreyer’s ice cream and Hot Pockets.

If you buy mid-range pet food, chances are very high that it is manufactured by one of these three megabrands.  Do you feel confident that Smucker, Mars and Nestle are making the health and safety of your pet a high priority?  Do you trust these corporations to swiftly issue a recall when faced with sufficient evidence of toxic ingredients in their pet foods?  Do you feel consumers are in a better position to protect their pets from poisoned pet food today than they were in 2007?

Mental Health Break: Vintage Cat Food Ads

My how things have changed. For the better? Share your thoughts in the comments.






pussnboots 2

Discussion: Should Corporate Shelter Donations Come with Strings Attached?

The Santa Clara Co Animal Care and Control facility in CA took in roughly 2500 dogs and cats last year.  Since 2008, the shelter has gotten its pet food for free from Hill’s (makers of Science Diet) in exchange for pushing the products on its website and to adopters.  The contract is up for renewal and county supervisor Joe Simitian raised what sound like legitimate concerns at a recent county board meeting:

For starters, the county was giving the phone numbers and email addresses of adopting families to Hill’s, raising privacy concerns.

Moreover, the shelter wasn’t explaining why it was recommending the dog food. “The public doesn’t know the reason we’re hyping the dog food is that we’re getting it for free,” Simitian said, castigating the staff for using verbatim Hill’s language in its report.

And finally, the food has gotten less-than-rave reviews.

What are your thoughts?  Shame on the county supervisor for throwing a monkey wrench into the free food deal which reportedly saves the county $19k a year?  Shame on Hill’s for only offering to feed shelter pets for free if the shelter agrees to hand over personal information on adopters and read them their sales scripts?  Shame on the county for failing to seek out other companies which might want to donate food for the shelter pets, simply as a charitable act?  Is there some compromise which might be workable for Santa Clara Co?  On the bigger issue of corporate shelter donations, should there be an industry standard where the donor is recognized in some form (e.g. via a plaque on the shelter wall) but not to the extent that Hill’s requires?

Science Says Dogs’ Digestive Systems Evolved with Humans

Eats dirt.

Eats dirt.

I know the “Dogs do not have the enzymes needed to digest grains!!!!!!!!!111!!!11” camp had to be hatin’ this study which found that dogs’ digestive systems evolved over time to better allow them to digest starchy food.  Now there’s more bad news:  another study has found the same thing:

The team then compared corresponding genes in dogs and humans. They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport. Those changes could be due to a dramatic change in the proportion of animal versus plant-based foods that occurred in both at around the same time, the researchers said.

Basically, as humans evolved and their diet included more plants, so did dogs who were hanging around humans, eating their “table scraps”. I know this does not fit the “Your dog is a wolf” narrative that has gained such a vocal following among food wonks but there it is.

I don’t intend to advise anyone who is satisfied with their feeding plan to alter it.  If it works for you and your dog, paws up.  I do consider it ignorant bullying when people of the OhNozGrainz persuasion drop in on every food discussion thread they come across and decry the feeding choices of others with no acknowledgement of the emerging science. Please don’t engage in that type of behavior here.  (Not that this will slow anyone down, since they won’t even read it because they are too busy typing ALL GRAINS ALL BAD in the comments, but it seemed like a polite word of warning.)

Slate Article: Kill Shelter Pets and Feed Them to Your Own Dogs and Cats Because WhaddayaGonnaDo?

Most pet owners don’t like to think about killing pets in shelters.  Even fewer like to think about the possibility of those dead shelter pets being ground up for use as an ingredient in pet food.  While I don’t know of any unequivocal proof that dead shelter pets sent to rendering facilities end up being purchased as a protein source by pet food manufacturers, I think it’s a question worth asking.

Slate asked the question last week and tragically bungled the thing worse than I could have imagined.  The author determines that dead shelter pets are likely in your pet’s food dish but closes with this so very wrong paragraph:

Go ahead, feed this stuff to your dogs. I’m not kidding. They have to eat something, and this is what is available. Until we have a better answer for the millions of unwanted pets waiting in shelters for homes that aren’t there, and until we figure out a more efficient means of turning subsidized grain into steak, this stuff exists, and we’ve got to do something with it. Put Lassie on the label, since she’s on the menu anyway. If you don’t like it, adopt a shelter dog and make sure it’s neutered.

Fail, fail everywhere and all the brains did shrink.

Dogs do have to eat something but commercial mystery meat food is not the only thing available.  Table scraps, in their various forms, have been used to feed dogs since dogs started hanging around humans and there were no “subsidized grains” being turned into steak then.  There are plenty of other foods dogs can be fed besides steak anyway.

Millions of shelter pets are not unwanted.  They are wanted.  Shelters and rescues prevent pets from getting into homes by keeping the pets hidden, turning down adopters who don’t meet arbitrary criteria such as a fenced yard and failing to do their jobs overall.

Homes are there.  More than enough homes.  Check the math.

I have adopted shelter dogs.  I’ve gotten them neutered.  It didn’t make any shelter directors do their jobs.  Problem still unsolved.  Or to put it more lovingly, your solution sucks, makes no sense and sucks more.

Are there body parts from research primates in your pet’s food?

I was reading an article on the KTBS website about a hand and foot – originally suspected as being human but later found to belong to a primate – which turned up at a Louisiana rendering plant.  Rendering plants, for those who don’t know, take animal remains – sometimes whole, sometimes parts – and grind/boil/obliterate them into protein powder.  The powder, called meat meal or sometimes more specifically named chicken meal or what have you, is sold to pet food companies and other buyers.

I was wondering how a primate hand and foot ended up at this rendering plant when I noticed a story under “Related Content” about a place called Chimp Haven.  The sanctuary will be taking in another 100 chimps from a large research lab in New Iberia, LA.  (Both the lab and the sanctuary are federally funded.)  So while I can’t say for certain how the primate body parts ended up at the rendering plant, it seems only logical to consider the research lab as a possible source.  You can just play that out in your mind for a little bit.

Oh, also: Good morning!

MD Seeks to Increase Access to Spay-Neuter for Low Income Owners

Ever since seeing the true colors of the pet food industry during 2007’s massive pet food recall, I haven’t trusted the lot of them.  I think far greater regulation and transparency would be required before I could consider trusting pet food manufacturers again.  And since neither of those things appears to be on the horizon, I consider the pet food corporations to be basically another entity profiting from the compassionate nature of American pet owners trying to do right by their pets.

Maryland lawmakers have formed a task force to determine how the state could raise $1 million a year for a spay-neuter fund to enable low income residents to neuter their pets.  There are more than ten thousand pet food products registered each year with the state at a fee of $50 each.  The task force plans to propose a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session which would raise that fee to $150.  The increased revenue would be used for the spay-neuter fund.  Not surprisingly, the pet food corporations are displeased at the idea:

But Kurt Gallagher, a task force member and spokesman for the Pet Food Institute, said the fee is arbitrary and will hurt pet owners who already pay $20 million in sales tax for pet food.


“This amounts to a million-dollar tax on pet food, and we’re very disappointed that the task force voted to tax consumers,” Gallagher said. “We are in favor of voluntary mechanisms to fund this program, and we’ll be working to oppose any tax on pet food.”

Obviously if the registration fee goes up, pet food companies are going to pass the cost along to consumers.  It’s also no surprise to hear the PFI supports “voluntary mechanisms”, kind of like how they voluntarily police themselves on quality assurance, which has been a total fail resulting in sick people and pets.

Increasing access to spay-neuter for owners who want to get their pets fixed is a worthy goal and part of the set of programs proven to end the killing of healthy/treatable pets in shelters.  This appears to be a primary concern for the task force members:

The task force, composed of legislators, veterinarians and animal advocates, commissioned an October study that found about 45,000 animals are euthanized in Maryland shelters each year.

Of course the primary concern of the pet food corporations is the same as it ever was:  profit.  Anything perceived as a potential threat to the industry’s bottom line is going to be viewed as death, even if the cause is aimed at saving the lives of pets.

Dog Food Wonkery: A History of the Market

This link goes to a lengthy page of excerpts from the book The Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston. It’s so lengthy, that only the dog-food-wonkiest among you are likely to read it from beginning to end but I wanted to share it and see if anyone has comments, disputes, or any other sort of feedback. I’ve never come across the book before so if anyone here has read it, please share your thoughts on the book as a whole.

One of the most interesting take-aways from the page about food is the author’s repetition that dog food marketing has consistently been designed to capitalize on current societal trends – never on what’s best for the dog.

By 1980, growing consumer worries about artificial additives in their own diet convinced many companies to tone down outlandish marketing ploys and return to advertisements that stressed the nutritional value of their products. To counter accusations that pet foods contained harmful additives, the industry cast itself as a “scientist” rather than a recycler, dedicated to the never-ending search for the perfectly formulated dog food. The PFI acknowledged that “pet health officials increasingly voiced a need for more information and verification…concerning nutritional claims for pet foods,” so the organization announced a “self-enforcement program” to provide pet health professionals and pet owners with added assurance of quality nutrition in their pet foods.

How’s that “self-enforcement program” going?


Seagoville Shelter Volunteer Group Requesting Pet Food Donations

Reader Anne wrote to the Seagoville shelter in TX to thank them for the hard work they do in saving lives.  A volunteer responded to her e-mail and added in this request at the end:

If it is not to much to ask, could you please spread the word that we are in need of dog/cat food at the shelter as our original resource has advised us that they cannot contribute until after their internal audit which is months away.  Currently, we go through approximately 500 lbs a month and the North Texas Pet Food Bank so graciously donated 500 lbs, which I picked up yesterday, but this will only last a month.  So if you could please spread the word that any contributions would be greatly appreciated!  STAAR has a Paypal account on our website that is set-up where anyone can designate where they would like their contribution to be applied whether it is for food, spay/neuters, etc. (http://www.staarescue.org).

It sounds like they are ok for the next 30 days but will need food for the coming months.  Please share and/or donate to help support the Seagoville shelter’s lifesaving work.  Donations of $1 or any amount that is comfortable for you are welcome and appreciated.


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:

  • Meat and Bone Meal – the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.
  • Meat By-Products – the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.
  • Meat Meal – the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

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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