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Vet concerned with meat sold as pet food

April 11, 2001 Associated Press

A Council Bluffs [Iowa] veterinarian is concerned that a loophole in the standards for pet food could create the same mad cow problems for the United States that England is seeing.

Arthur Strohbehn said his concern is with the uses of 4-D meat as pet food. The 4-D meat comes from livestock that are dead, dying, disabled or diseased on the farm. Their remains must be disposed of carefully to prevent a public health crisis. The meat is used to make feed, but Strohbehn said FDA guidelines are not enough to stop a potential epidemic.

"If we have an outbreak that goes undiagnosed out in the country, there is no way to stop it," he said.

Dead, dying, disabled and diseased animals are picked up by rendering plants that use the animals for pet food. If livestock is still living, it is slaughtered, and the remains are boiled to render the high-energy fat and reduce the meat and bone meal for their protein.

The end product is not for human consumption but is considered edible by animals.

Some meat products are not boiled but are ground up raw into a feed product that looks much like hamburger. Charcoal is added to give the meat a sandy texture and to make sure no human would want to eat it.

Strohbehn said the meat should be cooked, but its label does not tell consumers to do so.

Strohbehn said meat labeled "not for human consumption" can still contain pathogens as well as drugs used to treat animals, and that is why it should be cooked.

"I've inspected meat that had pathogens and penicillin in it," Strohbehn said. "What that tells me as a vet is that meat came from an animal that was diseased and somebody tried to cure it. So how did that meat end up getting used for dog food?"

Strohbehn said if a case of mad cow disease ever did crop up in the United States and went undiagnosed, it would be impossible to stop an outbreak, because the disease cannot be destroyed by boiling.

Strohbehn's son, Jody, is also a veterinarian and said the danger for handlers of the raw meat is real.

"It is an occupational risk for the trainers. A lot of the problem is in the way that food is handled," he said. "Even good food can have salmonella in it. How can you keep it out of the bad meat?"

National By-Products in Des Moines handles rendering across Iowa. Dave Kirstein, director of technical services for National By-Products said his company is following the guidelines established by the federal government.

"The USDA comes in about once a year and inspects," he said. "The state department of agriculture is in two to four times a year, and a facility in Waterloo has a vet come in once a week."

He said that in addition to routine inspections, there is a standard procedure that is always followed when a 4-D animal is picked up to prevent the spread of contagion.

"The call taker who schedules the route to pick up the dead animal asks the farmer what the animal has died from," he said. "If it's four or more dead adult animals, that's the trigger point. We require written documentation stating what they died from."

Kirstein said the process involves getting carcasses to the plant quickly where they are cooked at 270-280 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 to 90 minutes. This process is meant to kill all pathogens [But may not kill prions--BSE coordinator] but destroys drug remnants as well. Kirstein said the portion of raw meat sold as pet food is left to the purchaser to properly prepare.

"The segment that goes to the greyhound industry sold as frozen blocks of meat that is similar to hamburger, that's been frozen so the customer has the choice of what to do with it at that point," he said.

Joe Calabro of Neola races greyhounds at Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs. He is one of many trainers who feeds his dogs meat labeled "not for human consumption."

Calabro said he doesn't cook the meat because he buys it from a reputable dealer, but he does drain it to be on the safe side.

"I drain the blood off. I've always been under the impression that's where all the bad stuff is," he said.

Calabro said his greyhounds are his livelihood and he would not think of feeding them anything that would hurt them.


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