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. anon says:

    Why stop there? Let’s recycle dead humans, long as they don’t have any diseases. As noted, the world is full of insects that are a pefectly fine source of protein. Let’s start eating them, too. Soylent Green? It’s possible!

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  2. Ray says:

    On a similar thread, I am a big fan of “grass-fed” meat given that I’m trying to live on the paleo-diet. Is there a reason there is no commercial market for wild game? Given the deer overpopulation problems, I would think that we could supplement the beef, chicken, and pork markets with wild game.

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    • Philo Pharynx says:

      It would be hard to have an efficient commercial market for something that is in erratic supply. How many hunters go out each day? How many of them actually get a deer? How many will choose to sell it instead of keeping the meat for themselves? So the supply is variable.

      The quality will also be variable. The deer will be in different health, different ages, have eaten different amounts of different feed. One hunter may get his deer near the road and immediately head out to the butcher. Another may get it near the end of the day deep in the woods and won’t be able to get the carcass to the butcher for a couple of days.

      With these variables, it’s hard to imagine a large market. If one were to start, it would soon deal with the overpopulation problem and then they’d have to start conservation or switch to domestic deer.

      And all of this is a shame, because I rather like venison, but I’m not a great hunter.

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  3. Chuck says:

    i would be pretty sad if my rescued greyhound had to be put down.

    that said, she does have some pretty meaty drumsticks…

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    • anonymous says:

      ;-( awww…

      Actually, I have pretty meaty drumsticks, myself! If a human-eating alien came here to hunt, he’d look at me and start tying a napkin around his neck!

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  4. billyg says:

    What about horse meat?

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  5. Julie Harley says:

    Some parts of the world are indulging in this practice but I think it is strange to eat your own pet after being so friendly with it. The thought of eating a cat or a dog didn’t even cross my mind because it seems weird. :)

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  6. Jake Gunst says:

    I’m surprised that these two issues weren’t raised:

    1) Dogs and Cats are carnivorous. Usually, we don’t eat carnivorous animals. I don’t know why, but I assume it has to do with meat quality and the physical composition of these animals (meat/muscle/etc). Cows aren’t runners, I imagine dogs and cats don’t have as much useable meat. I do know that pollutants tend to build up in animals towards the top of the food chain.

    2) If your concern is food supply, dogs and cats consume a lot of food. Many of my vegetarian friends defend their stance from a resources standpoint. It takes many meals-worth of vegetables in order to make one entree’s worth of chicken or beef. I don’t have the numbers, but I’m sure they would be very interesting.

    When it comes to efficiency and repugnance, I would say that the argument should be “let’s increase the food supply by killing shelter animals sooner and more often.” Let’s curb the demand for meat by controlling the amount of extra meat-eaters, instead of focusing on a relatively small supply of meat.

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  7. momosgarage says:

    It’s already happening for non-human grade meat. Look up “Rendering Plants”, there is this little thing called the internet and will provide many articles on the subject.

    This already exists for non-human grade meat by-product processing, it shouldn’t even be listed here as a topic for economic ponderings (yes, people have been making money on this concept for a very long time).

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