How Do Drugs Find their Way into Dog Food

Recently we talked about pentobarbital being found in dog food. Today we’ll be discussing how it got there.

Disclaimer: If you are squeamish, this is not the blog post for you. It contains information on food production, which can be disturbing if the reader is not expecting it.

To find out where the pentobarbital could come from, we need to understand how dog food is produced.

The website How Products Are Made has an excellent rundown on how pet foods are made. While grains and soy are used, dogs need meat, which comes from a variety of sources, especially in dry food. The main ingredients are the unused byproducts from livestock, horses, poultry, and seafood. Ghastly as it may sound, pets that have passed away are also used in food, usually listed in the ingredients as “meat” or “bone meal.” (At one point in the 1990’s, around 5 million pets were rendered for food.)

In general, the parts used in dog food are the parts humans don’t eat, such as offal, cheek sinew, treated bones, and even damaged cuts of meat. Wheat and grains are used to emulsify the product and ensure consistency. Preservatives, salt, and stabilizers are used to ensure that the food doesn’t go bad on the shelf. To make the food taste better, manufacturers will often add yeast, protein, fat, fish powder, sweeteners, or concentrated flavor digests. These are all natural, and a manufacturer will usually stay away from artificial flavorings. Finally, many dog foods have added vitamins and minerals for nutrition.

The flesh products are rendered so that the components (water, fat, protein, etc.) can be separated and managed independently. These are then ground and cooked, blended, shaped, and then packed in their ultimate containers. Wet and dry food differ very little, mostly in the amount of moisture that’s left in the rendering process, or added along the way.

This is a quick summary, but sufficient to see where the pentobarbital could enter the mix. Where the animal is slaughtered makes all the difference. The United States Department of Agriculture has its own slaughterhouse facilities, where they ensure the quality of the meat. The Pet Food Institute, an industry group that represents the companies producing the vast majority of pet foods, also has its own guidelines. Companies that purchase meat from facilities not affiliated with the USDA or PFI, however, can buy meat that is slaughtered elsewhere, including farms that put down their cattle with pentobarbital.

This has been an issue for many years, as seen in this Food and Drug Administration analysis from 2002. It also found that the amounts of pentobarbital found in even the lowest quality foods would almost certainly not be enough to kill a pet or even give it more than a slight buzz. Regardless, these agencies are taking this matter very seriously, and the USDA and PFI work with the United States government to create and regulate regulations regarding the quality of food.

The FDA is performing a new study, as the one from 2002 is no longer representative of the industry, or of their current scientific methods for drug detection in meat. The PFI is also working on enforcing their own guidelines, as companies within their network, like Smuckers, will often seek to cut corners by purchasing meat outside of the approved vendors.

Ultimately, we need to hold corporations and governments responsible for protecting our pets’ food, as well as our own. IDLogiq is working on solutions to make the supply chain more transparent, using the latest in blockchain technology. This will make it easier to find tainted ingredients and cut the problem off at the source.