Saturday 1 November 1997
The Ottawa Citizen
| The Ottawa Citizen / This 1990 file photo shows euthanized pets ready for
shipment from the Ottawa-Carleton Humane Society to a rendering plant in Quebec. The
society no longer sells animal carcasses; it buries them in Carp.
For some, the thought is almost too horrible to consider: the possibility that animals euthanized in animal shelters and veterinary clinics may be ending up in rendering plants -- and subsequently as the ingredients of commercial pet foods.
But Ann Martin, a Canadian writer, says pets such as dogs and cats are regularly becoming part of a bigger food chain that starts at clinics and shelters and ends in the food dishes of North American pets. Worse still, rendered dogs and cats are sometimes sold to livestock feed companies, resulting in the chance that euthanized companion animals are being fed to the same animals served on human dinner plates.
Ms. Martin, whose book, Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food, is selling out in bookstores, contends that animals euthanized in clinics and shelters are often removed by dead stock companies, which sell the bodies to be rendered.
The bodies of these animals, including cats, dogs and livestock, are dumped into huge vats and cooked at high temperatures. The byproducts of this animal stew -- including meat and bone meal and animal fats -- are sold to other companies.
"There's no doubt it is happening, not just here but in the U.S.," says Ms. Martin, 53, who researched the pet food industry for seven years to write her book. "In fact, the FDA freely admits they are aware that cats and dogs are being rendered and used in commercial pet foods. They don't condone the process, but they don't stop it."
In a letter Ms. Martin received from the Centre for Veterinary Medicine, a branch of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CVM said there were no known risks to pets that eat products containing rendered animals.
Judy Thompson, feed evaluation officer for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a branch of Agriculture Canada that monitors rendering companies, says that there are few regulations in the pet food industry.
"The first thing is that pet foods really aren't regulated in Canada, so any regulation that happens here is a voluntary self-regulation," she explains.
One such system is the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's voluntary program, which gives a stamp of approval to packages of pet food brands that follow specific CVMA guidelines -- including a stipulation that the products not contain byproducts from rendered dogs and cats.
"With respect to the products that aren't members of the CVMA standards program, there's nothing that would preclude the inclusion of material that may include some dog and cat material in it," Ms. Thompson says. "From a regulatory standpoint there's nothing that prohibits that from happening."
Still, Ms. Thompson maintains that Ms. Martin's theory is possible, but not probable since many pet food manufacturers voluntarily decide not to use such products.
Ms. Martin, who lives in London, Ont., believes Canadian rendering plants also distribute pet byproducts to livestock feed companies.
Lisa Danso-Coffey, executive-director of the Humane Society of Ottawa-Carleton, says all animals euthanized at that shelter are buried at "a site out in Carp" and are never sent to rendering plants. She says the Humane Society did send euthanized animals to the rendering process at one time, but has not done this for years. A Citizen article from 1990 shows that the Humane Society was shipping animals to a Quebec rendering plant at that time.
She also says none of the veterinarians she knows sends euthanized pets to rendering plants and most opt to have the remains incinerated.
Andre Couture, president of Sanimal Inc., a Montreal company that is one of the largest rendering plants in Quebec, says this is true. But he disputes that his company is sending rendered companion animals to pet food companies. Manufacturers, he says, clearly stipulate they do not want to receive these byproducts and so he does not provide them.
However, Mr. Couture says there would be nothing wrong if cats and dogs did end up in commercial pet food.
"But what's the problem? What if?" he asks, exasperated. "It's not something dangerous (if pets got into pet food). I think (Ms. Martin is) claiming that it's something that's dangerous and that's absolutely false."
Mr. Couture says he can understand some people's moral objections to feeding pets the remains of animals destroyed in clinics or shelters, but says it is up to the public to make sure they know where their pet is going when they have it put to sleep or leave it at a shelter.
"I wouldn't put that burden on me, I'd put that burden on the vet (to explain to customers where the animal is going)," he says, adding that customers can request that vets have their pets cremated.
As well, Mr. Couture insists that cats and dogs make up a miniscule portion of the animals his company renders.
The Quebec government, in a letter to Ms. Martin, says "dogs and cats represent (less than) 0.005 per cent" of the daily production at the province's rendering plants.
Claude Machabee, owner of Machabee Animal Food Ltd., a dead stock company located in St. Albert, Ont., about 48 kilometres outside Ottawa, says that while he used to frequently pick up euthanized animals from clinics and shelters several years ago, that is no longer the case. Now his company ships mostly animals from farms. The number of cats and dogs he delivers to Quebec rendering plants is "very, very minor."
But while Ms. Martin remains convinced pet food companies are promoting a type of animal cannibalism, some animal experts find her assertions hard to swallow.
Dr. Glenn Brown, who teaches at the college of veterinary and animal science at the University of Massacusetts and who is also a nutrition adviser to the CVMA, says he believes the theories are unlikely for several reasons. (He stressed that he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the CVMA.)
"The basic thesis in all of this is that there is a conspiracy or appears to be a conspiracy. In other words, somehow the manufacturers have conspired to produce products which contain ingredients not commonly available on the market, which many people would find offensive," he says. "That, frankly, is a stretch of the imagination."
Dr. Brown explains that Europe has refused to accept meat and bone meal produced in traditional North American rendering plants. Because domestic rendering companies are reluctant to retool to a more costly system approved by the Europeans, many pet food companies have simply dropped meat and bone meal from the contents of dry dog foods.
"(Europeans) won't accept them if they're made by our customary rendering process. There is a process that they will accept, but our systems just don't do that," he explains. "It doesn't make sense to go to this extra effort when you can take (meat and bone meal) out and sell it just the same."
Dr. Brown says there are very few companies still producing dry dog foods with these products. Now, he says, most companies use byproducts from poultry or fish instead. Meat and bone meal are also "not commonly used" in moist, canned pet foods.
Even some animal rights advocates are skeptical about Ms. Martin's claims.
"It's very hard to track down. The information is not easily forthcoming," says Liz White, director of Animal Alliance of Canada, one of Canada's biggest animal and environmental protection groups. "I'm not aware of any hard and fast evidence in Canada that the animals actually end up in people's pet food."
Ms. Martin says much of her proof comes from other newspaper articles, a veterinarian in California and the U.S. FDA. She says that because the practice is going on in the U.S. and since most pet food in Canada comes from south of the border, Canadian pets are also exposed to food composed of other pets. She says her proof that most Canadian pets eat American food comes from the FDA.
She did not, however, speak to representatives of any Canadian pet food companies in her book.
"I didn't talk to them, I sent them faxes," she says, explaining that she faxed or wrote to about "six or eight" different manufacturers. "I don't get replies, these companies ignore me."
David Connor, a senior strategist at Mississauga-based Ralston Purina, says Ms. Martin's theory is completely wrong.
"Obviously it's not true," he says. "She can say whatever she likes, but she has no proof. We certainly do not use any of the stuff she's saying."
Mr. Connor says he doesn't know of any "reputable" pet food company that would use rendered pets in its products. He says Ralston Purina, the leading dry pet food manufacturer in Canada, receives products from meat packers that do not render companion animals.
He also says Canadian companies are producing their products domestically, and he doubts Ms. Martin's assertion that the bulk of food available here is imported.
But Ms. Martin maintains that Canadian consumers are being kept in the dark about the issue.
"In writing this book I had to have the written documentation that this is going on," she says. "You can't just say something like this unless you have the facts to back it up."
PET FOOD GUIDELINES
The following is a copy of the standards pet food companies must adhere to in order to be approved by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's voluntary program:
"The CVMA realizes the extent of consumer concern regarding the quality of pet food ingredients. The Program of the CVMA is unique and more rigorous than any found in Canada and the U.S. All pet food manufacturers participating in the CVMA Pet Food Certification Program are required to sign an affidavit which affirms:
- That the meat used in their pet food products comes from government inspected plants.
- That all meat, poultry, and fish products conform to AAFCO (or Agriculture Canada) definitions.
- That the grains and cereals used meet Agriculture Canada grading standards and do not contain mould or mould toxins in excess of allowed levels.
- That there are no pharmaceuticals or agricultural chemicals present in the plant where pet foods are made and that there are reasonable control measures to detect such in milled products which are made at sites other than the pet food plant.
- That decomposed or deteriorated ingredients are not used.
- That products containing rendered dogs or cats are not used.
This declaration is part of the contractual agreement between the manufacturer and the CVMA. Canada's consumers have an ally in ensuring that someone is looking over the manufacturers' shoulders."