What’s Really for Dinner:
The Truth About Commercial "Pet" Food
(The Animals’ Agenda - Nov./Dec. 1996)
Cow brains. Sheep guts. Chicken heads. Road kill. Rancid grain. These are a few of the so-called "nutritionally balanced" ingredients found in the commercial "pet" food served to companion animals every day.
More than 95 percent of U.S. companion animals derive their nutritional needs from a single source: processed pet food. When people think of pet food, many envision whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, and all the nutrition that a dog or cat may ever need - images that pet food manufacturers promulgate in their advertisements. What these companies do not reveal is that instead of whole chickens they have substituted chicken heads, feet, and intestines. Those choice cuts of beef are really cow brains, tongues, esophagi, fetal tissue dangerously high in hormones, and possibly diseased and even cancerous meat.
Those "whole grains" have had the starch removed for corn starch powder and the oil extracted for corn oil, or they are hulls and other remnants from the milling process. Grains used that are truly whole have usually been deemed unfit for human consumption because of mold, contaminants, poor quality, or poor handling practices.
Pet food is one of the world’s most synthetic edible products, containing virtually no whole ingredients.
Pet food manufacturers have become masters at inducing companion animals to eat things cats and dogs would normally spurn. Pet food scientists have learned that it’s possible to take a mixture of inedible scraps, fortify it with artificial vitamins and minerals, preserve it so that it can sit on the shelf for more than a year, add dyes to make it attractive, and then extrude it into whimsical shapes that appeal to the human consumer. For this, pet food companies can expect to earn $9 billion in sales in 1996.
Scraps and Byproducts
For years, many caregivers have tried to avoid feeding their companion animals "people food" leftovers, having been warned by veterinarians about the health problems they can cause. Yet much scrap material from the human food industry is ending up in dogs’ and cats’ dinner bowls. What the consumer purchases and what the manufacturer advertises are often two entirely different products, and this difference threatens animals’ health, especially as they age.
Learning to read ingredient labels and taking the time to read them carefully is crucial to making and educated choice when purchasing pet food. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (heaviest first) under standards established by the Center for Veterinary Medicine for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The name of the product (in most states) is dictated by the regulations of the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The trouble is, AAFCO standards can lead to deceptive product names due to the weight and volume variations between wet and dry ingredients. Also, the average consumer has no idea what the definitions for the listed ingredients mean. Preservatives, vitamins, minerals, flavorings, and cereal make up most of what the companion animal eats.
It is not happenstance that four of the top five major pet food companies in the United States are subsidiaries of major multinational food production companies: Colgate-Palmolive (which produces Hill’s Science Diet), Heinz, Nestle, and Mars (see "The Corporate Connection"). From a business standpoint, multinational food companies owning pet food manufacturers is an ideal relationship. The multinationals have a captive market in which to dump their waste products, and the pet food manufacturers have a direct source of bulk materials.
Both make a profit from selling scraps that originate from places far worse than the dinner table. In his 1986 book Pet Allergies, veterinarian Al Plechner sums up what goes into companion animals’ food: "Condemned parts and animals rejected for human consumption are routinely re-routed for commercial pet foods. A similar fate applies to so-called 4-D animals. These are food animals picked up dead, or that are dying, diseased, or disabled, and do not meet human-food qualifications. They are processed straightaway for companion animal consumption. Little goes to waste."
Says Plechner, "Food processing refuse of all sorts winds up in your animals’ dinner bowls. Moldy grains. Rancid foods. Meat meal. The latter is ground-up slaughterhouse discards often containing disease-ridden tissue and high levels of hormones and pesticides, the very things that may have contributed to the death of the steer or the hog." A decade later, his words still apply.
When cattle, swine, chickens, lambs, or other animals meet their ends at a slaughterhouse, the choice cuts - lean muscle tissue and organs prized by humans - are trimmed away from the carcass for human consumption. Whatever remains of the carcass (bones, blood, pus, intestines, ligaments, subcutaneous fat, hooves, horns, beaks, and any other parts not normally consumed by humans) is, according to the pet food industry, perfectly fit as a protein source for cat and dog food.
The Pet Food Institute, the trade association of pet food manufacturers, acknowledges in its 1994 "Fact Sheet" the importance of using byproducts in pet foods as additional income for processors and farmers. "The purchase and use of these ingredients by the pet food industry not only provides nutritional foods for pets at reasonable costs, but provides an important source of income to American farmers and processors of meat, poultry and seafood products for human consumption."
Many of these remnants are indigestible and provide a questionable source of nutrition. The amount of nutrition provided by meat byproducts, meals, and digests varies from vat to vat of this animal protein soup. A vat filled with chicken feet, beaks, and viscera is going to make available a lower amount o protein than a vat of breast meat.
James Morris and Quinton Rogers, professors with the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the University of California at Davis Veterinary School of Medicine, assert that "[t]here is virtually no information on the bioavailability of nutrients for companion animals in many of the common dietary ingredients used in pet foods. These ingredients are generally byproducts of the meat, poultry and fishing industries, with the potential for wide variation in nutrient composition. Claims of nutritional adequacy of pet foods based on the current AAFCO nutrient allowances (‘profiles’) do not give assurances of nutritional adequacy and will not until ingredients are analyzed and bioavailability values are incorporated."
"Meat byproducts," the catch-all phrase term of the pet food industry, is a misnomer because these byproducts contain little if any meat. Byproducts are animal parts leftover after the meat has been stripped from the bone. Chicken byproducts include heads, feet, entrails, lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, stomachs, bones, blood, and intestines free of their contents. What the pet food manufacturers fail to mention is that most byproducts, digests, and meals are also filled with other substances, such as cancerous tissue cut from the carcass, plastic foam packaging containing spoiled meat from supermarkets, ear-tags, spoiled slaughterhouse meat, road kill, and pieces of downer animals.
Another source of meat that isn’t mentioned on pet food labels is "pet byproducts," the bodies of dogs and cats. In 1990 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that euthanized companion animals were found in pet foods. Although pet food company executives and the National Renderers Association vehemently denied the report, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the FDA confirmed the story. "The pets serve a viable purpose by providing foodstuff for the animal feed chain," said Lea McGovern, chief of the FDA’s animal feed safety branch.
Because of sheer volume of animals rendered and the similarity in protein content between poultry byproducts and processed dogs and cats, rendering plant workers say it would be impossible for purchasers to know the exact contents of what they buy. In fact, Sacramento Rendering was cited by inspectors five times in the past two years for product-labeling violations.