by Ann N. Martin
My investigation of the commercial pet food industry began in January 1990. Prior to that time, I had always fed my dogs and cats commercial pet food. This changed when, after feeding my two dogs a well-known brand of dog food, both became ill with vomiting and excessive thirst. Our veterinarian advised me to put them on a homemade diet for a few days – cooked hamburger, brown rice, and grated vegetables. Both dogs did very well on this diet. Two days later I switched them back to the commercial diet and encountered the same problems. Both the veterinarian and I were convinced there was something in the food that was causing the problem.
A private lab showed that the food contained excess levels of zinc, 1120 parts per million (ppm), a level that would have caused the dogs' symptoms. It also contained over twenty other heavy metals. The pet food company stated they were not responsible. I then contacted the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and found that this is a virtually unregulated industry. Governments, U.S. and Canadian, only regulate the labeling of the food: the name and address of the company, weight of the product, and if it is made for a dog or cat; nothing more. If that was the case, what else was going into these foods that we, the pet owners, were not aware of?
Road Kill and Garbage
A friend, a veterinarian in California, had told me that euthanized dogs and cats from veterinary clinics and shelters were routinely rendered and used as sources of protein in pet food. As a Canadian, I never thought it would happen in Ontario, where I live. I was wrong. I soon learned that almost every veterinarian clinic in the city was using a dead-stock removal company that picked up the pets and sold them to a broker, who sold them to rendering plants in Quebec. The rendering plant that was paying the highest amount at that time, Sanimal Group, purchased most of the dead animals.
The Minister of Agriculture in Quebec advised me that the dogs and cats were cooked along with other material. This material, as I later learned, included dead, diseased, dying, and disabled (4-D) animals, slaughterhouse waste, road kill, garbage from restaurants and grocery stores, and even zoo animals. The use of such ingredients is perfectly legal. Because well over 90% of the pet food sold in Canada is imported from the U.S., I began to investigate America's pet food industry.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that this industry is essentially self-regulated. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a non-governmental body, oversees labeling text and provides a list of ingredients that can be used in livestock and pet food. Some ingredients on the list: hydrolyzed hair, dehydrated garbage, manure, swine waste, ruminant waste, poultry waste, and "undried processed animal waste products." Undried waste products are excreta from any animal except humans.
The Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA/CVM) oversees drugs that are used in the food, but has no input as to the sources of the ingredients. As with the AAFCO, the only input as far as ingredients relates to the labeling. If the label says that the product contains 24% protein, it must contain 24% protein; the source of the protein doesn't matter. This also applies to any grains or fats in the pet food.
The Pet Food Institute (PFI) is an association that represents the interests of the pet food industry. Over the years, the PFI has insisted that the companies they represent use only quality ingredients. I have questioned this organization many times as to what testing the pet food companies do to determine the sources of protein, the meat meal, which they buy from rendering plants. They have chosen not to respond. Their silence says it all.
In the fall of 1997 my first book, Food Pets Die For, made people aware of the dubious ingredients in some commercial pet foods. Pet owners were shocked that their euthanized pets could well be ending up in pet foods. Naturally, the pet food industry denied this was happening.
Are We Turning Our Pets Into Cannibals?
Not only was the rendering plant in Quebec accepting euthanized animals for rendering, this practice was also being carried on by many rendering plants in the U.S. In a July 12, 1994 letter from the FDA/CVM, Christine Richmond wrote, "In recognizing the need for disposal of a large number of unwanted pets in this country, CVM has not acted to specifically prohibit the rendering of pets. However, that is not to say that the practice of using this material in pet food is condoned by CVM." It is not condoned, but no steps have ever been taken to prohibit the use of dogs and cats in pet foods.
In 1995 Van Smith, a reporter from the Baltimore City Paper, wrote an extensive article, replete with pictures, documenting his day riding with a truck from a rendering plant called Valley Proteins. Smith describes how carcasses of zoo animals are rendered along with "thousands of dead dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, deer, foxes, snakes, and the rest that local animal shelters and road kill patrols must dispose of each month." Pictures show barrels overflowing with dead dogs and cats waiting to be rendered.
In January of 2000, Florida's Gainesville Sun published a story on the Alachua County Animal Shelter, whose employees had to deliver the euthanized animals to the rendering plant. Reporter Paula Rausch wrote that the employees had to "lift them off the truck and heave them into a pit exposing themselves to foul odors, putrid substances underfoot, and having to see the grinding going on." These duties were taking a toll on the staff at the shelter. In January of 2002, I contacted the Alachua County Animal Shelter in Florida and was pleased to learn that their employees no longer had to truck the euthanized animals to a rendering plant. They had built a crematorium for disposal of animals. Also, in March of 2000, due to public outcry, Valley Protein of the Baltimore area stopped accepting dogs and cats, leaving shelters in a dilemma as to how to dispose of their animals.
Before the publication of the revised edition of Food Pets Die For in 2003, I learned that Sanimal, the large rendering plant in Quebec, now refuses to accept the carcasses of dogs and cats. Philip Lee-Shanok, a reporter for the Toronto Star interviewed Mario Couture, Sanimal's head of procurement, about euthanized pets rendered into pet food. Couture said, "This food is healthy and good, but some people don't like to see meat meal that contains pets."
So, there has been some progress. However, in 2001, I contacted the Ministry of Agriculture in Quebec and asked if any other rendering plants in Quebec were accepting and rendering dogs and cats. Their reply was, "Yes, here is the establishment that now accepts cats and dogs, Maple Leaf, Inc.," which also owns Rothsay Rendering and Shur-Gain pet foods.
200 Tons a Month
In research for my second book, Protect Your Pet, it became clear that California operated more rendering plants and sent more pets to rendering than any other state. Sandra Blakeslee, a reporter for The New York Times, in a March 1997 interview quotes Chuck Ellis, a spokesman for the Los Angeles sanitation department, "Los Angeles sends 200 tons of euthanized cats and dogs to West Coast Rendering every month."
After acquiring a list of U.S. animal shelters and veterinary clinics, I e-mailed the ones in California and asked how they disposed of euthanized animals. Ninety percent said they sent the animals to rendering. The replies I received named two companies that picked up the animals from their facilities: D&D Disposal in California and Koefran Services in Nevada.
An employee at a Humane Society in California wrote that in his area, Escondido, D&D Disposal picks up about one-hundred bodies each week. In the same area, there are three other shelters and more than one hundred veterinarians using the same disposal company. D&D was rather hard to find, but fortunately one shelter had a complete address for them. D&D shares the same address as West Coast Rendering in Vernon, California. Interestingly, Baker Commodities, another rendering plant notorious for rendering companion animals, is within a block of West Coast Rendering, as is a large pet food company that produces several popular brands of pet food.
Unfit for Human Consumption
As with the sources of protein, grains used in dry pet foods are materials unfit for human consumption. These can include broken grains, hulls, chaff, joints, and can be contaminated with straw, dust, sand, dirt and weed seeds. In addition, in less than ten years we have seen two major recalls of pet foods because of mycotoxin contamination. Mycotoxin is a fungus that occurs when grains are stored in damp conditions. Many mycotoxins can cause serious illness and even death in both humans and pets.
In 1995, Nature's Recipe pulled thousands of tins of dog food off shelves after dogs began to vomit and lose their appetites. The fungus in this product was vomitoxin, caused by moldy wheat used in the foods. Although not a deadly toxin, it can cause serious illness in pets.
In late 1998, Doane Products, the manufacturer of many private-label foods including Old Roy, recalled over fifty lines of pet food. The deaths of roughly 25 dogs were attributed to aflatoxin, a deadly toxin found in the corn Doane had used in their products. How many other pets have become ill and died from contaminated pet foods, with their owners being unaware of the true cause?
In the first edition of Food Pets Die For, I wrote about studies by the University of Minnesota which showed that the euthanizing drug sodium pentobarbital withstood the rendering process without degrading. This drug is used primarily to euthanize dogs and cats. Animals euthanized with this drug were ending up in pet food, but no one could be sure from batch to batch how much of this drug was actually in the finished product.
In May of 2001, I filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act requesting all documentation prepared by the FDA/CVM relating to their tests of dry commercial dog foods for sodium pentobarbital levels. Again the waiting began. In September of 2001, I received a reply from the Office of Communications for the FDA, "We request you wait until the evaluation process is complete, at which time we will send the full results to you." They expected these to be ready in January of 2002. It had been well over two years since I first requested the information, and five years from the time they had begun testing these foods.
Finally, the results were published in early March of 2002. In the 74 samples analyzed, over half contained levels of this drug. Some brands shown to contain this drug included Old Roy Puppy Formula, Kibbles 'n Bits Beefy Bits, Dad's Bite Size Meal, and Pet Gold Master Formula Puppy Formulation. In an earlier study done in 1998, the FDA found other pet foods containing this drug, although the amounts were not listed in their report: Ken-L-Ration, Trailblazer, ProPlan, and Nutro – Premium. These are just a few of the brands listed.
The FDA/CVM also assessed the risk to dogs who ingest sodium pentobarbital in pet food. The report concluded that the levels of exposure to sodium pentobarbital that the animal might receive through food are "unlikely to cause them any adverse health effect." However, the FDA/CVM has admitted that if these levels, any levels for that matter, of sodium pentobarbital were found in human food it would be pulled from the shelves immediately.
I wrote to Stephen Sundlof, Director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, regarding this drug and the fact that under the Code of Federal Regulations it states, "Do not use in animals intended for food." In a letter dated March 22, 2002, he replied, "A euthanasia solution such as pentobarbital cannot have a withdrawal time and its mechanism of action leads to tissue residue, so it could not be used to euthanize animals intended for human or animal food." So, sodium pentobarbital is not allowed for use in either human or animal food, yet the FDA does not plan to take any steps to prohibit its presence in pet food.
Are we slowly killing our pets each time we feed them commercial pet food? Although the FDA/CVM tested many pet foods, we do not know if the food we are feeding our pets contains this drug, nor do we know the long-term effects of ingesting this drug. In the last ten years, however, some other species, primarily birds of prey, have died from ingesting euthanized dogs and cats buried at landfill sites. Sodium pentobarbital stays in the tissues of these animals for extended lengths of time. Bears and even a tiger have also died after eating animals euthanized with this drug.
It is clear that any animal that is euthanized with sodium pentobarbital should be incinerated, not rendered and fed back to other animals.
The FDA/CVM also decided to undertake DNA testing on the commercial dog foods they tested. Their press release stated that no dog or cat DNA was detected. Therefore, they concluded "the pentobarbital residues are entering pet foods from euthanized, rendered cattle or even horses." However, in communications with agriculture veterinarians, most said that sodium pentobarbital is seldom, if ever, used to euthanize cattle. Rather, cattle are killed by captive bolt and gunshot. Horses are sometimes killed with this euthanizing agent in special circumstances, but generally the methods used to kill cattle are also used on horses.
Also, the DNA testing results were extremely vague and provided no insight into the testing methods. What it amounted to was, "Take our word for it, no dog and cat DNA was detected in the food we tested." After consulting several forensic scientists, it became clear that if indeed the FDA/CVM did such testing, the methods used would be extremely important. Yet no information was given on the DNA primers used, and no information was given regarding whether they tested for all the metabolites of pentobarbital.
Clearly, the FDA/CVM had been feeling the heat about the use of euthanized pets in commercial pet food. With their press release noting that no dog and cat DNA existed in the rendered dog foods, perhaps they felt that pet owners would no longer confront the industry with the fact that companion animals were being used as sources of proteins in their products.
Inside Iams' Research Labs
After spending over thirteen years researching this industry, I thought I was aware of all aspects of the issue of the ingredients used in pet foods. I was wrong. In early January of 2002, I received a letter from a student at the University of Illinois concerning nine dogs that were housed in a windowless lab at the University. These dogs had cannula (tubes) surgically implanted in their sides so samples of digested food could be taken. The study included feeding the dogs raw and rendered animal by-products, including "poultry necks and backs and viscera, and ground up poultry feathers." Until 2002, this research was funded by the pet food giant Iams, but now is being funded by the soybean industry and the USDA.
Over the years, I knew of dogs and cats being used for research in human medicine, a practice I don't approve of, but never thought an industry that claimed to care about the welfare of pets would undertake such barbaric practices. I was soon to learn that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Iams in particular had been notorious for carrying on such experimentation.
Two animal rights organizations, In Defense of Animals, based in the United States, and Uncaged, based in the United Kingdom, have outlined some of these animal experiments. According to Iams, these studies were needed to support its nutritional claims, which it uses to market its products. Iams experimentation conducted on dogs and cats included:
1. Twenty-eight cats' bellies were cut to see the effect of feeding them fiber, and then the cats were killed. Bueno, AR, et al, Nutrition Research, Vol. 20, No. 9, pp. 1319-1328, 2000.
2. Twenty-four young dogs were intentionally put into kidney failure, subjected to invasive experimentation, then killed. University of Georgia and the Iams Company, White, JV, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 52, No. 8, pp. 1357-1365, 1991.
3. Thirty-one dogs' kidneys were removed to increase the risk of kidney disease, and then they were killed and dissected. University of Georgia and the Iams Company, Finco, DR, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 55, No. 9, pp. 1282-1290, 1994.
4. Bones in eighteen dogs' front and back legs were cut out and stressed until they broke. University of Wisconsin and the Iams Company, Crenshaw, TD, et al, Proceedings of the 1998 Iams Nutrition Symposium.
5. Ten dogs were killed to study the effect of fiber in diets. Mississippi State University and the Iams Company, Buddington, RK, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 60, No. 3, pp. 354-358, 1999.
6. Eighteen male puppies' kidneys were chemically damaged, experimental diets were fed, tubes were inserted in their penises, and then the puppies were killed. Colorado State University and the Iams Company, Grauer, GF, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 57, No. 6, pp. 948-956, 1996.
7. Twenty-eight cats had surgically forced kidney failure and either died during the experiment or were killed, to study the effects of protein. University of Georgia and the Iams Company, Proceedings of the 1998 Iams Nutrition Symposium.
8. Fifteen dogs' bellies were cut open and tubes attached to their intestines, the contents of which were pumped out every ten minutes for two hours. Then the dogs were killed. University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Iams Company, Hallman, JE, et al, Nutrition Research, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 303-313, 1996.
9. Twenty-four cats had their female organs and parts of their livers removed, were made obese, and then were starved, University of Kentucky and the Iams Company, Ibrahim, WH, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 61, No. 5, May 2000.
10. Thirty dogs were intentionally wounded and patches of skin containing the wounds removed to study wound healing. Auburn University and the Iams Company, Mooney, MA, et al, American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 59, No. 7, pp. 859-863, 1998.
Procter and Gamble (P&G) purchased Iams in September 1999 and issued a code of ethics. Animal People, an online organization devoted to the health and welfare of pets, reported in June 2001 that P&G stated its intention to phase out animal testing as fast as alternatives can be developed and approved by regulators. In 2002, an investigator from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) infiltrated one of the Iams labs in the U.S. What they found was a horrifying situation where dogs and cats were confined to small cages for up to six years. Dogs had their vocal cords removed so they could not bark. The animals suffered severe heat in the summer and freezing temperatures in the winter. Videotapes showed researchers dumping dogs on concrete floors after cutting huge chunks of muscle out of their thighs. Cats were confined in cinderblock rooms with wooden boards, nails sticking out of them, as resting places. The PETA investigator watched as one of these boards fell on a cat, killing the animal. The cruelty was continuing.
Iams is not the only company involved in such cruel research. Ralston Purina, before their acquisition by Nestle; Hill's Pet Nutrition, owned by Colgate Palmolive; Pedigree Pet Foods, owned by Mars; and Alpo Pet Foods, before their acquisition of Nestle, are just a few of the companies involved in such experimentation.
As we have seen, what we are feeding our pets is garbage, unfit for human consumption and unfit to feed our pets. The only way we will see a change in this industry is for pet owners to boycott pet foods that contain undesirable ingredients. We must also boycott companies that do experiments on animals, not only dogs and cats but all animals. Together, you and I will make a difference.
Ann N. Martin is the author of Protect Your Pet (NewSage Press, 2001) and the new edition of Food Pets Die For (NewSage Press, 2003). To order her books, contact NewSage Press at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free 877-695-2211.