Death Drug Found in One of the U.S.’s Largest Pet Food Ingredient Makers; Euthanized Animals to Blame

Valley Proteins, based in Winchester Virginia, one of the largest privately-owned rendering businesses in the United States – a company that processes slaughterhouse waste, rancid restaurant grease, and the occasional horse into animal feed and pet food – was sent a deeply disturbing Warning Letter published last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In the letter – best described as scathing – the FDA warned the company for significant violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, explaining that during three inspections, the FDA found pentobarbital in the company’s animal fat products – a drug used to euthanize animals.

The investigation found that the company failed to identify and evaluate hazards that are specific to the source of their raw material, “which included carcasses of animals euthanized with pentobarbital.” The agency explained that pentobarbital is a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard because a portion of their raw ingredients are obtained from “animals that have died other than by slaughter, and were either diseased or downed animals which are likely to have been euthanized chemically.”

Despite the warnings, the company asserted that pentobarbital was an “unavoidable contaminant not known to present a health hazard,” to which the agency responded, “Adulteration of animal food with pentobarbital is not unavoidable.” Adding, “It is your responsibility to prevent adulteration of animal food.”

Incredibly, once the FDA told them of the pentobarbital contamination, the company refused to recall the product or notify their customers of the contaminated product. Instead, the company argued that they had no intention of doing so and refused to provide the agency with information regarding the amount of potentially affected product or to whom the company sold it. The company told the agency that Valley Proteins was under “no legal requirement” to recall any products due to contamination with pentobarbital.

The company explained although they do accept euthanized animals, most likely horses, they told the agency that the chemically euthanized animals would not be rendered. Finding the explanation incredulous, the agency requested the company explain how such a feat would be accomplished, asking “how euthanized animals will be collected and disposed of.”

The company has been given two weeks to correct the violations, and the agency says a failure to do so may result in “regulatory action without further notice such as seizure and/or injunction.”

TURNING GUTS INTO GOLD

Valley Proteins, a company that turns dead animals and their byproducts into liquid grease and protein-packed dry powder, is a virtual cash machine. The company grosses $500 million a year and has produced a fortune that includes real estate and investment assets beyond the rendering business.

I can’t spend the money I’ve got now,” Mike Smith, the vice-president of Valley Proteins, boasted. He lives in the rarified world that only the super-rich enjoy: a glittering world filled with country clubs and country homes, custom cars, and private jets. He flies one of the company’s two private jets to his second home in Georgia. And he has a particular fondness for custom-built BMWs, and he sent his son to Europe to buy one as well.

THE IRONY

But his real passion is horses. His first love as a college-aged teen was horses, and he was once considered Olympic material when he took a fall from a horse that resulted in a severe back injury that ended his riding career.

But now, because of his vast wealth, it has allowed him to buy some of the finest horses in the country. One of his horses made it to the 2016 Olympics, a Dutch Warmblood gelding named Appy Cara. Smith was awarded the prestigious Virginia Steeplechase Owner of the Year award, and he was the president of the Upperville Colt & Horse Show in Virginia, the oldest and most prestigious horse show in the United States for five years until he was forced to resign this year after allegedly making a racist remark to one of the catering staff.

But despite his love of horses, Valley Proteins is in the business of using the carcasses of horses, horses who were at one time as loved and cherished as his own, to make animal food and pet food ingredients.

VALLEY PROTEINS: THE RESOURCE TO DISPOSE OF DEAD & DISEASED ANIMALS – INCLUDING HORSES

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Carcass Management, Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Plan recommends rendering as an acceptable option for disposing of diseased animal carcasses, and it lists Valley Proteins as a resource for disposing of carcasses in cases of emergencies involving mass mortalities of animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services, Animal Mortality Guideline for the state of Maryland, recommends Valley Proteins for carcass disposal services adding, however, that however that Valley Proteins will only process, via pick-up or drop off, horses, swine and llamas.

In a document titled ‘Managing Contaminated Animal and Plant Materials: Field Guide on Best Practices‘ written by the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, lists Valley Proteins in Winchester, Virginia among the rendering plants that accept contaminated carcasses.

In the 2019-2028 Calvert County Solid Waste Management Plan in Maryland, the disposal of large dead animals is handled by Valley Proteins at their plant located in Baltimore, Maryland. The company boasted in the plan that it collects and processes “millions of pounds” of animals per day at its Baltimore location.  

University of Maryland Extension Equine Disposal Guide lists both Valley Proteins’ Baltimore and Winchester plants in Virginia for disposing of horse mortalities, whether from natural causes or by euthanasia.

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Animal Carcass Disposal Options lists Valley Proteins as the renderer in Knoxville, Tennessee, where animal carcasses can be dropped off to be rendered.

University of Virginia Animal Mortality Disposal Guide says Valley Proteins will accept horses if they are delivered to their  Winchester or Linville sites in Virginia.

The Humane Society lists Valley Proteins as a resource for disposing of and rendering dead horses stating that the company “will pick up and remove deceased horses from an owner’s property and dispose of the carcass.”

In the Horse Times, a publication that serves the state of Virginia and parts of Maryland recommends Valley Proteins to dispose of dead horses. For $250, the company will pick up carcasses within a 200-mile radius of Winchester, Virginia.

Swingin’ D Horse Rescue in Oklahoma recommends Valley Proteins in Calumet, Oklahoma, as the best place to dispose of dead horses.

Helping Hands Equine Assistance of Oklahoma lists Valley Proteins in Calumet Oklahoma as a resource for disposing of dead horses.

Total Equine Veterinary Resources recommends Valley Proteins as a source for disposing of euthanized horses.

VALLEY PROTEINS: RANKED AS ONE OF THE WORST POLLUTERS IN THE U.S.

In a report titled Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses, Valley Proteins ranks as one of the worst polluters in the U.S. in terms of total nitrogen pollution (which fuels excessive algae growth and creates fish-killing low-oxygen “dead zones”). The report says Valley Protein’s plant in Lewiston, Woodville, North Carolina dumps wastewater containing nitrogen, an average of 1,429 pounds a day, into the Roanoke River.

In Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, residents are deeply worried about Valley Proteins’ plan to raise the amount of treated wastewater their plant in Linkwood releases into the Transquaking Bay tributary. Despite an Environmental Protection Agency report that said the Transquaking River had already reached it’s total maximum daily load for nitrogen and phosphorous, the plan is expected to go forward. “You could almost call it a canary in a coal mine for the bay because if this little river dies, then others like it are probably going to do the same thing,” Fred Pomeroy, the president of Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth said. 

During the comment period regarding the impending Food Safety Modernization Act, the company argued that environmental monitoring is not appropriate for many parts of the rendering process. “By its nature, rendering takes raw materials that are, in a sense, contaminated and converts them into clean, safe products for use in the food supply,” says Valley Proteins’ president, Gerald F. Smith Jr.

VALLEY PROTEINS: ANIMAL FEED INDUSTRY INFLUENCER

Because Valley Proteins is one of the largest privately-owned renderers in the country, the company is deeply embedded in the feed industry, using their influence to shape policy, laws, and opinion on the rendering industry’s place within the animal feed industry. Michael Smith, representing Valley Proteins, is on the board of directors and is second vice-chairman of the National Renderers Association. And Kevin Baker of Valley Proteins is on the board of directors of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).

Despite Valley Proteins’ problems, the AFIA has awarded Valley Proteins’ plant in San Angelo, Texas, as a Certified Safe Food/Safe Feed facility. AFIA’s Safe Feed/Safe Food program provides “references and expectations relative to Food Safety Modernization Act compliance, including current good manufacturing practices (CGMP) and record-keeping requirements, as well as the food safety plan and hazard analysis” – all requirements, which, the FDA noted in the Warning Letter, the company failed to do.

IMAGES OF VALLEY PROTEINS’ OPERATION & THE PRIVATE JETS.

A Valley Proteins' grease collection container.

A Valley Proteins’ grease collection container.

A Valley Proteins' semi carrying animal guts and waste in an open, unrefrigerated container.

A Valley Proteins’ semi-truck carrying animal guts and waste in an open, unrefrigerated container.

A Valley Proteins semi carrying pig guts in an open, unrefrigerated container after an accident. First responders said it smelled like "death."

A Valley Proteins semi carrying pig guts in an open, unrefrigerated container after an accident. First responders said it smelled like “death.”

Valley Proteins' truck carrying chicken guts

The aftermath of an accident involving a Valley Proteins semi-truck carrying chicken guts.

The aftermath of an overturned Valley Proteins semi carrying dead chickens died blue to distinguish them as suitable for use animal food consumption.

The aftermath of an overturned Valley Proteins semi carrying dead chickens died blue to distinguish them as suitable for use animal food consumption.

One of Valley Proteins' private jets, the one pictured is a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 300 with custom-built hangar. Their other jet (not shown) is a Hawker Beechcraft 900XP.

One of Valley Proteins’ private jets, the one pictured is a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 300 with custom-built hangar. Their other jet (not shown) is a Hawker Beechcraft 900XP.

Here! Read another article about Valley Proteins:

Stench From Valley Proteins’ Rendering Plant Causes Writer to Wonder, “What We’re Feeding Dogs.”

dog cat poisoned pets safe food warnings news recalls alerts

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Mollie Morrissette

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

Comments (23) Write a comment

  1. When I worked for the FDA a long while ago, the 483 was an investigators tool left after an inspection which outlined any observations the Investigator noted during the inspection. The process going forward from the 483 was lengthy and more often than not died in paperwork. To be fair, gross problems were fast tracked and if there was danger to the public safety FDA would move more swiftly than in most cases. At the time I was with FDA they did not have the power to shut down a facility, the economic correction was via seizure and destruction. That was in the human food chain. I dare say that dog feed manufacturing would not fit that action. Moreover, depending on the company and its connections, cases would not be pursued vigorously. During my time there many violations made it into the human food chain and I dare say I can only imagine how pallid the response would be in pet food manufacturing.

    Reply

    • Yes, you are absolutely correct. The timely completion of an EIR can be complicated by the fact that routine work accumulates on the desks of everyone who was on the inspection. The consequences of a firm’s failure to address and correct the violations the agency found are legal actions. The actions the FDA can employ are seizure, injunction, consent decree, and prosecution. An injunction grants the FDA the power to inspect the facilities at the firm’s expense, to shut down operations, and to dispose of the goods. Violations of the terms in the injunction can result in civil or criminal contempt. The FDA has a wide range of enforcement strategies and tools to ensure compliance with the law, ranging from the communication of concerns to criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice.

      Reply

  2. How can they stay in business? Can’t the FDA shut them down. This sounds like a health hazard all around.

    Reply

    • That’s a great question, Jean. When FDA finds that a manufacturer has significantly violated FDA regulations, the FDA notifies the manufacturer. This notification is often in the form of a Warning Letter. This is the legal process the FDA is required to follow. The company was furnished with a 483 after every inspection, at which point the company had the opportunity to correct the violations the FDA found. And as the Warning Letter the FDA sent to Valley Proteins, the company has 15 days to get their sh*t together or face the music.

      Reply

      • I’ve lived outside of Fayetteville on Fort Bragg for over a decade and read the local paper religiously for the first 7 yr and the fact that I’ve never heard of this valley rendering plant really shows how corrupt our society has become. The rich and powerful can literally feed us and our pets poisonous slop and we have no recourse besides growing everything ourselves or moving to a country where public safety laws actually apply to businesses.

        Reply

  3. Hi Mollie,
    Thanks for such an informative (& disgusting) article. 2 questions about the USDA “recommend[ing] rendering as an acceptable option for disposing of diseased animal carcasses”: does the rendered products of diseased animals go into pet food? I guess the answer is yes since the USDA pdf you’ve linked defines rendering as “the process by which purified fat and protein products are recovered from inedible portions of animals by cooking at high temperatures.” If the answer is yes, it begs the question: isn’t putting rendered products from diseased animals into pet food against the law? Or is putting rendered products from diseased animals not against the law because, by definition, rendering ‘purifies’ fat & protein? Please help clarify this for me if you can Mollie, thanks so much.

    Reply

    • Great questions Tina. The USDA allows for all sorts of unsavory (disgusting) animal waste to be rendered for “animal food,” however, the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) forbids it and so does the FDA – the agency responsible for regulating pet food. This is a pretty common and incredibly frustrating legal conundrum – the two branches of government essentially saying the opposite thing. For a long time, the FDA had compliance policies saying they would give 4D materials a pass but then they withdrew them. The FDA put the animal feed, pet food, and rendering industries on notice, telling them that it is the agency’s “expectation” that if the industries use materials from “diseased animals and animals that died otherwise than by slaughter” they would be considered illegal under the FD&C Act and the FSMA preventive controls for animal food regulations. But they still might give it a pass. If you read my article on the recent withdrawal of the offending compliance policies and the problem with it I suggest you go here.

      Reply

  4. Why don’t we just say it…any pet food manufacturer producing kibble or shelf stable dried pet food or treats is probably using this protein powder. Just say it!

    Reply

    • I agree, Ken, it is very likely that traditional commercial pet food companies are using rendered products in their formulas. That’s why I stick to human edible/grade foods, foods that are made to human food standards.

      Although, to be fair, it’s quite possible that some manufacturers don’t use rendered ingredients, though. So the best advice ers is to ask. If they tell you the source of their meat and/or animal fat ingredients are proprietary then I would tell them that your pet’s life is more important to you than their bottom line. And walk away.

      Reply

      • I currently own 4 dogs. I have fed them raw human food since 2010. I grind and mix many ingrdents and freeze in gallon bags. I add fresh veggies and fruits as well as supplements to the mix as it is fed. As puppies I fed them Orijen Regional Red, then made in Canada, because all my research led me to believe Orijen was the best, if I was to feed commercial dog feed. After some disturbing information surfaced about their ingredients and after calls I made regarding those claims I became doubtful that I could trust ANY claims dog feed producers made particularly since I also became wary of the cozy relationship they seemed to have with the FDA. There were just too many sophist arguments coming from the industry and truth in the ingredient statements were, at best, very questionable. I have never regretted that decision and continue today to find countless defects in what the industry is providing to pet owners. Since cancer is not a reportable disease in pets, statistics are rare and debatable. Some studies would suggest an increase in dog cancers since the late 60’s of about 30+%. We should know by now that intestinal diseases create huge problems not only in our pets, but the human population as well. We can argue the causes endlessly, but processed foods and toxic chemicals have proliferated during our lifetimes and, in my mind, have impacted life with dire consequences. Besides both pets and humans being mammals, there are many differences, surely, shorter life expectancy will accelerate the effects that these foodstuffs and toxins will have on our pets. And, unfortunately pet parents don’t take the time to educate themselves on what they are feeding their pets, so the industry just keeps pumping out the garbage they always have and people are happy to spend 5 minutes scooping the feed out of a bag or can and forgetting about feeding until the next time. So, what is the incentive for these HUGE corporations to change. I am not hopeful that trend will improve much or enough to really cause a shift in the wholesomeness of our pet’s diets nor the health of our beloved companions.

        Reply

        • I’m a little more hopeful than you because I see movement in people’s desire to eat healthier and they are conscious of how their food choices might affect their pet’s health as well. I like to see that there is a segment – albeit a small one – that is pushing for and asking for healthier food for their pets. You have to realize that human food trends tend to be about ten years ahead of the pet food industry. So when the pet media and mainstream media picks up stories about alternative protein sources for pet diets, insect meal, and organic, human-edible pet food trends I’m excited. But there are always people who are ignorant or unconcerned about their diets and their pet’s diets. And there isn’t much we can do to change their thinking – until their pet get’s sick and they find out it may have something to do with a poor diet.

          Reply

  5. I think we as pet owners have every right to know what’s in their food. Rancid restaurant grease, euthanized animals? We need to know who they sold it to.

    Reply

  6. I would like to know what pet food companies Valley Proteins sell their products to. I think that there has to be a way to make these people more accountable for their actions. It would appear that they are driven by financial success with a disregard to the consequences for the general public as well as to the animals they love. Where is their heart, their conscience, their ethics, or their integrity? I pray that their children will not display the same lack of sympathy or concern for others as modeled by those who defend and protect this company for the sake of the almighty dollar. My hope is that their children will understand the harm that has been perpetrated on our fellow citizens and their animals and try to right the wrong. As the quote from Mahatma Gandhi states…”The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

    Reply

    • I wish we all could know which companies they sell their pet food ingredients to, but barring that, I recommend buying a human-edible pet food instead. That way, you can be certain the pet food will not contain any rendered ingredients.

      Reply

  7. And the money will never change. They will not change because no one forces them to including the agencies that are supposed to hold them accountable. So it will continue and continue

    Reply

    • Actually, Chris, the FDA is holding them responsible. Warning Letters makes clear that the company must correct the problem(s) and it has provided specific directions and a timeframe for the company to inform the FDA of its plans for correction. Then the FDA checks to ensure that the company’s corrections are adequate. If Valley Proteins is unable or unwilling to correct the violations within 15 days, the FDA will consider further administrative and/or regulatory actions.

      Reply

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