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. Daniel H. says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I half-expected the subtitle to be “To Serve Man.” Glad that’s not where it went.

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  2. Wayne Yuen says:

    Intresting idea. I’m a vegetarian for moral reasons. I don’t want to support factory farming because of the cruelty involved. But if w start sourcing pets as food, then I can believe that (call it pet meat) is cruelty free meat, than the normal meat at the grocer. So Pet meat might make a good moral alternative to the cow/pig/ and especially chicken that is available to most in the US.

    On the flip side, like some people noted, pets being euthanized might not make for the best meat, since they might already be ill. I would imagine euthanasia drugs would also make the animal not fit to eat. So for this to be a reality, we would have to butcher our pets with best practices to create meat fitting to eat, but best practices might not be something we would be willing to tolerate when we’re putting down our pets.

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  3. Mark says:

    A true shortage of food protein production would result in people eating cats and dogs (and even rats, mice and squirrels) regardless of what the regulations say. Thats what happens and has happened in war zones.

    If the objective were to lower the cost of food protein production, then there is still a lot of potential improvement out there that is more efficient and (possibly/possibly not) less controversial.
    1. Eliminate subsidies for biodiesel – it is produced from soybean, cottonseed and rapeseed crops. These are the best food crops for livestock.
    2. Implement genetic engineering of livestock animals to speed up gestation periods/ muscle development/ metabolism. The technology is already available, but there isn’t consumer acceptance.
    3. Identify and farm ‘vegan’ fish on an ‘oceanic’ scale.

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  4. Anon says:

    I don’t think that America really has a protein problem – heck, most Americans get more protein than they need. Countries with protein issues tend to already keep dogs and cats as pets that turn into food later. Many countries in Asia and in Africa eat dogs and cats and also keep them as pets. I can’t speak to Asian countries, but I know that in (at least parts) of Africa people don’t eat their own pets (usually, though I have known of a couple of specific cases where dogs became annoying and were served for super), but rather pets of neighbors or strays are used as food.

    I can’t imagine it being economically efficient to export meat from America to the less developed countries that already eat cats and dogs since there is usually no shortage there. Can any America company really compete with the price of a stray?

    (Also cats and dogs are usually euthanized because they are sick, so that does not sound like quality meat anyway.)

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  5. Rob says:

    I think Mr. Dubner jumped to figures without considering some of the critical upstream qualitative issues beyond repugnance (which I believe makes this a deal breaker).

    Before we go to sizing the market, there are a few key issues:

    1. Pet’s are euthanized due to health and age issues. I don’t believe any vet euthanizes a healthy *pet*.
    * For health issues, I’m not certain we’d allow animals with illnesses into the food supply.
    * From an age perspective, there is a reason ranchers don’t slaughter old animals. The quality of the meat is stringy and in
    2. Animals in shelters come from uncertain backgrounds and eat unknown foods. Animals on farms have known environments. If there was a recall, you can typically go to the originating ranch and determine the issue.

    I think this idea has zero possibility of implementation. It reminds me more of the shock tactics PETA uses to try to offend people into behavior change.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    Soylent Green.

    …jus’ sayin’…

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  7. matt says:

    What nobody has mentioned is HOW these animals are killed. Meat for consumption is stunned and then bled. Pets are generally given a massive overdose of either a sedative or some other

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    • Brian says:

      I was thinking the same thing, it is not safe to eat the animal after it has been euthanized. You would have to use a standard slaughtering technique. Not that big of a deal, but worth mentioning for those who think putting Fido down then having him for dinner is a good way to teach your children the circle of life.

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  8. JL says:

    There has been an effective ban on slaughtering horses in this country since 2007. If we can’t legally sell horse meat, which is eaten all over Europe, what’s the chance for dogs and cats?

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