Question of the Day: Are We Overlooking a Meat Source?

From the inbox:

Gentlemen:

I am a big fan — one who especially appreciates your willingness to (perhaps enjoyment in?) exploring solutions that many would consider repugnant.  In that spirit, I would love to get your thoughts on a seemingly unconscionable idea that I recently became aware of.

Every year the U.S. euthanizes approximately 3 to 4 million companion animals (mostly dogs and cats).  To put it bluntly, what do you think about using these carcasses as a meat source? We expend enormous resources — land, money, and energy –  in producing animal feed and ultimately meat.  Given this expense, as well as the world’s need for protein sources, I’d love for you to weigh in on this rather repugnant idea.

Sincerely,

XXX

p.s.: Please do not use my name if you are to publish this in any way.  

Your thoughts? Here are mine:

1. Yes, repugnance is an issue, from both the demand and supply sides — i.e., I can’t imagine a lot of pet owners would like their departed pets to be turned into human food, nor do I think a lot of Americans are clamoring for dog or cat meat. FWIW, I would include myself in both categories.

2. If we pretend that No. 1 isn’t an issue, are there enough dogs and cats to make a real difference? The Humane Society estimates that 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized by shelters each year (I assume that’s where XXX got his number). For the sake of argument, let’s now make a few assumptions. Let’s assume that this Humane Society estimate is somewhere close to reality, and let’s assume the same number of pets are privately euthanized. So we’ll call it 7 million dogs and cats total, with 3.5 million of each.

Let’s say the average dog weighs 30 pounds and the average cat weighs 10 pounds. So that’s 3.5 million (dogs) x 30 lbs. (105 million pounds) + 3.5 million (cats) x 10 pounds (35 million pounds) for a total of 140 million pounds of dog + cat carcass per year.

Meanwhile, here’s how much “standard” meat American companies produce in a year: 37.2 billion pounds of chicken; 26.4 billion pounds of beef; 22.5 billion pounds of pork, 5.8 billion pounds of turkey (yes, most of it the product of artificial insemination); and 313 million pounds of veal, lamb and mutton.

So, even without the repugnance issue, 140 million pounds of dog and cat meat doesn’t look like a very significant meat source, at least for American consumers. On the other hand, U.S. chicken companies make good money selling chicken feet to foreign consumers, mostly in China and Hong Kong.

So maybe XXX’s idea has some value for export companies, as long as they’re willing to start a movement to collect and process every deceased pet in America?

3. All that said, and acknowledging that I probably wouldn’t (knowingly) eat cat or dog if only because I’ve been raised to love them as pets, I see XXX’s point: as a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of how resource-intensive it is to raise meat for consumption but we also spend a lot of resources raising other animals just as pets. Does anyone have a problem with that?

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  1. Don in Fort Worth says:

    feed the cats and dogs to the hogs

    all good

    anymore cityboy questions ?

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  2. Afreet says:

    I think ultimately, we’ll get a lot more mileage out of insects. Insects are quite nutritious, and much less resource-intensive to produce than larger livestock. This TED talk gives a good overview treatment: http://www.ted.com/talks/marcel_dicke_why_not_eat_insects.html

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  3. Joe says:

    Can livestock be fed cat and or dog meat?

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    • Blaise Pascal says:

      Can they be fed it? Sure. Hogs will eat just about anything.

      Is it legal? Probably not. Concerns about prion diseases have basically made it difficult to use mammals as part of animal feeds. Since dogs and cats are carnivorous (cats more so than dogs), feeding them to food animals makes it feeding animals to animals (dogs and cats) to animals (pigs) to people, and that’s going to be a hard safety sell.

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  4. Blaise Pascal says:

    Most euthanized pets are euthanized because they are sick, and would be unsuitable for food for that reason. It is possible that shelter-euthanized animals might be healthy enough to eat, but that’s still a small number.

    There are other issues as well: the dressed weight of many mammals is much less than the carcass weight, so the 140 million pounds is an over-estimate, as well.

    If Americans were able to develop a taste for dog and cat meat, I’m sure that the dog and cat farms would produce well more than 140 million pounds of meat a year, even without taking euthanized pets.

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    • Tristan says:

      The ideas that the number of euthanized animals in the US is small (either in absolute or relative numbers) or that the reason most pets are euthanized are because of old age or sickness are both very common and very wrong.

      The last in depth review of the issue that I could find was Rowan and Patronek, published in Anthrozoos, puts the number of dogs in the US at about 50 million (which appears to be relatively stable), and the number of deaths at least 15% of that per year (which is actually higher than the 7 million estimate above for cats and dogs). Some conclusions we can draw from the full statistics in the article:

      * The number of dogs owned/alive (at least in the US) is relatively stable.

      * The majority of new puppies come from breeders, with most of the remainder from un-spayed/neutered pets. Pet stores are a relatively small number.

      * About 40% of the dogs born every year will die in a shelter, the vast majority of them because there isn’t enough available space.

      * The number one source of dogs in shelters is owner surrenders.

      * About 2.5x more dogs enter a shelter every year than are reclaimed by their owners or adopted.

      * About 3x more dogs are bought from breeders every year than are adopted from shelters.

      Basically, the most common cause of death of death for dogs born in the US is being adopted, and then surrendered to an over crowded shelter.

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  5. K says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. Sebastian says:

    I think it is more of a food safety issue. There is no way of knowing what these pets have eaten throughout their lives, whether the meat contains any contaminants that are deemed to be hazardous to your health. It is probably also not economically viable to test each animal if it is safe for human consumption.

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    • Rupert says:

      I’m pretty sure the chemicals used to euthanize the animal aren’t on the “safe to consume” list

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      • LW says:

        Whether they are gassed or given a needle of barbiturates, they would be unsafe to eat. Add to that the disease factor. End of discussion right there, but a good question

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  7. Howard Brazee says:

    Certainly we waste that meat. Pets are considered a kind of people – and we don’t eat people (wasting that meat).

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  8. Elizabeth Sherr says:

    Dogs and cats were food sources in Europe and throughout the word for longer than we as a country have been in existence but the regulations and safety issues were not there as well as modern day pollutants and diseases. I am intrigued about feeding them as we do livestock but not as using them as livestock.

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