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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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