People who live in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the Valley Proteins rendering plant describe the misery of living with the suffocating stench that emanates from the plant. “There is stink, and there is stink,” writes a local reporter. “There is stink you can live with, and there is stink that makes every breath a chore.” He said it made him wonder, “what we’re feeding dogs.”
Not uncommon in the rendering industry is the surrounding neighborhood complaints from those unfortunate to have to work or live within the vicinity of a rendering plant. It is for this objectionable industry by-product, the stink, that most rendering plants are far from highly populated areas and in some of the poorest neighborhoods.
But they have to go somewhere and Fayetteville, North Carolina, is as good a place as any.
What goes on in there?
For the reporter who wonders what we’re feeding dogs, can’t be blamed for his ignorance because rendering plants, while notoriously secretive, are shrouded in mystery where the only clue to what goes on inside a plant is the stench. Inside those plants, they cook down condemned, diseased and decaying animal flesh, the parts leftover and castoff waste of the human food side of the animal agriculture industry. Renderers like Valley Protein claim they are doing the country a service, and the products they are producing are safe and sterile. Transforming guts, by pulverizing and cooking them down into clean animal fat and dried meat by-products. Ingredients which have made the owners of Valley Proteins incredibly rich.
J.J. and his half a billion
J.J. Smith, the CEO of Valley Proteins and owner of the third-largest privately-owned rendering business in the U.S., makes some serious cash by turning meat guts into gold, grossed 500 million dollars last year.
As J.J.’s father used to say, “My dad always told me it was most profitable to be in a business most people do not want to be associated with.” He boasts, “I will give you $5 million and five years and see if you can get one built within eight miles of your house. I don’t think you can.” J.J. summed it up this way: “Do you know anyone who wants a rendering plant near their home?”
J.J., who drives a custom BMW and flies to work on the company’s private jet, sheepishly admits to the dark side of the rendering industry: recycling dead pets and road-kill. But, he hastens to add, it is “a very small part of the business that we don’t like to advertise.”
The story that blew the lid off
In an article published in a Baltimore City Paper in 1995 effectively blew the lid off the rendering industry titled, ‘Meltdown: What Happens to Dead Animals at Baltimore’s Only Rendering Plant.’ In the article, it said that Valley Proteins “sells inedible animal parts and rendered material to Alpo, Heinz, and Ralston-Purina,” but Valley Proteins insisted that it does not sell “dead pet by-products” to pet food firms since “they are all very sensitive to the recycled pet potential.”
The mythology of the dead pets in pet food has never died down since the article was written twenty-four years ago. And not since that time has the rendering industry granted an interviewer to anyone outside the feed industry. They stayed silent until Ted Kerasote, until the author of Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-lived Dogs, began by calling the National Renderers Association, where a high-placed official told him that to his knowledge no plant in the United States currently rendered dogs and cats into pet food.
But as he later found, “Rendered products are used ubiquitously, and someone needed to speak to this issue of dogs and cats being killed in shelters and then being rendered with a firsthand eye witness report. There’s been so much misinformation and hyperbole around the issue of rendering – I wanted to lay it to rest once and for all and tell it as truthfully as I could about how rendered products go into pet foods.”
Kerasote managed to get inside a few rendering plants, including one in British Columbia, to see what parts are made into the rendered products, which often appear in commercial pet foods as various meals and fats. He was so disgusted with what he found at the rendering plants that he removed all commercial pet food from his dog’s diet.
The worst ingredients
Next time you are shopping for pet food, just know that any ingredient in which the species is not named and only referred to as ‘animal’ means that it came from a rendering plant. They cannot name the species because all the animals, whether they include pets or roadkill, are turned into an indistinguishable mass known as ‘meat and bone meal,’ ‘animal fat,’ ‘animal digest,’ ‘animal by-products’ and ‘animal protein.’
Ask yourself — when you look at the colorful packaging labeled with words such as ‘natural’ and ‘wholesome,’ the ads that picture sumptuous grilled chicken, juicy cuts of meat, brightly colored fruit and vegetables — is it truth in advertising or is it deception?