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. Miss.Ayami says:

    I think sending healthy cats, dogs and pets to countries that don’t mind eating them is a good idea. We may not feel comfortable eating pet animals but many others do and if we take away the initial shock, why should we not consider additional meat sources? The world is over populated and many people are desperate for food. This idea reduces the burden of demand for resource-intensive livestock (beef) while still feeding plenty of peopl. Some people are introduced the idea of eating bugs in 1st world countries for this reason, cats and dogs are a step up.

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  2. Nil says:

    Getting economies of scale for butchering would be a big problem. Most chickens, cows, & pigs are breed to a certain standard and butchered once they hit a defined weight range. Cows & Pigs are a a little more flexible, but slaughterhouses for smaller animals like chickens need every animal to be within 10%-20% of the same size & weight to slaughter them in a cost effective manner. The vast range of dog sizes would make them very difficult to process at an industrial level.

    Also I doubt that house cats would taste very good. The muscle structures of felines make the meat very tough & stringy. It would take a lot of cooking effort to make it edible to a standard American palate.

    Anyway don’t many of our feral animals & roadkill get tossed into rendering plants anyway? We may not eat them as meat, but we likely eat a tiny amount as gelatin although most of it ends up as pet food.

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  3. Don Bixby says:

    We just need a lobbyist to work with the FDA to come up with an approved name that hides what it actually is, such as ‘domestic meat product’, similar to how ‘mechanically separated chicken’ is a euphemistic way of saying that they grind up all the non-meat parts of the chicken and smash it through a sieve to take out any large bone fragments. You could then at a minimum put the domestic meat product in hot dogs.

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  4. tmeier says:

    The regulatory impediments would be considerable to say the least. Do you know how onerous it is to maintain a facility to butcher animals commercially?

    It does bring up an interesting economic question. One of the reasons people work to get excess wealth is so they can ‘spend’ in the form of ‘waste’ by not doing things they find repulsive such as eating pets. You can call it waste but it’s no more waste than entertainment or paying extra to travel first class.

    For me it’s not so much loving pets as having a moral relationship with them. I love to look at the deer in my garden eating the fallen apples but I’d still eat them. With dogs particularly we have something like a moral relation.

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  5. Joe says:

    I think you’d be adding a sort of moral hazard by introducing the possibility of exporting meat from euthanized pets. Sure, on the one hand it might seem reasonable to help fund shelters by giving them an additional income stream, thus saving more pets in the long run; but on the other hand, it might encourage the shelters to euthanize some pets rather than try to save them. You might end up with some for-profit animal shelters…

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  6. Randy Hudson says:

    Horses used to be both butchered in the US and exported for butchering overseas. Neither happens at present, due to issue 1.

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  7. Bob says:

    Dog and cat meat simply hasn’t been commercialized to the point that billions of pounds would be produced. Let’s say export companies do get shelters to send them euthanized pets. A lot of perfectly good animals are killed because there’s simply not enough space in shelters. If export companies could buy euthanized animals, then there’s the possibility that shelters will have more money and more space, thereby reducing the number of animals they’re euthanizing and drying up a potential industry.

    However, if the pet meat export industry doesn’t dry up, let’s say it takes off overseas. Then what? The export companies will want to increase their supply to cope with demand, and you have another supply problem.

    In both cases, what happens? Do the export companies start to “farm” pet animals? Sure, we’ll have the stray animal population under control, but what about farming pet animals? Will there be USDA regulations on pet meat? Will it even be allowed?

    I think the fact that a good portion of Americans have developed a pet relationship with an animal at one point or another means this idea won’t take off any time soon.

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  8. Bill Harshaw says:

    Consider the case of horses. Last I knew we still prohibited the slaughter of horses in the country, though we may have eased off on restrictions on exporting them for slaughter elsewhere.

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