Quiz! Test your knowledge of human and pet food from USA and China!

Healthy Pet QuizPet parents have legitimate concerns over pet treats from China.  The FDA has been investigating 5600 reports of illness and death related to chicken jerky and yam treats from popular brands.   While China has been in the news recently, pet parents also may be concerned about the vast majority of products manufactured in the USA.

Test your knowledge of what the FDA allows in regards to both human and pet food by taking the 10 question quiz below.  Compare your knowledge to others by clicking on the “Vote” button after each question.  Get all the answers at the end of this quiz.  Good luck!

ANSWERS:

Q1.  Answer:  C.  “USA Made” does not indicate the source of ingredients.  As long as the processing (e.g. mixing of ingredients) takes place in the USA, the product may be called USA Made.  In this example, a manufacturer may mix peas from China with and carrots from Thailand and call it USA Made.  There is no Country Of Origin Labeling (“COOL”) requirement in the USA for processed foods.

Q2.  Answer:  C. Melamine, a toxic substance derived from petroleum, was the culprit in the largest recall in US history.  60 million packages of pet food were recalled.

Q3.  Answer:  B. The USDA and FDA redirected the recalled toxic pet food to hog farms.  Many of the hogs were later destroyed (and possibly processed back into pet food.)  About 56,000 hogs that ate the melamine tainted pet food were processed into pork products and sold in supermarkets.

Q4.  Answer:  B. In 2012 pet food imports from China reached 95 million pounds (up from 55 million pounds in 2007).  Melamine continues to be found in Chinese pet food imports.

Q5.  Answer: A.  Less than 2% of human food imports to the USA are inspected by the FDA.

Q6.  Answer:  D.  Between 2001 and 2008 the FDA inspected less than six Chinese food firms per year.  More recent data puts that number closer to 13 annually.  Read more at Food and Water Watch.

Q7.   Answer: C.  Food that is filthy (e.g. decomposed, putrid or containing feces, insects, hair or dirt) or contaminated with banned substances (e.g. melamine, carcinogens, etc.) are the two most frequent causes of rejection according to a 2009 FDA study.

Q8. Answer:  A. True.  The FDA violates the Food, Drug and Cosmetic  Act by allowing unfit and hazardous substances to be sold as “food” for animals.   Get the facts on the FDA Compliance Policies. 

Q9.  Answer: D. One billion people, 80% of China’s population fear their food. Excessive pesticides, illegal additives, diseased livestock , and “gutter oil”, are their primary concerns.

Q10.  Answer:  F.  All the above.  Nestle Purina operates 21 factories in China and has a majority stake in over a dozen Chinese companies.  Kraft (owner of Cadbury) and Mars both make candy in China; the US imported 71 million pounds of China’s candy in 2013.  PepsiCo is one of the largest potato growers in China, to make their Lays brand potato chips.  They’re committed to investing an additional $2.5 billion to bring its total operations in China to at least 26 beverage and food plants and 10 farms.  Tyson, Cargill, Pilgrim’s Pride, Kraft Foods, Keystone, Monsanto, the National Pork Producers Council and American Meat Institute — have all lined up to pressure the government to open trade channels with China specifically as it relates to the importation of chicken and pork.  Read more from Food and Water Watch.  Get the stats for yourself on USDA.gov.

Bonus Question.  Answer:  A. True.  Formaldehyde (a tissue preservative in medical laboratories and an embalming fluid in mortuaries) is indeed permitted in pet food.  For more information visit: http://truthaboutpetfood.com/formaldehyde-in-pet-foods

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Life Lesson #2: Be Present. As taught to me by my dogs.

Lula and a Lesson on LifeIn the past eight years my weight has fluctuated between 112 and 128 pounds. Okay, 130.   My fightin’ weight is somewhere at the low end of that scale. That’s where I – I was about to say – comfortably run Marathons. But who does 26.2 miles in comfort? The loss of toenails, chaffed armpits, back spasms, ankle fractures, and knee dislocations pretty much assures a level of discomposure, if not decomposition.

I’ve run six of these massive endurance events, and I’ve learned that to finish is to face your own personal level of annihilation and move through it, having left yourself behind.

At the upper end of that weight spectrum is another form of obliteration. It comes from owning, funding, launching and leading a USA pet food manufacturing business while being the mother and primary caregiver to three young’uns. Sleeplessness – despite stress-induced mental and physical exhaustion – is a weight-gaining drug. Of course, it’s made worse by the caffeine-cannoli diet. The ringing in my ears is only matched by the one around my middle.

Balance – the metaphysical kind – is key to well-being. I realized this through the very physical practice of yoga.   The trouble is, in both yoga and life, those inverted, twisted-pretzel, buttcheeks-between-your-elbows balancing acts are tough to stay in for very long. Despite continuous practice and discipline, you can still fall on your arse.

This is where my three young’uns come in. They are two standard poodles and a side-walk special, size medium. Collective weight = 163 pounds. Even in blizzards they get two hours of daily exercise. Tired dogs make peaceful packs. Idle dogs get into 163×3 pounds of trouble.

In ultra-ambitious moments, I try to combine canine and human exercise programs into one. We run together. A 5.5 mile loop though neighborhood streets.

You would know us if you saw us. I’m that #WhackedOutDogLady. Hands-free and harnessed-up to three canines. I require the lead, and my pack usually concedes it… by mile three.  As fast and fit as they are, I like to think they sense I can outlast them. Truthfully, by mile three they’ve probably just eliminated all bodily substances (which to their confusion we’ve stopped to pick up and carry with us), and realized no chase-worthy, self-respecting pack of wild jack rabbits is going to cross our path, so we should just get this lame ordeal done with so we can return to hunting squirrels in the leash-free, burnt-grass, postage-stamp of our back yard.

So at mile three, the dynamic changes for all of us. They resign themselves to banality. I commit myself to an uninterrupted smooth sail home. Balance, here we come.

I turn my iPod up, shoulders relax, gait lengthens, breathing rhythmic, hands and arms loose at my sides. Cadence. A long relaxing peaceful exhale: “ahhhh”. Enter transference – the state where my awareness of foot-strike on pavement shifts to the loftiness between foot-falls. I’m connected more with the air than the ground. Ahhh, I say again with the distinctly human experience of flight.

WARNING: Notice in this aforementioned pre-flight checklist, I didn’t say “pups in tow.” As this is not, in fact, on my mind, on the date in question.

Rounding a curve, a half-mile from home, speed approaching full-throttle, cue the pack of wild jack rabbits.

Okay, it was one random unsuspecting scrappy squirrel. But I didn’t see it. And all three of my canines did. The result was the same.

Bedlam. 163×3.

My transference from metaphysical flight to airborne actuality was instantaneous. My 115 pound lead was conceded brutally to the stern with the force of 163 pounds of concerted canine conviction.

I had gravel in my shorts, grit in my eyes, and road rash on my inverted yogafied buttcheeks which were now somewhere up near my earlobes though not on purpose.

Spontaneously channeling my inner-truck-driver, I screamed a string of expletives I don’t ever recall learning.

Smack in the middle of a pristinely-manicured half-acre lawn, I came to equilibrium. Grass was the first thing I saw. Dirt was the first thing I tasted. Screaming was the first thing I heard. Then I noticed the voice was mine. Next I realized what I was still screaming at: three angelic canines sitting perfectly at my feet in rapt attention, heads cocked to the side, quizzical looks on their faces.

I looked up. A small crowd of landscapers gathered in the neighboring yard and began making their approach. The elderly lady whose yard I was occupying came out her front door, knitting still in hand. The driver of a convertible passing by pulled to the curb. I saw their looks and understood their thoughts: either she’s crazy or concussed. Best call for help. And lord, save those poor little angelic sweet puppies from that #WhackedOutDogLady.

Truthfully, I probably was a bit concussed. For certain, I was a lot crazy. I had one coherent thought: RUN!

I freed one of the harness leads from around my left ankle and another from the unmentionable place. The act of which drew even more gawking from the approaching landscapers. And in a single command to my pack we made off like that squirrel, vanishing like a toot in the breeze.

So the moral of this story? Well, yes, it’s about the importance of being fully present – aware and living in the shoes of your current situation (not dwelling on the fossilized past or worrying about some fictional future). And yes, it’s about being aware of the way your present reality is harnessed to those around you (even the unseen scrappy squirrels) – lest you get gravel in your unmentionables.

It’s also a decent reminder to eat more cannoli.

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Life Lesson #1: Is it fair? As taught to me by my dogs.

founders of Goodness Gracious healthy dog treatsIs it fair?  For me, that’s a concept best left to children and poker dealers.

Kids can bicker over who got the biggest cookie, why everyone did or didn’t get a trophy, and how toys should or shouldn’t be shared.

Poker dealers make sure everyone gets dealt the same number of cards from a well-shuffled deck.  What each hand holds is not their job.  That’s left to randomness, fate, or divine grace – depending upon your perspective.  How it gets played is left to us.

I was raised Christian.  Lutheran if you’re curious.  My beliefs have broadened over the years.  I’m spiritual – I believe deeply so – but I don’t subscribe to one particular religion.  I’ve come to believe less in the divinity of one particular being and more in the divinity of life itself – of that which is inside us all and binds us all as one common thread to each other.  Life is a single unifying and universal truth.  Perhaps the only universal truth there is.   In this sense, perhaps The Curious could say I’m a bit Buddhist, though I’ve never studied that faith and wouldn’t know a single prayer.  Frankly, I don’t care what The Curious ponder about my spirituality.

I have no kids that are biologically mine.  At 44 I am a stepmom to a 36 year old; we met when he was 17 and I was 25.  This was perfect for me.  I wrote his first college tuition check and set him off with a roll of quarters (for the laundry machines) and a pack of condoms.  Staying clean is important.  I told him “don’t let your studies get in the way of your education.”  He’s a good man.  We love each other, though I feel more like his coach than I do a mother.

I have three dogs.  Ages 4 – 6.  Clearly we are not the same genus and species.  I love them, and I know I am their mother.  I would lie down in front of a train to protect them.  No questions asked.  No blink of an eye.  No regrets but one: it’s a card I can play only once; after that I cannot protect them anymore.

I think about death every day.  I thank my dogs for that.  But, it’s not my life – or death rather – that I contemplate.   It’s theirs’.  I carry with me every moment this thought: that if all goes in life according to the odds of poker, I will out-live them.  I will mourn them.   I will grieve.  And that grief will be unbearable.  Physically I will go on living, but it will be with a shattered heart.

This knowledge of unendurable grief is a gift.  It reminds me how precious life is.   As copious a kisser as my pup Grace is, there is a finite number of kisses she will give in her life.  As many steps as my shadow Lula takes behind me, there is a day when she will take her last.  And as much hair as Mae sheds, there is a day when there will be no more. There is nothing on Earth that cannot be taken away.

Since we possess nothing, everything is a gift.

My girls love to play.  We take walks – the two-hour deep-woods off-leash hiking kind – nearly every day.   They chase each other, hunt chipmunks, swim and fish in ponds, and smile the entire time.  When we reach the car we are all generally spent – except for Grace.  She could play forever.  She protests by standing by the open door of the car not willing to jump in like her sisters.  This is how she communicates.  She doesn’t make me chase her.  She doesn’t speak.  She just stands there, telling me she is not yet done playing.  She is not ready to go.

I smile.  I hug her.  She kisses me.  I remember that most important thing.  And I whisper in her ear.  “Grace, all good things must come to an end.  Otherwise we would never get to do them again.”

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Opt for Top Five. Choose Dog Treats that Meet these Criteria

Gracie chooses a 100% all natural USA made, USA sourced single-ingredient piece of chicken jerky.  Smart girl.

Gracie chooses a 100% all natural USA made, USA sourced single-ingredient piece of chicken jerky. Smart girl.

If you’re one of those pet parents with a dog who will do back flips for a cucumber or carrot slice, consider yourself lucky. Very lucky.

If your dog is a discerning sniffer then you need to keep it interesting and nutritious. (And hopefully avoid carrying warm cheese in your pocket.)  Creativity and care are your watchwords.

Here are five things to look for or avoid when selecting a healthy and delicious treat for your companion:

1.  Where’s the beef?

  • CHOOSE identifiable animal protein (e.g. beef, chicken, lamb, salmon) that meets USDA or FDA standards for human consumption.
  • AVOID generic, undisclosed protein and fat sources like: meat, meat and bonemeal, poultry fat, animal fat, animal digest, byproducts, byproduct meal or natural flavors.

When reading an ingredient panel you’ll want to see an identifiable protein as the first ingredient.  If you see anything of an undisclosed source (e.g. “meat”) it has most likely come from rendered down diseased, decomposed or tainted animal sources (known as “4-D”).  It also may contain residues of pentobarbital, the euthanasia drug.  All these substances must be avoided.

All animal proteins should meet USDA or FDA standards for human consumption.  Look for this wording somewhere on the package.  If you don’t see it, choose another brand or call the manufacturer to ask.  Just because it says “chicken” doesn’t mean it hasn’t come from a 4-D animal.  (Read: 4-D)

Be wary of “natural flavors.” This may be a dumping ground for animal digests and 4-D ingredients. FDA allows digestive tract contents to be processed into animal feed. They say:

“With respect to flavors, pet foods often contain digests, which are materials treated with heat, enzymes, and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors.  Only a small amount of a chicken digest is needed to produce a ‘Chicken Flavored Cat Food,’ even though no actual chicken is added to the food…” [emphasis added].

2.  Hay is for horses.

  • CHOOSE vegetables, fruits, grasses and steel cut oats as your ideal complex carbohydrate sources.
  • AVOID wheat, corn, and soy as dogs cannot digest these ingredients, gluten grains (e.g. rye, barley); and minimize rice.

Countless dog foods and treats include wheat, corn and soy in various forms like flours and meals because they are cheap.  Feeding them to a dog is as absurd as including hay in a school lunch program.  Dogs can’t digest wheat, corn and soy.  They promote GI disturbances and systemic inflammation.

Grains should be minimized in a canine diet; gluten should be avoided.  The friendliest of all grains is steel cut oats.  It’s gluten free, rich in potassium and calcium, and low on the glycemic index.  It’s lower even than nutrient-rich vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato, and flours like pea or garbanzo bean – and therefore less likely to trigger inflammation.

Butternut squash, blueberries and bananas are nutritious and add hints of natural sweetness which dogs can taste. In biscuit treats look for flours like protein-packed buckwheat which is not a grain at all and therefore gluten free.

3.  Less is more.

  • CHOOSE shorter ingredient panels with simple ingredients you have in your own kitchen.
  • AVOID the Filthy Five preservatives; be cautious of glycerin

Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs. Fifty percent of dogs over 10 develop the disease.  Wolves in captivity live twenty years; their canine cousins live half that.  Diet is arguably a reason.  The Filthy Five preservatives most often found in pet food and with the highest correlation of health problems are: ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and sodium metabisulfite. These chemicals have been associated with everything from cancer, to liver and kidney problems, asthma, coma and death.

Ethoxyquin is an especially sneaky substance.  While not listed on the label, it’s often present in fishmeal.  If you see fishmeal on the label, and are not purchasing a super-premium brand that identifies their fish as arriving fresh to their facilities, it likely contains ethoxyquin and should be avoided.

Glycerin (aka “natural glycerin”) is a sugar and filler that’s most often found in soft or semi-moist food or treats.  Animal food is the new dumping ground for the surplus of methanol-laced glycerin that’s a natural byproduct of biodiesel production.  Methanol is highly toxic.  (Read: Glycerin).

4.  Fat in moderation, nix refined sugars and additives.

  • CHOOSE healthy fats
  • AVOID sugar and MSG (including hydrolyzed proteins)

Dogs metabolize fat differently than humans. The ideal diet for healthy dogs is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates.   Good fats include salmon oil (it’s rich in Omega 3 fatty acids that beat inflammation), olive oil, the fats from identifiable animal sources (e.g. lamb). In treats fats can also come from sources like various cheeses or all natural peanut butter.

Treats with yogurt and naturally lactose-free cheese are fine in moderation for healthy, active dogs of proper weight.  (Most dogs are lactose intolerant.)  Strictly limit sugars as they trigger diabetes, obesity and dental problems.  Look for unrefined sugars like raw unprocessed honey or blackstrap molasses.

It’s estimated that over 50% of US dogs are obese.  MSG may play a big part; it can more than triple insulin levels making even the most physically active beings fat.  You may not see MSG on a label unless you’re also looking for its aliases like any type of hydrolyzed protein (e.g. hydrolyzed soy protein).

The FDA says: “hydrolyzed proteins, used by the food industry to enhance flavor, are simply proteins that have been chemically broken apart into amino acids. The chemical breakdown of proteins may result in the formation of free glutamate that joins with free sodium to form MSG. In this case, the presence of MSG does not need to be disclosed on labeling.”

5. Know the country of origin

  • CHOOSE foods made and sourced in the USA, Canada or other nation with similar standards
  • AVOID food and ingredients from China
Lula's nose knows. She sniffs out some protein-packed gluten-free biscuits. Yum!

Lula’s nose knows. She sniffs out some protein-packed gluten-free USA made and sourced biscuits. Yum!

Contamination by pesticides, natural toxicants, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and banned or intolerable levels of substances plagues China’s human food supply.  Many pesticides and fertilizers are unregulated, illegal drug use in livestock is rampant, the resale of spoiled or mismarked food is commonplace, and agriculture with nearly 5 billion tons of untreated manure and millions of tons of pesticides and fertilizers running into rivers and waterways has exceeded industry as China’s biggest environmental polluter.  One billion Chinese – 80% of the population – fear their food.  (Read: China.)

The US imports more pet food and ingredients from China than anywhere else by far.  China’s market share reached 70% of vessel imports in 2011; it continues to grow.   US manufacturers buy China’s goods, mix it together here, and call it USA Made.

Unfortunately it’s not enough to look for USA Made pet food.  It’s no longer wise to trust FDA with the safety of pet food ingredients – produced here or acquired from abroad (Read: 4-D).  And it’s certainly not realistic to think that pet food exported from China adheres to an equal or higher standard than the food it produces for its own people.  Even here in the US, FDA breaks our own laws by allowing unfit, toxic food to pass into animal feed.

Health conscious consumers must be aware.  We must ask pet food makers where their ingredients originate.  We must find out if the foodstuffs used are fit for human consumption in the US.  And we must be prepared to spend more on premium foods to get the answers we want to hear.

A trip to McDonalds will always be cheaper than a trip down the produce aisle of our local grocer.  Over time that cheap, fast food will make us fat and sick.  A vibrant life is fueled by farm fresh food. The same rule applies to the health of our furry family members.  Keeping them with us for the long haul means buying good whole foods.

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4-D, For Shame. How FDA breaks the law and sickens animals.

MaeDriven by multi-billion dollar organizations like Whole Foods, the health food sections of regional chains, independent grocers, and small local co-ops and farm stands, access to and consumer awareness of quality food has grown dramatically.  People increasingly demand organic, all-natural, GMO-free, free-range, sustainably-grown products.  This surge fuels not only human health, but improvements in farming and the wellbeing of livestock.  This is a great thing.  The food for animals that people call their companions, however, still lingers in the dark ages.

One could argue it’s separated not only by eons, but by galaxies.

In flagrant violation of federal law, FDA allows illegal waste into our pets’ food.  From the leading ingredients to the last on the list, you’ll find these toxins on the labels of not only the five biggest pet food companies but the premium and private-label brands of health-conscious players.

Materials from animals that are dead (other than by slaughter), diseased, dying, or disabled (“4-D” for short) are allowed into animal food.   So are substances that have been tainted or otherwise spoiled so as to make them unfit.  While specifically forbidden for use in whole or in part for humans or animals by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, FDA has implemented their own “Compliance Policies” to avoid enforcement and break the law.

What's Cookin'? Ever Wonder What Happens to Dead Animals? By Van Smith

What’s Cookin’? Ever Wonder What Happens to Dead Animals? By Van Smith

According to FDA:  “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.”

An article appearing in Baltimore’s City Paper highlights the routine of rendering road kill, decayed materials, and thousands of euthanized dogs, cats and wildlife from the city shelter into products sold to Purina, Alpo and Heinz.

Former AAFCO president Hersh Pendell discusses recycling dead pets into pet food

Former AAFCO president Hersh Pendell discusses recycling dead pets into pet food

Former president of American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Hersh Pendell admits in an interview that “Fluffy” can most certainly be a hidden ingredient in dog food. (AAFCO is the association that sets the definition of ingredients for animal feed –  inclusive of the pet food industry.  They also suggest nutrient standards.)

Moreover AAFCO allows materials coming from chickens that have died by means other than slaughter (e.g. bird flu) to meet the definition of “chicken”.   The very fact that the pet food industry allows 4-D chicken to meet the definition of “chicken” on a label is misleading to consumers.

Howard Lyman discusses how and he and Oprah successfully defended themselves from libel claims by Texas ranchers by showing photographic evidence of piles of dead pets with collars still on destined for rendering into animal feed.

Howard Lyman discusses how and he and Oprah successfully defended themselves from libel claims by Texas ranchers by showing photographic evidence of piles of dead pets with collars still on destined for rendering into animal feed.

Industry regulators are rightly criticized by consumer advocates – like Howard Lyman (the Mad Cowboy who together with Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Productions, successfully defended themselves from a libel claim by Texas Ranchers for discussing the process of recycling pets, cattle, road kill and other decayed matter into animal food); and Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food – for caving to big-business pressure; allowing deceptive and incomplete labeling; and failing to protect our pets, farm animals and people.

Pet parents are not the only ones who should be concerned with FDA’s and AAFCO’s failures. The toxins allowed into farm animal feed trickle into the human food supply.

Recall the mad-cow epidemic in the 1980s?  Its cause was cattle being fed the remains of other diseased animals (as rendered meat and byproducts).   While 4.4 million cattle were slaughtered in an eradication program that followed, a variant of Mad Cow disease infected and killed another person in 2008.

While FDA Compliance Policies state that they are “aware of the sale of… 4-D animals to salvagers for use in animal food… [that this] raw, frozen… meat may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and the people who handle it,” they specifically limit any regulatory action to “follow up to complaints or reports of injuries” and advise against “expending substantial resources.”

Propagation of disease is not the only risk of 4-D meat sources.  Pentobarbital, the euthanasia drug, is not destroyed in any rendering process.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”), “rendering is not an acceptable way to dispose of a pentobarbital-tainted carcass. The drug residues are not destroyed in the rendering process, so the tissues and by-products may contain poison and must not be used for animal feed.”

The FWS is correct as FDA’s own analysis has found pentobarbital residues in dozens of US pet foods including premium brands.  Bottles of Fatal-Plus (i.e. pentobarbital) used on animals clearly warn against using the drug on food animals. And just this year in Spain, canine and feline DNA was identified in some international brands of dog food.

This is not the worst of it.  In other Compliance Policies, FDA does not object to the diversion to animal feed of:

  • Food adulterated with rodent, roach, or bird excreta.
  • USDA detained meat and poultry products contaminated with drug or other chemical residues
  • Food with pesticide contamination in excess of the permitted tolerance or action level
  • Food with pesticide contamination where the pesticide involved is unapproved for use on a food or feed commodity
  • Food contaminated by industrial chemicals
  • Food contaminated by natural toxicants
  • Food contaminated by filth
  • Food with microbiological contamination
  • Food over the tolerance or unpermitted drug residues

So how does a health-conscious pet parent ensure they are not feeding their beloved companion the 4-D toxic waste FDA and AAFCO allow into animal food?

The answer: read the label and do your homework.  According to the FDA, “meat” for animal feed comes from:

“independent [rendering] plants that 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.” [emphasis added]

Aside from the loophole that allows 4-D materials to be called “chicken,” illegal 4-D waste in our pets’ food can fall under a number of names.  Any ingredient that does not disclose the species (e.g. beef, lamb, etc.) from which it came is a flag.  The likely culprits are: “meat” or “meat and bone meal;” “byproduct” or “byproduct meal;” “animal fat;” “animal digest” or “natural flavors” (a term that includes animal digest).

As for the rest of the poisons from pesticides, industrial chemicals, unpermitted drug residues, natural toxicants, and filth, the answers are to start by looking for premium, USA made, USA-sourced brands that specify they use ingredients that meet USDA or FDA standards for human consumption.  You may have to call the manufacturer, however, to find this information as the pet food industry – which remains under the oppressive thumb of five Goliaths: Nestle Purina, Proctor & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Mars, and Del Monte (collectively controlling 85% of the global market) – bars manufacturers from labeling their ingredients as “human grade.”

Posted in Animal Health, Pet Nutrition, Pet Treats and Supplies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s Cookin’? Ever Wonder What Happens to Dead Animals? A Look at Baltimore’s Only Remaining Rendering Plant Explains By Van Smith

What's Cookin'? Ever Wonder What Happens to Dead Animals? By Van Smith

What’s Cookin’? Ever Wonder What Happens to Dead Animals? By Van Smith

NOTE:  What appears below is an electronic version of an article written by Van Smith and appearing in Baltimore’s City Paper on September 15, 1995.  It highlights the practice of rendering roadkill, decayed animal materials, euthanized pets and wildlife from the city shelter, and even Pimlico’s race track into ingredients sold to Purina, Alpo (now a Purina brand), and Heinz.  (Heinz’s pet product division now belongs to Del Monte.) An image of the original article can be found online.

Consider these items:  Bozman, the Baltimore City Police Department quarter horse who died last summer in the line of duty.  The grill grease and used frying oil from Camden Yards, the city’s summer ethnic festivals, and nearly all Baltimore-area and Ocean City restaurants and hotels.  A baby circus elephant who died while in Baltimore this summer.  Millions of tons of waste meat and inedible animal parts from the region’s supermarkets and slaughterhouses.  Carcasses from the Baltimore Zoo.  The 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.

These are the raw materials of Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy, which are processed into remarketable products for high profit at the region’s only rendering plant, in Curtis Bay.  In a gruesomely ironic twist, most inedible dead-animal parts, including dead pets, end up in feed used to fatten up future generations of their kind.  Others are transmogrified into paint, car wax, rubber, and industrial lubricants. Until the mid-1980s, some of the plant’s products were used in soap and cosmetics as well.

Like the use of human placenta in cosmetics and eating Rocky Mountain oysters, rendering is a phenomenon that many have heard of but few are tempted to ponder.  Unlike those odd human practices, though, rendering answers a vital societal question: What to do with the prodigious amounts of carrion, offal, and fat that our society leaves in its dietary wake?  Rather than classifying it as foul waste and incinerating it or burying it in a landfill, why not cook it into its constituent parts – fat and protein – and make a pretty penny doing it?

Valley Proteins does.  The Winchester, Virginia-based company owns and runs Baltimore’s only rendering plant, tucked along the grassy shores of Cabin Branch, a tributary of Curtis Bay in the extreme southern tip of the city.  Although a few out-of-state rendering plants attempt to compete in Baltimore, Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant has a regional lock on the profitable recycling of dead animal matter and kitchen grease into ingredients for feed and industrial products.

Based on estimates from Neil Gagnon, general manager of the Curtis Bay plant, about 150 million pounds of rotting flesh and used kitchen grease from around Baltimore are fed into the plant’s grinders and cookers each year, resulting in about 80 million pounds of the plant’s three products:  meat and bone meal, tallow, and yellow grease.  Most is reconstituted as chicken feed for North Carolina and Eastern Shore poultry farmers.  Some goes for dry pet food.  And some of the tallow is used by chemical “splitters,” who turn the fat into fatty acids, which in turn are used in thousands of products.

During a midsummer day’s visit to the plant, I gag upon first contact with the hot, putrescent air.  My throat immediately becomes coated with the suety taste of decayed, frying flesh.

“You picked a bad day to visit a rendering plant,” Gagnon says, emphasizing the effect of the summer heat by describing the typical state of the “deadstock” picked up from Pimlico Race Course, which is delivered to Valley Proteins’ pet-food operations in Pennsylvania.  “By the time we get them, they’re soup,” he says.  “Summertime is bad around here.”

Gagnon himself is far from offended by the overwhelming miasma, though.  “It smells like money to me,” he likes to say.  Later in the visit, back in his office, he estimates Valley Proteins’ profit margin at somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent.

A load of guts, heads, and legs, recently retrieved from a local slaughterhouse, sits stewing in one of the raw-materials bins at the plant’s receiving bay.  “That’s very fresh offal,” Gagnon says.  He explains how it will be fed into “the hogger,” a shredder that grinds up the tissues and filters out trash, before it is deep-fried in cookers charged with spent restaurant grease and blood.

After being thoroughly fried, the solid protein is centrifuged, pressed, run through a magnet to remove metals, ground up, sifted, cooled, and stored in a silo.  Today mid-way through the process, cooker operator Bud Kellner smiles, grabs a warm, brown, fibrous thatch of cooked tissues out of the production line in the cook room and shouts out above the mechanical din:  “That’s all protein material!  I could eat that right now!”

The liquid fat is cleaned, filtered, cooled, and stored in five tanks – two for tallow, a higher-grade fat product, and three for yellow grease. Kellner doesn’t mention whether he considers the fat potable.

The rendering processes at Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant create three byproducts:  waste water, which goes into the city’ Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant at nearby Wagners Point; the stray fat and protein molecules in the air that generate the plant’s horrid stench; and reclaimed dirt, metal, plastics, and other trash, which go to the nearby Quarantine Road Landfill.  Two boilers, which jointly generate 2,000 horsepower, run the whole operation.

While waiting at the receiving bay to watch another truckload of offal (this one from Baltimore County slaughterer J.W. Treuth & Sons, Inc.) tumble into a raw-materials bin, Kellner sums up why rendering is important.  “If it don’t go here, it’d be laying on the side of the street somewhere.”

Blood and body fluids leak out from under the trailer gate.  “Cranberry juice,” Gagnon remarks as we gaze at the repulsive pale-red effluvium. Suddenly a hot gust of wind blows droplets of it on our bare legs.  As the bloated stomachs and broken body parts slide en masse from the trailer bed to the bin, Bud shouts out, “Watch out for the splatter!”  After the load is delivered, a single jawbone rest on the pavement amid the bloody-liquid.  Bud adds a final piece of sage advice, “Make sure you take a shower.”

Valley Proteins didn’t always have a virtual monopoly over the rendering business in Baltimore.  In 1927, The National Provisioner, a meat-industry newsletter, published a map and list showing the geographical distribution of the nation’s renderers and slaughterhouses.  At that time, Baltimore had 15 of Maryland’s 21 rendering plants, and there were 913 plants in the nation.

Today, according to Gagnon, Baltimore has one of the state’s six to 10 plants, which are concentrated on the Eastern Shore to serve the poultry industry.  The nationwide figure has dropped to 286, according to Gary G. Pearl of the Fats and Oils Research Foundation.  (Affiliated with the National Renderers Association, the foundation supports “increased utilization and new uses for products that are produced with the 50 percent of the animal that is not acceptable for human consumption,” Pearl says.)

Valley Proteins’ eight plants draw raw materials from the entire mid-Atlantic region, according to J.J. Smith, president of the company.  Smith describes the company’s territory as “from Newark [New Jersey] to Savannah [Georgia], and 300 miles inland.”  Its three-generation mini empire began in 1949 with company patriarch Clyde Smith’s buyout of an existing plant in Winchester, Virginia.

According to Baltimore City land records, Valley Proteins purchased the Curtis Bay plant in 1984 for $2 million from Benedict K. Hudson, president of another rendering company, Kavanaugh Products, which had purchased the property in the 1960s.  Five of Valley Proteins’ eight plants were originally owned by other renderers, Gagnon says.

J.J. Smith says the industry’s trend toward concentration of ownership picked up momentum about 20 or 30 years ago with the creation of a market for “boxed beef.”

“Whereas cattle used to be sent to market in halves or quarters, and every community had its own slaughter facilities,” the company president explains, “now the slaughtering is consolidated in the Midwest, and they ship [the meat] out in boxes of 20- or 25-pound chunks.”

Boxed beef reduced the need for the neighborhood slaughterhouse, or abattoir.  According to Smith, “a new movement toward close-trim meat and tray-ready beef” similarly is eliminating the need for butchers and meat cutters in supermarkets because even more of the meat preparation occurs in Midwest slaughter plants.

“Baltimore used to have abattoirs all over the place,” Smith says.  Now Baltimore City has only one, a kosher slaughterhouse in the Penn-North area.  The 1927 Biennial Census of Manufactures, cited in the 1929 industry classic Inedible Animal Fats in the United States by Food Research Institute economist L.B. Zapoleon, indicates there were 40 slaughterers and meat packers in Baltimore at that time.

The decline of Baltimore’s slaughterers and butchers has meant less raw material for rendering.

“In 1965, at any given supermarket, we used to pick up [waste meat] three to five times a week at 1,000 pounds each.  Now we do it once a week at 600 pounds,” Smith says.  That’s an 80 to 90 percent drop in volume, and, as Smith often points out, “volume is what we thrive on in this business.”

Thirty years ago, according to Smith, 85 to 90 percent of renderers’ materials came from supermarkets and slaughterhouses.  Today, he estimates that a little more than half of the raw material for the Curtis Bay plant is from those sources.  The other half is kitchen grease and frying oils from restaurants, the proliferation of which he believes has made up for about a third of the loss resulting from the boxed-beef phenomenon.

“People used to eat at home more often,” Smith says.  “But now there are many, many restaurants, and people eat out all the time, so there has been an explosive growth at that level over the last 30 or 40 years.”

During this same period, the industry also underwent a technology shift.  In 1965, Dupps, a Germantown, Ohio, equipment manufacturer, started to make “continuous cookers,” which quickly replaced “batch cookers’” as the industry standard.

Batch cookers restricted the rate of processing because after each batch was cooked the cookers had to be emptied and prepared for the next load.  Continuous cookers made nonstop rendering possible, and the quantities the plants could handle grew greater over the ensuing years.  Today Dupps makes a continuous cooker that can handle the equivalent of 22 batch cookers, according to Smith.

“The change in technology was not a matter of new ways to cook,” Smith explains.  “It was a matter of bigger and bigger scales.  It was more efficient, but it was also more competitive for raw material.”

In Baltimore’s rendering industry, lower volumes of meat-packing and supermarket waste and higher production capacities combined with another factor – the dramatic rise of the poultry industry – to spell an end to all but one plant in the region.  Baltimore was a red-meat-packing town caught completely off guard by the continuing surge in chicken consumption, which began about 20 years ago.

“There were very few poultry-eviscerating plants in the 1960s,” Smith says.  But as the poultry industry expanded in the South and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, those regions’ need for rendering increased.  Baltimore City, meanwhile, was left with closed-down meat-packing plants, slaughterhouses, and rendering plants.  Only one of each remains.

Finally, the proliferation of environmental regulations has further encouraged ownership concentration in the rendering business.  “Environmental requirements got expensive, so it became a trend to sell out to competitors who can handle the changes,” Smith explains.  For the remaining firms, he says, increased regulation “was a two-edged sword.  It was expensive because it required high capital investments, but it was also a barrier for a startup company to compete with you.”

The changes amount to a classic case of “the bigger fish swallows the smaller fish,” Smith says.  Pearl of the Fats and Oils Research Foundation agrees: “The general rule has been fewer and larger, with individual plants covering larger geographic areas and the investment per plant becoming much greater in order to meet environmental and water-quality standards.”

The use of dead pets, work animals, and wildlife as raw material is an aspect of the rendering business that neither Gagnon, Smith, nor Pearl likes to discuss.  When they do address it, they emphasize its limited role and contend it is more a public service than a profitable practice.

“This is a very small part of the business that we don’t like to advertise,” Smith says.  His main worry is bad publicity from animal-rights activists, who complain about the use of animal corpses for profit.

“We provide that as a service, not for profit, he says, pointing out that “there is not a lot of protein and fat” in dead pets and wildlife, “just a lot of hair you have to deal with somehow.”  Smith believes that “shaming the American public into taking care of their pets is the way to combat the problem the animal-rights people talk about, not hassling the companies that manage the waste the pet industry produces in terms of dead animals.”

Smith says that while Valley Proteins sells inedible animal parts and rendered material to Alpo, Heinz, and Ralston-Purina, among other pet-food makers, dead-pet products are not among the products sold to these companies.  “They are all very sensitive to the recycled-pet potential,” he explains.  “They want no pets in the food they sell.  We guarantee them that the product we sell to them does not come from the pets we collect.  We handle them separately.”

A tiny amount of pet byproducts does get into the material sold to pet-food makers, however, according to plant general manager, Gagnon. Valley Proteins does have two production lines:  one that uses only clean, fresh fat and bones from supermarkets and butcher shops and another that includes the use of dead pets and wildlife.  However, the protein material is a mix from both production lines. Thus the meat and bone meal made at the plant includes materials from pets and wildlife, and about five percent of that product goes to dry-pet-food manufacturers, Gagnon says.

The higher end production line – the one without pets – makes tallow, fats whose “light colors give good consumer appeal,” Smith says.  The low-end line makes yellow grease, which goes mostly for poultry and swine feed; as Smith notes, “the chicken doesn’t give a shit what it’s eating.”  Local feed makers that buy Valley Proteins’ products include Southern States in Locust Point.  Gagnon says there are no longer any local purchasers of the plant’s tallow products.

Most of the dead pets that end up in Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant originate from the city animal shelter in Southwest Baltimore.  Earl Watson, administrator of the city Health Department’s Animal Control Division, is very aware of the use of dead pets and wildlife in Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy, and he knows Valley Proteins’ overarching role in it.  “Anywhere there are dead animals, they pick them up,” he says.  “They have a monopoly on that because no one else does it.  That means they can charge what they want for the service.”

An average of 1,824 dead animals per month pass through the freezer at the city animal shelter and onto trucks bound for Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant, according to shelter statistics for April, May, and June of this year.  Most of them were euthanized (three-month average: 1,339), though many were DOAs (three month average:  485).  (DOA’s went up significantly in July and August, with 655 and 815 respectively, because of the hot weather and the city’s Clean Sweep program that targeted specific areas for cleanup.)

Here at the animal shelter, a staff of 10 wardens works every day but Sunday, picking up animals and bringing them to the shelter, while the shelter’s two veterinary technicians euthanize animals to make room for the newcomers.

“Having to euthanize animals all day is not pleasant,” Watson says, “especially if you like animals.”  He and shelter attendant Edward Rigney lead the way to Room 162 – Euthanasia – and Watson bows out after Rigney pulls open the door to the freezer, in which a dead fox lies stretched out on a table surrounded by barrels filled mostly with dead dogs and cats.  Fleas leap among the carcasses.

“Ten or 12 were euthanized this morning,” Rigney says.  “Sometimes it’s thirtysome that get it.  “Things get backed up over the holidays.”

Outside the freezer, atop another table, lie a bottle of the poison product Fatal-Plus, several syringes, a medical-waste container, and a hacksaw resting on a towel.  The hacksaw is for rabies testing:  “When people get bit, we have to cut the dogs’ heads off and test their brains,” Rigney explains, adding that the veterinary technician “never uses that – she just twists them off.”  Fatal-Plus is sodium pentobarbital; the warning label reads:  “Do not use in animals intended for food.”  This warning apparently does not apply for animals intended for pet food which is where the protein from these euthanized animals ends up.

Following Valley Proteins route driver Milton McCroy on his rounds is a colorful tour of Baltimore’s fat and protein sources.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, McCroy enters the STAFF & DELIVERIES entrance of the city animal shelter and loads dead animals into his truck.  He then continues his rounds to Parks Sausage, the city’s lone remaining meat-packing plant, where he picks up waste meat, and to the slaughterhouse in Penn-North, where he loads up with offal, before taking the shipment back to the Curtis Bay plant and dumping it in the raw materials bin.

“It’s a dirty, smelly job, yeah – but that’s all it is, dirty and smelly,” he say philosophically, leaving someone wondering what could be worse.

At the animal shelter, McCroy hefts two dogs stiffened by rigor mortis into the trailer of his truck, which is rigged for the rendering business with a lift, a catwalk, and a barrel cleaner.  He then empties and cleans 11 barrels of assorted animals.  As he works, he describes where his load is bound.  “Chicken feed, cosmetics, fertilizer, dog food, whatever – the way they cook that bad boy [the Curtis Bay plant] up, it don’t make no difference what’s in there,” he says, then pauses and adds:  “When they start putting human bodies in there, that’s when I quit.”

After a brief stop at Parks Sausage, where McCroy empties 10 or so barrels of rancid meat and grease, he heads off to the slaughterhouse, next to a long-defunct animal-hospital building.  He backs the truck up to a storage shed, hauls a bloated sheep carcass onto the lift, and dumps it in the trailer, then starts preparing to empty many barrels full of heads, legs, hides, and guts.  Joking, he starts to make the jaws of a cow’s head clack, then gives up on the puppet how.  He hoists two sheep’s heads in the air, one in each hand, and asks, “Which one do you want?” He punctures a stomach with a pocket knife and squeezes out the brown ooze inside.

The jocularity ends when the plant’s owner catches wind that the press has entered the property.  As we explain that we are following McCroy on his run for a story on rendering, he ushers us off to the adjacent sidewalk.  “With all our problems with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], MOSHA [Maryland OSHA], EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], and the rest, there just is no good publicity for us right now,” he explains.

A plant employee explained later that tightening environmental regulations and concerns about the bacteria E. coli are coming down hard on slaughterhouses; any attention would just mean more problems.  (A subsequent check with state and local regulators did not reveal any outstanding cases or suspected violations at the city slaughterhouse.)  Disappointed in being shunted from the property, we leave without a proper good-bye to the good-natured McCroy.

Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy has changed dramatically over the decades, but it remains essentially a profitable form of recycling.  The National Renderers Association sums up the industry nicely in its 12-minute video, Food for Life:

The rendering industry provides many needed services to the community at large; it safely recycles materials that otherwise would be a nightmare to dispose of; it creates products that are essential to modern life; it provides the needed nutrition for our livestock and fisheries, so that a hungry world can be efficiently fed; and it supplies our pets with a healthy diet for longer, better lives.

So the next time you much on fast-food fries (often cooked in grease the restaurants subsequently sell to Valley Proteins) or let your unneutered pet roam the city streets and backyards, or apply a little makeup  to your face, or wax your car, or barbecue some chicken breasts, pause a second to think:  Is this somehow connected to the Valley Proteins rendering plant in Curtis Bay, either on the donating or receiving end? Chances are, it is.

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Chinese Food: What’s in the chicken jerky that’s poisoning our pets?

In China, over 80% of people worry about food safety. Excessive pesticide use, illegal additives, diseased livestock, and “gutter oil”are their primary concerns.[1]  If one billion people are scared of their country’s human food supply, then this US pet parents should be alarmed about the pet food it’s exporting for our dogs and cats.

In 2011 in the US, 70% vessel imports containing finished pet food and their constituent ingredients came from China.  That number is growing.

While the FDA hasn’t yet identified the exact toxin, China-made chicken jerky dog treats like Waggin’ Train, Canyon Creek Ranch (both Nestle Purina brands), and Milo’s Kitchen (Del Monte) have reportedly killed or sickened over 1000 US dogs.  Yet that’s nothing compared to the 8000 dead US dogs from willful melamine contamination in 2007, or the multitude of Chinese people that become sick and die every day from something they ate.

We’ll cover momentarily the pesticides, antibiotics, lead, arsenic, heavy metals, methanol (or cocktails of all these things) that may be lacing that chicken jerky.

With 22% of the world’s population feeding on 7% of the world’s arable land, the availability and the safety of food in China is a grave  concern.  To comprehend it, we need to first grasp the human situation.

Consider:

  • 123,000 Chinese are poisoned by pesticides each year; as many as 10,000 of them die.[2]
  • 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year from high pollution levels. [3]
  • Groundwater in about 55% of the cities monitored across China is not safe to drink. [4]  25% of all the water in China’s seven main river systems is “too toxic for human contact.”[5]
  • Coal burning pours thick toxic ash over swaths of land contaminating crops, livestock and people. Only 1% of China’s 560,000,000 urban residents breathes safe air,[6] and toxic sulfur dioxide produced in coal combustion contributes to 400,000 premature deaths a year. [7]
  • All this and agriculture has exceeded industry as the biggest polluter.  Runoff dumps millions of tons of pesticide and fertilizer, and billions of tons of manure into major rivers and waterways, creating dead zones in the East China Sea and eutrophication (i.e. dense bacterial blooms) in inland bodies of water.[8]
  • Every year 12 million tons of China’s crops are contaminated with heavy metal residues that threaten public health. [9]
  • 49% of fruits and vegetables in China contain pesticide residues that exceed China’s standards for banned organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. [10]  These are highly toxic pesticides.
  • Residues of antibiotics, growth hormones, and growth promoters like copper sulfate and arsenicals are ending up in the meat and animal products made from the livestock, and in the environment via manure run off.  Rampant overuse of antibiotics also has created superbugs that are a threat to humans, livestock, wildlife and arable land.[11]
  • Many Chinese still dream of eating meat. Chinese spend 40% of their income on food.  The average urban Chinese makes $1,688/year.  The average rural Chinese makes $712/year and consumes just an average of 4.5 ounces per day of meat.  150 million Chinese (equivalent to half the US population) are in poverty making $1.25/day or less. [12]

On every street corner there are problems with human food safety. 

  • In 2010 babies in Central China under 15 months old were growing breasts.  The milk formula they consumed contained residues of growth hormones that were administered to the livestock.[13]
  • In March 2012, 200  grade school students fell ill after eating egg yolk pie; it was found to contain chicken feathers. [14]
  • In March 2012, a food processing company, with an annual output of 8 million ducks, admitted to selling dead ducks instead of incinerating them as regulated.[15]
  • In 2011, restaurant waste “processed” into two to three million tons of swill-cooked dirty oil, was resold as cooking oil (aka “gutter oil”).[16]
  • In February, 2012 a woman bought a roaster chicken from a grocery store only to find it had four legs.  She was told it could be a deformity from radioactivity.[17]
  • In 2012, more stores sell fake or deformed eggs[18], expired meat products and normal chicken as “free range”[19].
  • In 2008, six Chinese babies died and 294,000 were made sick by another case of melamine tainted formula with 51,900 requiring hospitalization.[20]
  • In 2008 Chinese pork dumplings tainted with methamidophos (a banned highly toxic pesticide) exported to Japan and sold domestically made 500 Japanese and countless Chinese agonizingly sick.[21]

All that food safety worry constitutes one giant collective gulp.

And if these instances aren’t enough then read those on From China with Luck or on Wikipedia – including the soy sauce made from human hair and hazardous bodily secretions, hams soaked in pesticides, and pesticide-laced powered ginger sold to supermarkets in the US.[22]

The Big 5 pet food companies that control 85% of the global pet food market have propagated a myth.  According to Waggin Train and Canyon Creek Ranch (Purina):

“These [jerky] treats are made in China… In China, dark meat chicken is more popular with consumers than white meat chicken, and so the supply of quality, white meat chicken used in our products is more readily available for dog treats.”  [emphasis added]

Students have launch in a primary school in Enle township, Yunnan province, April 25, 2012. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

When 700-900 million rural Chinese are fortunate enough to consume just an average of 4.5 ounces per day of some type of suspect meat, it’s incongruous to think they would wrinkle their noses at a quality juicy pure white meat chicken breast.  On the contrary, that chicken breast arguably is ending up in dog food because it is too poisonous for manufacturers to slip into the human food supply.

Toxins in Chinese Food, the likely culprits…

Now let’s explore what may be in that chicken and other food produced in China.

Dogs consuming the tainted Chinese chicken jerky have exhibited gastrointestinal upset and Fanconi Syndrome where the kidneys leak glucose and electrolytes into the urine, and (if untreated) kidney failure ultimately results.   The short list of the know causes of acquired Fanconi Syndrome are:

  1. Ingesting expired tetracyclines (a broad spectrum antibiotic)
  2. Lead poisoning [23]

Exposure to a number of other chemicals and substances can also have a deleterious effect on the kidneys and the GI tract.  Common suspects are:

  1. Arsenic
  2. Heavy metals (particularly mercury, lead, cadmium, and copper)
  3. Highly toxic pesticides (herbicides and insecticides)
  4. Fertilizers
  5. Disinfectants (including their inert ingredients)
  6. Methanol
  7. Coal tar

A Snapshot of China’s Livestock Farming:

Beginning in the early 1980’s industrial forms of livestock raising began to replace China’s backyard farm system.  Then a farmer would produce maybe two pigs a year; one for their family to consume at spring festival and one for the state.  Then pigs didn’t eat grains, they grazed on weeds, crop remnants, and ate kitchen scraps, and left behind perfectly good fertilizer.

Today China’s industrialization of livestock farming – driven by their need to ensure an adequate food supply for their 1.3 billion people – has taken place in concert with the development of a multi-billion dollar (USD) feed industry and a massive pesticide industry.

Swine CAFO. Industrialized pig farming.

Pig farming is by far the biggest livestock industry in China.  To put things in perspective, in 2010 China produced more than 50 million metric tons of pork from a swineherd of 660 million head, nearly all of which was consumed domestically.    This is five times the amount of pork produced in the US and almost half of the global total of 101.5 million metric tons.[24]

This increase in livestock (pigs, chickens, cattle, etc.) also generated 4.8 billion tons of manure in 2008.  The sheer volume of it and China’s failure to institute regulations, makes it a waste management problem.  Today most manure is polluting large tracts of land and waterways.

Mean Cocktails:  antibiotics, arsenicals, growth promoters and other chemicals

Today in China, about 75% of livestock raising is done with specialized household farms (50%) and industrial confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) (25%).  (In the US, upwards of 50% of livestock is raised in large CAFOs [24a]).  Specialized household farms may have up to 500 head of swine (or tens of thousands of chickens).  CAFO are massive outfits with tens of thousands of swine.

Both groups use commercial feed with growth hormones, antibiotics and growth promoters such as copper sulfate, arsenic, and other drugs to hasten the conversion of feed to meat (i.e. produce larger, leaner livestock quicker on less feed).[25]

Industrialized Chicken Coops. Many do not provide this much room.

China buys about 25% of the US’s total soybean production (95% of which is genetically modified) and together with corn (most produced domestically),“fried” cottonseed, and additives, its feed companies produce animal feed.   The feed industry in China is $62 billion (USD) and 70% is owned by billion dollar transnational, vertically-integrated firms (meaning their operations include everything from soy crushing to make soy meal, and feed production through farming and slaughter).   US based Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus (together ABCD) and Wilmar (Singapore) are the major players.  ABCD not only export US soy to China, they import it there to make soy meal and oil.

Corn, once a crop reserved for human consumption, is becoming increasingly used for animal feed.  So much so that the central Chinese government will likely no longer regulate it in the same way as grains intended exclusively for human consumption.[26]  Both soy and cottonseed are grains without regulation.  Arsenic is a pesticide sprayed on cotton fields.

Just like in the US, the common feed additive cocktail includes a form of tetracycline (an antibiotic), arsenic (e.g. roxarosone, carbarsone, arsanilic acid), and a coccidiostat (an antiprotozoal drug).  There’s no regulation or recording of who buys animal feed, how much they use, or whether they use it following any stated guidelines – including expiration dates.

In China, farmers also buy things like “lean meat powder.”  This can be anything, but often it is a long ago banned and dangerous drug called clenbuterol that stays in the tissues of the livestock and is conferred to those consuming it.[27]

We know that consuming expired or broken down tetracycline (in animal feed, in soil, in meat, or in manure) can induce Fanconi Syndrome.  Ingestion of copper sulfate by animals of three ounces of a 1% solution produces extreme inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, with symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Examinations of copper sulfate-poisoned animals showed signs of acute toxicity in the spleen, liver and kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. [28]

We also know that arsenic produces GI disturbances, and that consumption of both arsenic and gossypol (the natural toxin contained in cottonseed) can result in kidney tubular damage.

Arsenic is one of those crazy, notoriously toxic substances. Once fed to livestock it passes unchanged into manure.  It stays in the soil and is conferred to anything that soil touches – like crops or other animals.  In the presence of water it converts into highly toxic arsenate.  It’s a carcinogen with a long rap sheet of other maladies.  And in 2005 China was the top producer of white arsenic with nearly 50% of the world share. [29]

So how do these drugs end up in humans or dogs?  Easy.  Either:

  1. In the meat of the livestock if the additives are given in the livestock’s feed or in drinking water in excess, or too close or to the time of slaughter.
  2. In the meat of the livestock if the additives are ingested though environmental exposure.
  3. Through fecal bacteria found in meat products.

The amount of antibiotics entering the environment is tough to determine as it is currently not tracked.  In the US, some estimate that 25.6 million pounds every year are administered for nontherapeutic purposes to swine, chickens and cattle.[30]  With four times our population, and five times more swine, China’s number could be easily 4 to 5 times that amount – especially when you consider that the feed additives industry in China is valued at nearly $30 billion.

Constant , proactive, subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics in animal feed has caused massive problems in China (and the US) with antibiotic-resistent superbugs.   This is a major human health problem.  It’s also a big environmental problem.  Researchers found bacteria with tetracycline resistance in soil samples taken from Chinese feed lots.[31]

China’s abuses may be excessive, but they’re not alone.  Though the US banned the use of arsenic as a pesticide for cotton, high levels of arsenic are still found in domestic rice grown on former cotton fields.  And a recent US study found arsenic in 55% of the uncooked chicken products (including organic varieties) purchased in US supermarkets. [32]

Get the Lead Out – and all those other heavy metals

Lead is another leading cause of acquired Fanconi’s Syndrome.  Like cadmium, copper and mercury, it’s a heavy metal that’s toxic to the kidneys, liver and stomach and prominent in China’s environment.

China is the world’s leading producer and consumer of lead. There have been cases of massive lead poisoning in China. Most lead poisoning comes from pollution from battery factories and metal smelters. In recent years, many new factories have opened to produce lead-acid batteries for electric bikes, motorcycles and cars. [33]

Wang Yaya drinks from a water tap in Guiyang, Guizhou province. WANG JING/CHINA DAILY

Lead, cadmium, copper and mercury are also dumped into waterways from the textile industry.   In 2010 China processed 41.3 million metric tons of fibers, about 52% of the global total.  It also discharged 2.5 billion metric tons of heavy-metal sewage, making the sector the third biggest polluter of all 39 industries.  That is especially worrisome for China where two-thirds of cities lack an adequate water supply, one-fifth of all cities have unsafe water, and 300 million rural residents (the population of the entire United States) have no access to safe sources of drinking water.[34]

Pollution in China has led to chronic health problems such as gastric disorders, diarrhea, asthma, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, as well as acute poisoning and death.    And there is a term in China for the mass incidents of pollution:  “cancer villages.”

Many Chinese disregard pollution in favor of profits and growth. Local governments put their own projects and economic benefits ahead of central government directives, and the concerns of local farmers and villagers.[35]

In 2006, the river that flows through the village of Shangba in Guangdong province suffered massive heavy metal pollution from the Dabaoshan mine.  The mine, which produced huge piles of tailings (mining refuse) discarded them next to rice fields. It also dumped large amounts of cadmium, a known carcinogen, as well as lead, zinc, indium and other metals into water supplies. High levels of cadmium and zinc in the drinking water and in the rice grown by the villagers showed up in test results. Stomach, liver, kidney and colon cancer accounted for 85% of the cancers acquired by villagers in what is now known as “the City of Death.”[36]

All this lead and pollution enters the soil and waterways through conscious or accidental dumping, runoff, or toxic ash.  It enters their crops and livestock and is passed on through the food chain.

Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Disinfectants:  You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

Photo illustration [China Daily]

If you think things can’t get much worse, think again. Beneze.  Tulene.  Furans.  Xylene.  Various hydrocarbons.  Organophospates. Think nerve gas.

Greenpeace estimates that China uses 35% of the world’s fertilizer.  [37]  That’s over 51 million tons. More than the US and India combined. [38]

China is now the world’s largest pesticide user, producer and exporter.  Chinese farmers use 1.7 million tons of pesticide (herbicide and insecticide) on approximately 300 million hectares of farmland and forest, and it increases every year.[39]  On a per hectare basis, that’s three to five times higher than in most other countries.[40] Organic (synthetic) pesticides are the most toxic and they are the most widely used in China.

China makes 300 types of pesticides and 800 pesticide mixtures under 14,000 brands.[41]  And they have completely destroyed 7% of their arable land from improper use.[42]  Every year, they also poison 123,000 people, and kill 300 – 500 farmers from improper handling, and another 10,000 people from accidents.[43]

Farmers suffer liver, kidney, nerve, blood, eye, skin, respiratory problems and headaches from pesticides.  In one study, tests measured the levels of chemicals in farmers that are known indicators of pesticide poisoning, and found elevated levels in the liver (22%), kidney (23%) and nerves (6%).[44]

Overusing pesticides is a common practice in China.  Many farmers, who fear the pesticides they buy are fake, mix them at concentrations 2 – 3 times the recommended dosage, and apply them more often than instructed. [45]

Compounding the overuse problem is a major conflict of interest.   The local regulatory officials responsible for monitoring and maintaining proper pesticide usage by farmers are essentially self-employed.  Without salaries or offices they must generate their own revenue and the way they do this is to sell pesticides to the same farmers they’re supposed to regulate.[46]

In 1997 the central government forbade the use of highly toxic and hypertoxic agricultural chemicals for insect control on vegetables, melons, fruits, tea, and herbs for human consumption.[47]   Yet these things could still be sprayed on animal feed crops, and directly on livestock, they’re relatively easily obtained, and use of them is prolific.

Arsenic is a highly toxic.  It’s chump-change next to organophosphates. Organophosphates are the basis for nerve gas.  While the central government purportedly forbade most organophosphates in 1983, methamidophos, an organophosphate, remained widely-used.   In 2000, a single boat accidentally dumped 50 tons of methamidophos into the Yangtze River.  The river became barren and many species of fish are now extinct.

In 2007 China banned the use of methamidophos and four other highly toxic pesticides:  parathion, methylparathion, monocrotophos and dimecron and has recommended 15 others in their place.  But these chemicals still exist in the environment, and can likely still be acquired and used – especially for unregulated animal feed crops.

Eutrophication

Runoff into the waterways, the pervasiveness of these chemicals in the soil, and their abundance in billions of tons of manure are just the natural ways these chemicals persist.   Less than 1% of the 4.2 million large-scale farms for pigs, cattle and chicken use biogas digesters to dispose of livestock waste.[48]  Research found that farming was responsible for 44% of the chemical oxygen demand (the main measure of organic compounds in water) and 67% of phosphorous discharges, and 57% of nitrogen discharges into bodies of water.  In other words:  farming has replaced industry as the biggest environmental polluter.

From drinking water, feed grown in contaminated soil, or fecal contamination, these chemicals can easily find their way back into the tissues of the livestock sold for China’s human consumption – or if rejected there – sold for exported pet food.

To underscore the point, even in the US, FDA allows for export or redirection into domestic animal feed (inclusive of pet foods) food stuffs that have been rejected for human consumption because of contamination of banned substances.[49]  (Read: 4-D, For Shame.)

Inert Ingredients, Disinfectants, and the Kitchen Garbage

Xylene is classified as an “inert ingredient” on that can of Ortho flying ant killer we have in our tool sheds. It’s anything but inert.  Like cresols, it’s just one of the many substances used to kill insects that permeate the environment.  According to Merck’s online veterinary manual, these are toxic substances for livestock that can cause kidney damage.  And livestock may be sprayed, dipped or dusted with Xylene to get rid of bugs.  Xylene is an organic compound created along with benzene and toluene in the coal industry (which is big in China).  Cresols (think coal-tar) are mainly hydroxytoluenes, and the first indication of poisoning in animals is usually death.[50]

An article on “gutter oil” caught my eye.  At the opening of this article we talked about “gutter oil,” created from “recycled” kitchen waste being resold for humans.  Turns out China has a better idea for restaurant waste.  They want to turn it into animal feed.

“The kitchen leftovers, thought to be a good source of digestible energy and high-quality proteins, might end up as feed for livestock such as pigs and chickens, as a supplement to their diet.”[51]

China has monetized the project at $15.2 billion (USD) wasted in 2009 on restaurant leftovers.

China’s government also is exploring turning 60 million tons of annual restaurant leftovers into fuel.  On the surface that sounds like a better solution.  Fuels contain varying amounts of benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene.  And the issue is that this is happening in conjunction with turning the leftover material from the fuel conversion process into dirty, synthetic fertilizer. [52]

On top of this is something that hits the chicken jerky production right between the eyes.  Milo’s Kitchen, Canyon Creek Ranch, Waggin Train and others all use glycerin (aka gylcerol, natural vegetable glycerine) in their dog treats.  Glycerin is a natural byproduct of biodiesel production.  In fact one gallon of biodiesel yields one pound of glycerin.  This glycerin from biodiesel is contaminated with methanol, a highly toxic substance and it’s entering the animal feed market.  It’s happening in the US.  And no doubt happening in China.  Read:  Glycerin:  A Biodiesel by Any Other Name Wouldn’t Taste as Sweet.

Recycling restaurant grease into animal feed and pet food is not new.  The FDA unfortunately allows it in the US.  Whether here, China, or elsewhere, there’s something wrong with picking up all the decomposed garbage from restaurants, rendering it down, feeding it to animals, and considering it safe.    It’s at least something I would never let past my dog’s nose.

Coal in Your Stockings, Poop on Your Soles and Bird Flu in Your Food

China passed the US in 2008 as the world’s largest emitter of Green House Gasses with 17.3% of the world’s total.  Their environmental problems cost the country more than $200 billion a year, roughly 10% of China’s GDP in 2005.[53]

China Officials Release Amusingly Good “Smog Report”

China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined.  And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years.  Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.[54]

Like an exploding bag of flour, all this soot ends up everywhere.  From an agricultural perspective, it can coat crops and livestock in the toxic cresols mentioned earlier.

Not only is there 4.8 billion tons of manure running into waterways there are chemical spills with local health risks and global implications.  In 2005 an explosion at a state owned petrochemical plant released over 100 tons of benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River affecting 3.8 million residents.  This river, 600 km downstream serves as the main water supply for the Russian city of Khabarovsk.[55]

Satellite imagery has identified global concentrations of the poisonous nitrogen oxide produced by vehicles to be the largest in China, and some soot clouds are so thick they block out entire cities from being seen at all from above.  Reports indicate that only 32% of China’s industrial waste is treated in any sort of way.  Some project that by the year 2050, if nothing changes, over 1 million people each year will die in China just from air pollution.[56]

Los Angeles authorities claim that 25% of the particulates in their skies come from China.  Research confirms that dust clouds from Asia contain not only harmful pollutants but also living organisms that transmit disease – like outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian flu. [57]

And this past April, more than 23,000 chickens at several farms in the Chinese village of Touying were confirmed for the H5N1 bird flu virus.  A total of 95,000 chickens have been culled.  There’s no mention of where those diseased birds will end up.  But if China thinks restaurant waste makes fine animal feed, then those dead birds must look like that “readily available” “quality white meat chicken,” Waggin Train was talking about.[58]

About the Author:

Gracie and Lula with their Mama

Amy Renz is the founder and pack leader of Goodness Gracious, LLC.  Goodness Gracious makes 100% human-grade, USDA/FDA approved, USA sourced treats for dogs and cats with only the ingredients you have in your own kitchen.  From single ingredient jerky to gluten-free biscuits, it’s the stuff you feel good about feeding your beloved companion.  It’s also the stuff you feel good about buying.  Goodness Gracious donates 51% of its profits to community shelters, rescues and spay/neuter programs wherever its treats are sold.  Visit www.GoodnessGraciousTreats.com.


[1] Over 80% of Chinese people worry about food safety: survey  http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20120109000012&cid=1103 (Jan, 9, 2012)

[2] A China Environmental Health Project Fact Sheet. Pesticides and Environment Health Trends in China.  Feb. 28, 2007 by Yang Yang. Pesticides in China:  A Growing Threat to Food Safety, Public Health and the Environment by Jessica Hamburger

[3] Assessing China’s Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu.

[4] Report: Groundwater falls short.  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/11/content_15264433.htm (May, 11, 2012)

[5] Assessing China’s Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu

[6] Assessing China’s Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu

[8] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[9] A China Environmental Health Project Fact Sheet. Pesticides and Environment Health Trends in China.  Feb. 28, 2007 by Yang Yang.

[10]  A China Environmental Health Project Fact Sheet. Pesticides and Environment Health Trends in China.  Feb. 28, 2007 by Yang Yang.

[11] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[12] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[13] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[14] Lack of guidelines threatens school meals http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-05/03/content_15192692.htm (May, 7, 2012)

[16] Political advisers urge kitchen waste legislation http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-03/13/content_12163817.htm

[17] Consumer put off by four-legged frozen chicken http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-03/22/content_14892181.htm (Mar 22, 2012)

[18] In China, Fear of Fake Eggs and ‘Recycled’ Buns http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/world/asia/08food.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1&ref=foodsafety  and Bouncing yolk leads to tests on stores’ eggs http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-02/09/content_14567258.htm (Feb 9, 2012)

[19] Carrefour store closed after TV report  http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-03/19/content_14860959.htm (Mar 19, 2012)

[24] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[24a] CAFOs Uncovered. The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Doug Gurian-Sherman.  2008 Union of Concerned Scientists. http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafos-uncovered.pdf

[25] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[26] Feeding China’s Pigs.  Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Famers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  May 2011

[27] From China With Luck

[29] minerals.er.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/arsenic/mcs-2008-arsen.pdf

[30] Hogging It.  Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock.  Margaret Mellon, Chalres Benbrook, Karen Lutz Benbrook.  Union of Concerned Scientists. January 2001.

[31] Feeding China’s Pigs. Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Farmers and Food Security.  Mindi Schneider.  May 2011

[32] Playing Chicken:  Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat.  David Wallinga, MD.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  April 2006.

[33] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[35] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[36] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[37] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[41] A China Environmental Health Project Fact Sheet. Pesticides and Environment Health Trends in China.  Feb. 28, 2007 by Yang Yang and Pesticides bring a silent spring http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-10/19/content_13929091.htm

[42] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[43] Pesticides in China:  A Growing Threat to Food Safety, Public Health and the Environment by Jessica Hamburger

[46] Pesticides in China:  A Growing Threat to Food Safety, Public Health and the Environment by Jessica Hamburger

[47] Assessing China’s Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu.

[48] Animal waste a threat to clean water supply http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-07/15/content_10108361.htm

[49] A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, 7th ed. Ruth Winter, MS

[51] Political advisers urge kitchen waste legislation http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-03/13/content_12163817.htm

[52]  Chinese scientists turn kitchen waste into fuel.  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-04/30/content_15178366.htm

[53] Assessing Chines Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu

[54] Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/business/worldbusiness/11chinacoal.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

[55] Assessing Chines Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu

[56] Let the clean-up of the century roll on http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/20/content_15098165.htm (April 20, 2012)

[57] Assessing China’s Government Response to Challenge of Environment and Health.  June 2008.  Charles W. Freeman III and Xiaoging Lu

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