Rendered what?

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

Currently, a big name dog food TV commercial proudly announces that it now includes “more animal proteins!” claiming their space on the grain-free bandwagon.  It just gives me the heebie-jeebies. Why? They don’t tell you what animal.

When I was in grad school I lived in a second floor apartment next to a butcher shop. On the only day I could sleep in, under the cloak of dawn darkness, a truck would park in front of my apartment and idle, loudly.  One day I made the mistake of pulling back the drapes to see just what inconsiderate beast was interrupting my precious sleep. I will never forget what I looked down into: an open bay semi-trailer full of random cow parts, viscous fluid, various bits of plastic and floating dead dogs and cats. The company was Inland Products, the rendering plant south of town.

This horror movie moment vanished into my memory banks for decades until I began studying animal nutrition. Then, the pieces began to fall into place. The words “animal fat” or “meat and bone meal” on the label of the food you’re feeding your Best Friend are products of a rendering plant. The pet food (and rendering industry for that matter) would have consumers think the rendering plants are full of plump chickens, fresh fish and healthy cows. Such images are routinely depicted on pet food packaging.  Not so.

Rendering provides an essential service: disposing of millions of pounds of dead animals. In 2004, on the heels of pet food consumer concerns of Mad Cow Disease, Congress requested an investigation of the rendering industry.  The report — compiled by Congressional Research Services — told members of Congress … “Renderers convert dead animals and animal parts that otherwise would require disposal into a variety of materials, including edible and inedible tallow and lard and proteins such as meat and bone meal (MBM).2 These materials in turn are exported or sold to domestic manufacturers of a wide range of industrial and consumer goods such as livestock feed and pet food, soaps, pharmaceuticals, lubricants, plastics, personal care products, and even crayons.”

“Renderers annually convert 47 billion pounds or more of raw animal materials into approximately 18 billion pounds of products. Sources for these materials include meat slaughtering and processing plants; dead animals from farms, ranches, feedlots, marketing barns, animal shelters, and other facilities; and fats, grease, and other food waste from restaurants and stores.” As fantastical as this sounds, logically, where else would it all go?

While the rendering industry and even the FDA defends the practice of rendering deceased pets as the most effective way to dispose of the animals as another form of recycling — cremation costs are prohibitive; proper burial is out of the question; federal law prohibits the burial of euthanized pets in landfills — it is telling that none of the celebrated “benefits” seem to include nutrition for our Best Friends.  Perhaps the percentage of euthanization drug-tainted product is low in comparison to other ingredients in the kibble bag, but what is the impact of feeding our pets the exact same product every day, 2-3 meals a day for its entire life?  How much is that exactly when considered cumulatively?

Isn’t this illegal? Yes and no. It is illegal per U.S. federal law for any food — animal or human — to be sourced from or contain any part of an animal that was not slaughtered.  However, the FDA has provided the animal food industries loopholes to avoid federal law. These loopholes are known as Compliance Policies. For instance: “POLICY:  No regulatory action will be considered for animal feed ingredients resulting from the ordinary rendering process of industry, including those using animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter, provided they are not otherwise in violation of the law.”

Well, what’s a consumer to do?  For one, read the labels. If the words meat and bone meal, meat meal, animal digest and/or animal fat are included in the ingredient list — step away from the bag.  For two, consider — really consider — feeding your Best Friend food that you would eat.