WARNING: THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE SENSATIONALIST OR SHOCKING. It may contain descriptions of slaughter that many people will not want to read about.
I did not plan on starting my blog out with this story but Susan Thixton recently released a post regarding meat-meal ingredients and I thought this could help fill in some blanks. Here is her story: What are ‘meat’ meal ingredients? – Truth about Pet Food
I am writing this as a first person account because it was a first person experience, my personal experience. It is not meant to be gory, or political. In this era of “fake news” and digital enhancement, too much information comes to us that is sensationalized. My intention is to report on what I experienced with my own 5 senses and to educate pet owners. It is a story I have shared with clients over the years so they can understand where certain pet food ingredients originate.
When I was in my third year of veterinary school we were given the opportunity to go on an elective field trip, a field trip to a Downer-cow slaughter house. Any chance to get out of the lecture hall or laboratory was a gift. Plus, I already had heard of the “4-D” animals, the Dead, Dying, Diseased and Debilitated, that were slated for pet food and jumped at the chance to get some first hand experience on the matter.
I attended the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison, Wisconsin, the heart of Dairy country. There are few things about dairy farming that the reader should know. At that time, in the mid 1990’s the dairy industry, aka industrial agriculture, was slowly taking over the small family dairy operation. Family farms of 40-80 head of cows were being bought out and turned into huge operations with several hundred head in large free-stall barns, being milked three times a day instead of the usual two. Monsanto was also introducing recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH, making it possible to milk three times a day. Small side note: rBGH was banned early-on in Europe because it was found to create insulin resistance in humans who drank it. Insulin resistance leads to type II diabetes.
On dairy farms, if a cow goes down, that is cannot stand on its own or get back on its feet, it’s a big deal. Most of these farms had Holsteins, those huge black and white cows, and the average Holstein weighs around 1200 pounds. If it is a valuable cow in terms of genetics and milk production or it is a short term problem that can be treated easily and quickly, the farmer will call the veterinarian out to the farm. If it is an older cow and not as valuable to the farmer, she may be shipped off to slaughter. We were going to the slaughterhouse that received all of these Downer cows.
The trucks loaded up with Downer cows were pulled up to the back of the facility. Cows that could walk were lead down a ramp. Downer Cows were dragged off with chains wrapped around there legs. They were stunned by a captive bolt, shackled, hung upside down and sent onto the production line. The first station the unconscious animals came to was the “neck cutters” where a man would cut the neck, cutting the jugular vein, allowing the blood to pour out into a 55 gallon drum. From there the carcass would move to various butchers who would cut up the parts.
I opted to go and stand with one of them as they were slicing up the carcass. They trimmed all of the “not-fit-for-human-consumption” parts off and threw them into another 55 gallon drum. This included any diseased or damaged tissue: infected parts, abscesses filled with pus, bruised muscle, injection sites in muscle where drugs had been administered, parasites, organs – diseased and healthy, cancerous tumors and masses, etc. As the barrel filled up, he would pour a scoop of activated charcoal in, every foot or so. When the barrel was full he called someone over to get it and wheel it off.
I asked him what happened to the barrel from there. After asking me if I wanted him to slice me off a couple of steaks to take home, which I politely declined, he said it was wheeled into the back to wait for the rendering truck. The back room was a warehouse space, unrefrigerated. The barrels were sealed up and stacked 3 high. When the room became full, sometime towards the end of the week, the rendering truck loaded them up and off they went to the rendering plant.
The following is an excerpt from an EPA government document:
Meat Rendering Plants – EPA
“9.5.3 Meat Rendering Plants 188.8.131.52 General1 Meat rendering plants process animal by-product materials for the production of tallow, grease, and high-protein meat and bone meal. Plants that operate in conjunction with animal slaughterhouses or poultry processing plants are called integrated rendering plants. Plants that collect their raw materials from a variety of offsite sources are called independent rendering plants. Independent plants obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal, and entire animal carcasses, from the following sources: butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots, and animal shelters. The two types of animal rendering processes are edible and inedible rendering. Edible rendering plants process fatty animal tissue into edible fats and proteins. The plants are normally operated in conjunction with meat packing plants under U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Services (USDA/FSIS) inspection and processing standards. Inedible rendering plants are operated by independent renderers or are part of integrated rendering operations. These plants produce inedible tallow and grease, which are used in livestock and poultry feed, soap, and production of fatty-acids.”
The larger question for pet owners is, how do rendered products show up in pet food? They appear on the label of your dog or cat food as “meal”; chicken meal, beef meal, lamb meal. “Any animal protein pet food ingredient that includes the word “meal” behind it is a rendered ingredient”What are ‘meat’ meal ingredients? – Truth about Pet Food per the definitions used by the pet food industry.
Obviously the slaughterhouse I visited was an independent vs integrated slaughter facility, but there is very little doubt that material ended up in pet food down the line. How good is it to feed diseased and infected tissue to our animals? Can it be good to feed cancerous tumors? I am asking these questions from a simple common sense nutritional standpoint.
What can you do as a consumer? READ THE LABELS, no matter who you buy the food from or who recommends it, DO NOT purchase pet food with “meal” ingredients. Purchase food from transparent manufacturers that will gladly tell you their sources and who know their supply chain. Learn to feed fresh food and follow balanced recipes that can be found in a multitude of places on-line and in pet cookbooks. There are so many resources available now that will fit any budget. The best thing you can do is educate yourself, be discerning, ask questions and if they do not want to give you a clear direct answer, you have your answer.