dead animal carcasses at rendering plant

AAFCO Admits Rendered Pets in Pet Food

UPDATED  03-20-2014: article link via Dr. Patty Khuly on barbiturate trace levels in pets, due to rendered pets and animals in the pet food supply chain.

When I first wrote an article years ago stating that some pet food companies were using the rendered remains of euthanized pets in their food (under the ingredient designation “meat and bone meal”), I got some pretty nasty email from people telling me I was either insane, or a liar.

For those who were still on the fence, here’s a just released video of AAFCO’s president finally admitting, on camera, that it’s allowable (and, in fact, fairly common practice) for rendered pets to end up in pet food.

AAFCO, by the way, is short for The Association of American Feed Control Officials, and is the regulatory body that sets guidelines for pet food and pet food ingredients in the USA. They could quite easily ban the use of rendered pets as acceptable for inclusion in pet food – but they don’t, because pet food companies value the cheap protein count that comes from rendered meat and bone meal.

What else can be rendered and made into “meat and bone meal”? Euthanized pets, road kill, expired grocery store meat (including the packaging), kill floor detritus, dead stock… etc.

Ethical considerations aside (and they are numerous, in my opinion), rendered pets (and horses) bring something else along with them – trace amounts of the chemicals used to kill them.

This is no minor matter – the Veterinary Industry takes this risk seriously enough to have studied barbiturate levels in pet foods, and to have assessed them as a risk to pets who consume them. Trace barbiturates consumed by pets create a tolerance level which has decreased overall effectiveness of barbiturates, making dosing pets increasingly difficult for veterinarians. Additionally, the chemicals used in euthanasia are, obviously, deadly.

Dr. Patty Khuly has an excellent article on this topic here –

As I’ve been saying for years — It really, really DOES pay to read the label.

H/T to the ever awesome Yesbiscuit for the video link

Feathers being processed into feather meal for the pet food industry

Trash to Cash – Feather Meal and Pet Food Ingredients

The poultry industry in the USA is a high volume business. Annually, an estimated 8 billion broiler chickens are produced, resulting in almost 3 billion pounds of feathers. The resulting feathers could only be disposed of in two ways – sold cheaply to the large animal food industry or to fertilizer companies, or by paid disposal to landfills. A decrease in demand for animal by products as a large animal feed additive, and a rise in the cost of landfill usage fees combined to make lightweight feathers a heavy expense for the poultry industry. Lucky for them, there seems to be almost nothing that the pet food industry isn’t game to try as an ingredient.

Feather Meal, or “FM” as it is referred to in the industry, has long been used as a fertilizer. It has a high nitrogen content, and is also high in protein, but it is indigestible unless it is highly processed. There have been numerous attempts to use feather meal as a food additive for animals, but  published studies as long ago as the 1980’s determined Feather Meal to be of “Low Nutritional Value” as a feed ingredient.

Beginning as early as 2000, there were rumblings within the pet food industry about a great new ingredient that was lowering costs for pet food manufacturers who used chicken and poultry meals as the basis for their foods. A German manufacturer, Goldmehl, had patented a revolutionary new method of Feather Meal processing for the pet food industry. They promised that it increase “feces scoring” in feeding trials. Feces scoring refers to the stool quality of dogs fed a diet based on a specific feed ingredient. In the case of feather meal, inclusion of more than 9% FM by dry weight resulted in dogs with a feces score of “1” – industry shorthand for explosive, watery diarrhea. Goldmehl’s patented Feather Meal would allow manufacturers to include up to 14% Feather Meal, with ‘acceptable’ feces scores.

The use of feathers as a pet food ingredient remained an underground rumbling until 2013, when Keith Levy, the President of Royal Canin USA, admitted in an interview with Forbes Magazine that Royal Canin had spent ten years developing a food that used feather meal as its primary protein source.

We have a team in France that is traveling the world to find ingredients. In this case it’s feather meal. It’s not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs. Feathers are broken down to an amino acid level and don’t have much of a taste. Then we add palatizers for taste. In this case, we have to be very careful not to provoke an allergic reaction.

Levy later in the interview mentioned that Royal Canin also uses hydrolized soy protein as a pet food ingredient, and that Royal Canin is “currently researching worm meal as a potential protein source for some of our foods in China”. Levy illustrated the best example of the Pet Food industry’s theory of ‘garbage in, pet food out’ when he said –

By using alternative sources of protein, we’re using something that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Some ingredients, however, end up in landfills (or in your garden, as fertilizer) because they simply shouldn’t be used as a food ingredient, no matter how ‘cost effective’ they are. Feather Meal is primarily composed of  insoluble keratin with high cystine content. Dogs suffering from a genetic condition called Cystinuria lack the ability to process cystine via the kidneys. Over time, cystine becomes concentrated in the urine, which leads to the formation of crystals – commonly referred to as kidney stones.

Owners of dogs afflicted with cystinuria, or of breeds prone to this condition or any other kidney related diseases, are advised to avoid foods containing feather meal. This means you’ll need to watch the labels for ingredients such as feather meal, poultry or chicken digest, and perhaps even poultry or chicken by products (I’m still awaiting confirmation from AAFCO on whether or not FM is now an allowable component in these last two ingredients).

What the hell, Evangers?

Is it possible that everyone at Evangers Pet Food company has lost their freaking minds?

Hot on the heels of Evangers being accused of stealing 2 million dollars worth of electricity and natural gas comes new accusations – that they are intentionally mislabeling some of their premium canned dog foods.


Read more

Following the Food Chain

I am not always the most attentive shopper. I’ve a tendency to grab items at random off of the shelves, rarely, if ever, managing to remember to check provenance to make sure that my picks have come from a local producer whenever possible. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that buying most of my fruit, veg and meat from independent local producers is good enough, but occasionally reality jumps up and says “not so fast”.

Take the long distance snow pea fiasco. You know what snow peas are, right? Those little flat pea pods used in asian cooking. I like to throw them into my stir frys for some crunch, when they’re not too pricey. Lately, the one market I shop at for staples has had little packets of snow peas for just ninety nine cents.  That’s a great price for a veggie that usually sells locally for $2.99 per pound, so I’ve been grabbing packets whenever I shop in this store.

A few weeks ago, I found one of these snow pea packets in the bottom of what I fondly refer to as “the crisper of doom”. It’s where good lettuce goes to die a slow, watery death when I periodically decide that making salads is the devil’s work, and instead live off of coffee and cheetos for a week at a time. Then, overcome with guilt and feeling deservedly despicable, I clean out the crisper, moaning about how, if I only had a pig, none of this expired produce would be wasted.

Buried under the semi liquid lettuce and the lonely avocodo that was developing its own eco system was the packet of snow peas – still bright green, fresh looking and apparently untouched by age or decay. Odd, this, because snow peas, while hardy, and not exactly indestructible, or at least not in my previous experience. I pulled the packet out, and finally had a good, hard look at its contents and its labeling.

Turns out that my ‘reasonably priced’ snow peas faced a long journey to get to the bottom of my crisper – they were imported. From China. I took a look at Google maps, and it seems that this is a trip of about 19,000 kilometres (part of which Google suggested I accomplish via kayaking across the Pacific).

19,ooo kilometres, to sell a .99 cent package of snow peas. The economic math just doesn’t seem to add up, does it? Apparently, though, it does – this is a fast moving item at my local grocery store, and I’ve seen the same snow pea packets at a few other stores, as well.

Then there was the pickle conondrum. Shopping at the same market, I was perusing my shopping list and noticed we needed pickles. Around the next aisle was an end cap display of  “Farmer’s Pride” baby dill pickles, on sale for just $1.59. A good price, even though I’m usually a name brand pickle type of girl, so I grabbed a jar. It wasn’t until I was home that I took a good look at the label, and realized that “Farmers Pride” had come to me all the way from India (about 18,000 kilometres, and Google had no suggestions for methods of crossing the ocean).

Snow peas, at least, are neither breakable nor heavy. You can jam a lot of packets of snow peas into a single crate, or so I’d assume. Pickles? Not so much. Glass breaks, and has to be packed with care. Shipping a load of fragile glass jars of pickles across an entire ocean and two continents would seem to be a journey that would involve more than a dollar sixty price tag. I’ve bought imported food stuff from India before – curry sauces and chutneys – and I don’t remember ever paying less than $5 or $6 per small jar.

Again, the economic math doesn’t seem to add up – but to the producers in India and China, it certainly seems possible to make a profit shipping goods all the way around the world to North America, even if they’re cheaply priced goods.

The same profit margin applies to pet food ingredients. Years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a pet food company finding it cost efficient to get their animal meals and proteins shipped all the way from China. Now, however, we know that this is standard operating procedure at more and more North American manufacturers.

Take the salmonella outbreak recently reported on in the American Journal of Pediatrics. The article says, in part, that the salmonella strain responsible for the illnesses and deaths was Salmonella Schwarzengrund.

I’m not up on my Salmonella strains, so I googled around to find out some more about, and discovered this, on the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics website:

Salmonella schwarzengrund (strain CVM19633) is the predominant cause of salmonellosis in Southeast Asia, a major source of imported food products to the United States

The Journal of Pediatrics article says that the Salmonella Schwarzengrund outbreak they studied was traced back to a single (un named) pet food manufacturer and plant. There is never any mention of where the original plant contamination was traced to, but I have to wonder – were they using imported animal proteins, and in particular, were they using animal proteins imported from Southeast Asia?

The big question for consumers who do pay attention to labeling becomes “how do we know?”.  How do we know if the pet food we’re buying contains imported ingredients? The short answer seems to be “we don’t”. Labeling on consumer goods, pet food included, is frustratingly oblique.

A food that is made entirely of cheaply imported ingredients can still be labeled “Made in Canada” or “Made in the USA”, so long as those ingredients are combined and turned into the end product in the named country. Worse still, food can be made in an entirely different country altogether, and still be labeled “Packed in the USA”.

The closest definition I can seem to find applies to Canada, and refers to the labeling term “Product of Canada”. In this case, the CFIA states that for the label to be accurate, the following conditions must apply:

A food product may claim Product of Canada when all or virtually all major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian. This means that all significant ingredients are Canadian and non-Canadian material must be negligible. Ingredients that are present in a food at very low levels and that are not generally produced in Canada, including spices, food additives, vitamins, minerals, and flavouring preparations, may be used without disqualifying the food from making a Product of Canada claim.

The issue, again, is that there can still be ‘other’ ingredients from outside Canada – and even then, there’s no real regulation of the way this labeling must be applied to pet food, since the pet food industry in Canada is entirely self governed.

In the US, pet food labeling is jointly overseen by the FDA and by AAFCO. There are numerous labeling laws in place, but NONE of them cover details of where the ingredients within the pet food were sourced from.

As consumers, it seems we’re on our own with this one when it comes to pet food. We can ask the government to step in, but ultimately it’s going to be on us to try to make sure we know not just where our food was made, but where the ingredients it contains have come from.

Start by contacting the pet food company you use. Ask them simple, clear questions – do you import any of the animal protein ingredients in your food? Starches? Other ingredients? Most companies will answer these questions truthfully – it’s not worth the lawsuit to lie to a single consumer. If a company can’t answer your questions, ask them to have someone call or email you who can.

If a company won’t answer your questions, take that as a “yes”, and choose to buy from someone else.

Finally, if all else fails, do what so many of us have chosen to do – and make your own. Just make sure the read the labeling on the ingredients you choose to put into it.

Meatloaf Kills

I occasionally get the urge for a plate of really, really good meatloaf. More specifically, I get the craving for a leftover meatloaf sandwich. Is there any finer second day meal on earth than meatloaf? The overnight stay in the fridge lets all the flavors melt together into one tasty, meaty melange.

Here’s the recipe I used (BTW, I have no idea if this is actually Gordon Ramsey’s meatloaf recipe, as I found it not on his official site, but on a Blog called – I kid you not – I Love Meatloaf):

Gordon Ramsey’s Meatloaf

50g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 green pepper, finely chopped
4 spring onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chilli sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
125ml evaporated milk
125ml tomato ketchup
750g minced beef
250g minced pork or sausage meat
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
250g breadcrumbs
Freshly ground salt and pepper

1 Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, celery, pepper, spring onions, garlic, parsley, chilli sauce, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes.

2 Add the evaporated milk and ketchup and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Discard the bay leaves.

3 Preheat the oven to 180C (About 360 F)

4 Place the beef and pork in a large bowl, add the eggs, breadcrumbs and vegetable mixture, and season. Place the mixture in an ungreased roasting dish and bake for 25 minutes. Raise the temperature to 200C/400 F and bake for a further 35-40 minutes.

5 Serve from the roasting dish.

Absolutely delish, if I do say so myself.

Unfortunately, I then had to take the bowl I’d mixed the meatloaf up in and figure out how to dispose of it. It’s stainless steel, so I wasn’t sure if it could go in the recycling bin, and even if it could, was it fair to expose all those hardworking sanitation workers to the possible risk of contamination from a bowl that had contained raw meat? I think not.

I finally hauled it to a friend’s smelter, where we melted it down. I then came home and cleaned all of my counter surfaces with a blowtorch.

What? Overkill? Not according to some veterinarians, who say that one of the risks of feeding your pets raw is that you can never really get the dishes clean that you use to prepare raw meat.

Better safe than sorry, I always say. Next time I make meatloaf, I’ll probably just burn the kitchen down afterwards – because you just never know with raw meat.