This Story appeared in the St. John's Newfoundland Evening Telegram

Wednesday, November 05, 1997

Are pets what they eat?

Rendering is a cheap viable means of disposal for euthanized pets. Pets are mixed with other material from slaughterhouse facilities that have been condemned for human consumption, such as rotten meat from supermarket shelves, restaurant grease and garbage.
Ann Martin,
book author

The Evening Telegram

Ann Martin loves her pets but she refuses to buy them commercial pet food.

“I haven’t bought any in seven years. There’s no way a drop of that would come into my house,” says the London, Ontario resident.

Martin hasn’t bought any pet food since she began an investigation into what goes into it. Her recently released book, Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food (New Sage Press, $12.95 US), is a stinging indictment of the multibillion-dollar pet food industry.

She says the industry is virtually self-regulated and that just about anything and everything is fair game for use in pet food.

“This includes,” she says in the introduction of her book, “condemned and contaminated material from slaughterhouse facilities, roadkill, dead, diseased, disabled and dying animals picked up by dead-stock removal operations; and, although the industry vehemently denies it, euthanized companion animals. These are just the protein sources. Grains and fats, dregs from the human food chain, are also included.”

Up to seven years ago Martin fed commercial pet food to her menagerie of cats, dogs and rabbits. She says she did so on the advice of her veterinarian and her own assumption that this was the best way to give her pets a complete and balanced diet.

Her concern about the safety of pet food began in 1990 when her two dogs became ill after eating a popular brand of dog food.

She began investigating the ingredients used in commercial pet food, and was horrified when a veterinarian in the U.S. told her it was routine practice to use pets that had been put to sleep (euthanized) in pet food.

In early 1992, Martin set out to find what happened to euthanized pets in her hometown of London, Ontario, as well as in the surrounding area.

She had always assumed that dead animals were buried or cremated, but after contacting a number of veterinary clinics she learned that euthanized pets were being incinerated by a company that was picking them up from clinics.

Classified as “collectors,” these companies, along with receiving plants, brokers and rendering plants, are licensed by the Ministry of Agriculture in Canada.

Collectors pick up dead animals that have died or been killed, take them to receiving plants where the animals are skinned and deboned and where saleable meat for animal or pet food is removed. A broker sells this material. Rendering plants cook the material at temperatures of around 250 F. The rendered material is then sold to feed mills and pet food companies.

Martin says the grease or tallow which rises to the top and is removed during the cooking process is the source of animal fat in most pet food.

The remaining material, the raw, which is put into a press where the moisture is squeezed out constitutes meat and bone meal.

“Rendering is a cheap viable means of disposal for euthanized pets,” she writes. “Pets are mixed with other material from slaughterhouse facilities that have been condemned for human consumption, such as rotten meat from supermarket shelves, restaurant grease and garbage.” Also included in the rendering process are dead, diseased, dying and disabled animals, including roadkill and even zoo animals.

When she contacted the Minister of Agriculture in Quebec — where she says the biggest rendering plants in Canada are located — she learned that pets were indeed being sent to rendering plants.

That’s not all. Cats and dogs were being rendered with their fur on. The news got worse. In later investigations in both Canada and the U.S. she discovered that collars, tags, flea collars and even the plastic bags in which the pets are wrapped are not removed before they are shoved into the rendering pit.

As well, she learned that the barbiturate sodium pentobarbital — which is used to euthanize pets and, in some cases, livestock and horses — is not broken down in the rendering process. This rendered material is also being used in pet food and livestock feed.

Martin finds the idea of rendering dead pets then recycling them to be used as pet food personally repugnant. And she admits it may not always happen. Some dead animals are buried and some are cremated.

In Newfoundland, there is a rendering plant in Foxtrap but an employee at Rothsay, a member of Maple Leaf Incorporated, says no domestic animals are rendered there. The facility does render roadkill, as well as chickens and pigs, and the resulting rendered material is used in livestock feed.

Provincial veterinarian Hugh Whitney says as far as he knows all pets in this province are either buried, cremated or disposed of in an incinerator located in Holyrood.

Rendering cats and dogs, however, is legal in Canada and the U.S. and millions of pets are disposed of in this method each year.

In the city of Los Angeles, 200 tonnes of euthanized cats and dogs are sent to rendering plants every month. In Canada, Martin says one rendering plant in Quebec is rendering 11 tons of dogs and cats per week.

Martin is very concerned about what’s in pet food and worried about the lack of regulation in the industry.

In the rendering process, she says, no testing is conducted to detect drugs, pathogens, heavy metals or pesticides. As well, she says there are now serious concerns that pets are at risk of dying from “mad cow” disease and various forms of cancer from eating rendered foods. Martin says most commercial pet food is “garbage.”

“Unequivocally, I cannot state that all pet food falls into this category, but I have yet to find one that I could, in all good conscience, feed my dog or cats.”

No animals should be fed food made from rendered material says Martin.

“Don’t feed it to your pets or livestock. Use it as fertilizer,” she advises.

If you’re a pet owner who is eating a healthy, balanced diet, Martin says, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feed your pet leftovers.

However veterinarians such as Colleen Simms of St. John’s disagree with feeding pets “people food.” Simms says pets need food designed for them.

But Martin insists, “If you can eat it, they can eat it.”

She adds you should avoid feeding your pet junk food, highly spiced food or chocolate. She says there’s an ingredient in chocolate that can kill dogs and cats.

If you want to buy commercial pet food, Martin recommends buying it from small companies who make their own using human grade materials. If that’s not possible make your own or, as a last resort, supplement commercial pet food with fresh ingredients.

Neither Canada or the U.S. have regulations about what can or can’t be used in pet food. There are labelling specifications, but nowhere is there a requirement that exact product ingredients be listed on a label.

What happens in the U.S. is important to Canadian consumers because, says Martin, 95 per cent of the pet food sold here comes from the U.S.

In Canada, the only government regulation of pet food falls under the Labelling Act. Consumer and Corporate Affairs requires labels appear in both official languages, include the produce name, the net weight and the manufacturer’s/distributor’s place of business. All other information is voluntary.

Two voluntary organizations, the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) do keep an eye on the pet food made in Canada by setting voluntary guidelines.

Ever since 1976, the CVMA’s Pet Food Certification Program has been independently evaluating products submitted by participating pet food companies. Products are tested for composition, digestibility and taste. Those that meet the nutritional requirements are given the CVMA seal of certification. The CVMA seal now appears on more than 240 pet food products. Suzanne Lavictoire, manager of the CVMA pet food program, says the organization establishes nutritional standards based on voluntary information given by participating pet food manufacturers.

“We’re an independent third party there to test and monitor submitted pet food on an ongoing basis,” says Lavictoire. She adds that participating manufacturers are required to sign an affidavit affirming, among other things, that they haven’t used products containing rendered dogs or cats.

Ann Martin doesn’t think that’s enough.

Martin, author of a new book called Food Pets Die For, says none of the large multinational companies are involved in these voluntary programs in Canada.

And, what’s more, she says there’s no testing to ascertain sources of protein, carbohydrates or fats. Nor is there testing for levels of pathogens, drugs, pesticides or heavy metal. She’d like to see government regulations making it mandatory for manufacturers to list all ingredients used in pet food. She wants to see truth in advertising.

“As consumers,” she says, “we have the right to know what we are getting for our loyalty, and most importantly, exactly what is in the food we are feeding our pets.”

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