Pet food recipe: Recycled fat with just a pinch of dioxin

Daniel Rogan, 12, holds a photo of his first kitten, 9-month-old Snowball, as he sits in his home with his father Rock and Janet Rogan in Mansfield, Mass. The kitten suffered kidney failure and was euthanized after eating tainted pet food in 2007, according to the family.

You know what my problem is? It’s just been driving me crazy that I can’t figure out how all those nasty cancer causing heavy metals got into the pet food that  Spex CertiPrep found. Remember the report listing all those yucky poisons found in pet food, like Iron, Arsenic, Copper, Cadmium, Zinc, Mercury, and Lead? What’s next, old tires?

While doing my research into the toxic metals found in the pet foods, I discovered the inexpensive feed grade minerals for use in animal diets come from a variety of sources, but are often derived through physical and chemical reprocessing of discarded or recycled products from other industries, specifically waste metals from the metal mining/smelting industries in Asia. So, not only are these toxic minerals in pet food but they are used throughout the animal feed industry. That means the meat you are eating is poisonous as well.

What are dioxins and why should I care, you might be asking? Not one more thing to worry about! I’m afraid so. And this one is a doozy.

In a nutshell, dioxins are really, really, really bad. All kidding aside, believe me, I wish this was a joke. The most important thing you need to know about dioxins is this: dioxins are some of the most toxic chemicals known to science. It just so happens that, besides being extremely toxic, based on both animal studies and epidemiologic evidence, dioxin is classified as a Class 1 “known human carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation‘s (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program. And of course, carcinogens,  as you probably know, are substances and exposures that can lead to cancer.

This year in a scientific report, Results of the monitoring of dioxin levels in food and feed by the European Food Safety Authority, “because of their lipophilicity, together with their persistency in the environment, dioxins have accumulated in the food chain, particularly in animal fat, dairy products, and fish”. And because, “dioxins are reputed to be among the most toxic of organic compounds”, we need to remember that, “chronic exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer.”

Dioxins Path of Death: From Animal Feed To Mama Kitty to Baby Kitty

Simply put, this means not only should you worry the poisonous pet food you feed Fluffy and Fido, but you and your family are in danger of being poisoned by consuming meat from the farm animal that was raised on poisonous animal feed as well. The higher up on the food chain you are the more toxins you will accumulate, therefore if you or your pet eat a poisoned meat, especially the fat, you will be at an increased risk for cancer.

Dioxins Path of Death: What You Eat Baby Eats

According to the World Health Organization dioxins have the dubious distinction of belonging to the “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants:

“Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems. Once dioxins have entered the body, they endure a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be seven to eleven years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher in the animal food chain one goes, the higher the concentration of dioxins.”…

…”Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” and “accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish.”…

…”The developing fetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure. The newborn, with rapidly developing organ systems, may also be more vulnerable to certain effects. Some individuals or groups of individuals may be exposed to higher levels of dioxins because of their diets“…

…”Trimming fat from meat and consuming low-fat dairy products may decrease the exposure to dioxin compounds. This is a long-term strategy to reduce body burdens and is probably most relevant for girls and young women to reduce exposure of the developing fetus and when breastfeeding infants later on in life. However, the possibility for consumers to reduce their own exposure is somewhat limited.”

Dioxins Path of Death: from Animal to Mother to Fetus to Baby

According to a World Health Organization’s Animal Feed Impact on Food Safety Report of the FAO/WHO Expert Meeting in 2007 dioxins may be in animal feeds:

It has been postulated that most human exposure to dioxins is as a result of foods of animal origin, which in turn may arise from the presence of dioxins in animal feeds. Dioxins accumulate in fat to a high degree, so even extremely low levels of dioxin in feed can become significant over the lifetime of an animal and result in unacceptable residues in human foods such as meat, milk, and eggs. Toxicokinetic models have been developed to estimate the transfer rates of dioxins to animal tissues.

As such, implementing controls for dioxins in feed represents an important step towards reducing dioxins in the food chain. In particular, screening programmes have indicated that dioxins may arise in feed via their presence in mineral sources, such as clays, recuperated copper sulphate, zinc oxide; food by-products; and fish by-products such as fish meal and fish oils. There is a need for development/improvement of inexpensive and accurate screening methods. Feed and food exposure studies are necessary to account for all sources of
dioxin entering the feed chain.

Dr. Robert Lawrence, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Health Policy, and International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The Institute of Medicine committee he chaired wrote a report, “Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds in the Food Supply,” which contained special recommendations for women of child-bearing age and young children for limiting dioxin exposure. In an interview he admitted he was “shocked” to learn that:

the average person born today will receive their highest exposure to dioxins as a developing fetus and as a nursing infant. Much of that exposure comes from breast milk as the mother mobilizes fatty fat, where dioxin is sequestered, to form breast milk.”…

…”Our report recommended that women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant should limit their consumption of animal fats, which includes meats and dairy products, because they are known to contain dioxins. This is equally important for very young girls, because dioxins accumulate in the body over time.“…

…”Another way dioxins enter the food chain is through animal feed. Each year, 11 billion pounds of animal fat is recycled and returned to food supply as animal feed. This practice allows dioxins to accumulate over time.

One study, conducted by Keith Cooper of Rutgers University, uncovered sky-high levels of dioxins in catfish and chicken. He traced the source of the exposure to ball clay, which is a fine clay mined in Mississippi from sedimentary layers formed more than 60 million years ago. The clay was used as an additive in feed pellets to hold them together.

According to Consumer Reports (owned by Consumers Union an expert, independent, nonprofit organization) in a report titled “You Are What They Eat”:

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, notes, “I think the yuck factor is huge. But we have actual concerns when things like clay are mixed in and other by-products that can increase the exposure of humans who eat those animals to toxic chemicals.” Clay can be contaminated with dioxins; in fiscal year 2003, dioxin contamination led the FDA to recall 479 feed products from 17 companies.

Robert Lawrence, M.D., chairman of a National Academy of Sciences committee that recently examined dioxin exposure, says that dioxins and PCBs, which accumulate in animal fat, are being recycled into the food supply. “I was shocked to learn that every year in the U.S., 11 billion pounds of animal fat is recycled into animal feed,” he says.

Even if rendered material starts out clean, it can become contaminated with bacteria. Whether that happens during processing, storage, handling, or shipping isn’t clear. But tests by the Animal Protein Producers Industry, a nonprofit renderers group, found salmonella in about one-fourth of rendered feedstuffs, on average, from 1996 through 2000. The good news: That’s down from about half in 1990.

Try to put aside any squeamishness when “waste” and “feed” are used in the same sentence. The waste is processed until it bears no resemblance to its former self. Thomas Cook, president of the National Renderers Association, told us that after the rendering process thoroughly heats, presses, and grinds animal tissue, it “looks like a pile of brown sugar.”

"Brown Sugar" Contents: Fluffy and Fido and Shit

Brown sugar, is this guy joking? I love how he tries to win customer appeal by disguising what in truth is a horrific product of ground up Fluffys and Fidos magically transformed into a sparkling pile of sweet brown sugar! Wait, how does that nursery rhyme go? Sugar and spice and everything nice as opposed to snips and snails and puppy dog tails?

Which brings me to another gruesome fact: another primary route for the dioxin like compounds (DLCs) to remain in the food chain is through rendering. Think about it, these environmental contaminants are bio-concentrated in fat tissues of animals and fish, so the rendering of fats and recycling of DLCs is one of the primary sources of contamination of feed and food. This was the reason for the Belgian food crisis in 1999 when recycled fats were contaminated and why Belgium monitors their feed and food supply for DLCs.

Dioxins Poisonous Path: From the Coffin to the Table, Animals Raised on Poisoned Pet Food Rendered for to Make Poisonous Pet Food for Another Generation of Pets to Eat Them

In another report What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health (published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) which is a journal of peer-reviewed research and news published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services):

Findings emphasize that current animal feeding practices can result in the presence of bacteria, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, prions, arsenicals, and dioxins in feed and animal-based food products.

In addition to animal protein–based ingredients, fats originating from both plant and animal sources are included in animal feed (Table 1) and may contain contaminants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are harmful to human health. In 1988, the USDA (1988) reported that approximately 1.3 million metric tons of fats were used in the production of U.S. primary animal feed. Unfortunately, as with many other animal feed ingredients, we were not able to obtain recent data. Yet, because as much as 8% of feed could be composed of fats alone (Schmidt 2004), the quality (i.e., contaminant levels) of both plant and animal fats used in animal feed could be important factors in the ultimate safety of animal-based food products.

But still, I ask myself how dioxin is contaminating animal feed? One possibility, according to the European Commissions Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed’s (RASFF) report, is China, because it is “the leading source of notifications (355, 12% of the total), involving illegal antimicrobial residues, mycotoxins, heavy metals, dioxins/PCBs and fraudulent addition of melamine to feed ingredients.”

China is also a major supplier of inorganic minerals to the animal nutrition sector. In recent years Chinese inorganic minerals have been associated with serious contamination incidents in the EU, especially of heavy metals and dioxins/PCBs. In one incident involving cadmium contamination of zinc sulphate, operator deficiencies in documentation, testing and traceability led to food safety measures involving 4,000 farms, criminal fines and product recalls the cost of which was estimated at 10-12 million euros.

A Factory, of Sorts, in China

In particular, the fact that the cadmium-contaminated zinc sulphate was imported to the EU in 2004 but not picked up by RASFF until 2005/2006 contributed to the widespread dissemination of the problem down the food chain and into meat producing animals.

Click to enlarge table

Preventing contamination of trace minerals destined for animal feeds is a real challenge, for several reasons:

• Inorganic minerals are produced in large continuous batches, thus making effective batch sampling difficult.
• Contamination of batches is not homogeneous. Pockets of heavy contamination are easily missed by sampling procedures.
• Inorganic minerals have many industrial applications, such as ceramics and fertilisers, whose quality requirements are minimal.
• Large volume suppliers are reluctant to implement expensive quality control procedures, just for the small animal nutrition market.
• Unscrupulous operators sell contaminated inorganic minerals for animal feeds.

Confiscated Fake Fish Meal from China

According to a report published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the world’s largest professional association of equine veterinarians, in the article Current Issues in Trace Mineral Nutrition for Horses: Influence of Chemical Form and Quality on Practical Mineral Nutrition in Horses:

Examining the Source of Minerals: The Hidden Problems with Quality

One of the major issues influencing our view of mineral supplementation strategies has been the constant threat of toxin contamination. Human foods and animal feeds are a very minor market for the world’s mined and smelted trace elements in comparison with the construction and related trades, which have very different quality standards. Inexpensive feed grade minerals for use in animal diets come from a variety of sources, but are often derived through physical and chemical reprocessing of discarded or recycled products from other industries. Escalating world mineral prices, owing in large part to China’s infrastructure building boom, and a very global marketplace have made these sources difficult to trace. As a result, sourcing high quality
inorganic trace minerals for use in feed or food, whether for traditional premixes or in manufacture of organic complexes, has become a concern in recent years owing to increasingly frequent contamination with heavy metals (cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury) and dioxins/PCBs.

Cadmium contamination is a key problem with zinc and phosphate sources. Cd and Zn often occur together in nature and are very similar in their refining characteristics. Most cadmium for its many industrial uses is smelted from Zn ores, which may aid in explaining the wide variation in cadmium content found in samples of Zn oxide and Zn sulfate that find their way to the supplement markets.

Dioxins and PCBs are problematic particularly in Cu (Copper) sources. ‘Dioxin’ is a general term for a large group of fat-soluble organo-chlorine compounds, which include polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCBs) and dibenzofurans, and of which about 30 compounds are significantly toxic. This group includes TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-para-dioxin), which is the most toxic, and the dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Dioxins are termed ‘persistent organic pollutants’ because they are very stable, resisting physical and biological breakdown to remain in the environment (or the body) for long periods of time.

Inorganic copper (Cu) sulfate is available from either mined or ‘recycled’ Cu (Copper) sources. Both require monitoring for dioxin contamination, particularly those made from waste Cu (Copper). The basic ingredients for dioxin formation are an organic substrate, a chlorine source and a catalyst. Copper is the most potent catalyst for dioxin formation, but Zn, Fe, and others also serve. The presence of a metal catalyst is why secondary Cu (Copper) smelters are among the largest known sources of dioxin pollution. Copper wiring, coated with Cl-containing PVC plastic is a perfect recipe for dioxin formation when burned in an incinerator or in a secondary Cu (Copper) smelter.

To give an idea of the magnitude of the problem with trace mineral contamination, 19% of feed, premix and raw material samples collected in an a recent Asian study were contaminated with at least one heavy metal at concentrations that exceed the most conservative regulatory limits. Arsenic and lead were the most common contaminants of minerals in processed feeds and premixes. Such numbers clearly show the lack of ability in the feed industry as a whole to police such contamination. Our improving abilities to detect contamination in the raw materials used in the manufacture of mineral supplement and to trace contamination through the food chain will continue to influence our view of minerals in the animal feed industry. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the introduction of undesirable substances that can be found in reprocessed products. The constant problems with mineral quality will clearly influence the types and costs of mineral materials that should be considered for supplementation of horse diets.

What Are We Doing to Protect Them?

But for now the animal feed industry has very little to worry about because the oversight of this industry in the United States is limited and focused on a few known safety issues, potential human and animal health problems remain hidden.  Recent incidents in which high levels of dioxins were present in mineral supplements used in feed reflect these types of hidden risks.

We know from international studies have concluded that around 95% of human exposure occurs through consumption of food of animal origin, with meat, dairy products and fish being the main sources (Gilman et al., 1991)

Yet the FDA still does not routinely survey imported animal feed products for dioxins or other contaminants. What is even more incredible is that the FDA, by its own admission, tells the American public that they have not figured out yet what to do about dioxins in animal feed. The FDA states that:

  • There are no tolerances or other administrative levels established by the FDA for dioxins in feed.
  • Temporary tolerances for PCBs in animal feed can be found in 21 CFR 509.30.
  • FDA, in conjunction with the European Union and the U.S. EPA and  USDA, is addressing both international and domestic dioxin and PCB concerns in animal feed.  One example of each is provided below.

People and their pets are dying while food safety reform moseys along.

This cannot happen again

According to the EPA, not only does there appear to be no “safe” level of exposure to dioxin, but levels of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals have been found in the general US population that are “at or near levels associated with adverse health effects.”
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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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