Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meat Producers as Allies for Healthy Pet Diets

Yesterday I took a field trip to one of two meat processing plants on this island, the one that sends me rmb. It's a hour and a half drive across the island to another world. The Hamakua coast was sugar cane land, before sugar companies went broke. Now it's largely vacant or cattle-grazing land.

Hawaii Beef Producers is a fourth generation Portuguese family business, now run by a dynamic woman, Jill Mattos. When I arrived, I met Jill, who introduced me to the resident USDA Dept. of Agriculture meat inspector and the production manager. We talked at some length about the benefits of raw-meaty-bones for cats and dogs, and all agreed that promoting rmb for pets was essential to their health and an important educational mission. Jill said her lifelong, rmb-fed 17-year old Labrador retriever is healthy, except for one arthritic hip and being deaf, but otherwise she is fine. Plant manager has a mixed breed who eats all rmb. Inspector agreed pets should be fed rmb. So we started with unanimous agreement about the wisdom and benefits of feeding pets rmb.

Discussion then turned to how the HBP plant can produce pet foods. I was amazed at the quick responses of the USDA inspector to proposals to use many parts of the cattle that are now put in the landfill! Jill told me earlier that about HALF of the cow ends up in the local landfill -- a huge waste. USDA inspector told the production manager that he can write a one-page protocol to cover all the additional parts to be inspected as pet food. Inspector said he will inspect them and clear them as a group. Plant manager and owner immediately agreed to write the protocol that day.

From their point of view, this is a huge win, because instead of paying to dispose of unusable waste, they can now sell some of these parts to pet owners. Next week, they will be sending me samples of trachea, esophagus, lips, spleen, and other yet-to-be-named parts for pet consumption, which they promise to sell at "a great price"! From a negative 50% of the cow to any positive % is a double benefit to their bottom line.

I also learned that one local grocery store in Hilo buys 10 cases of beef neck bones a week for pets. I saw the neck bones in production, and they have a lot of meat on them, so they looked good. I will get some next week. HBP also have a number of buyers who are packaging raw meats and meaty bones to resell to pet owners. In an earlier conversation with the other meat producer on the island, I learned that they sell all the pet food cuts they can produce and have buyers waiting. I suspect there are a lot pet owners out there quietly feeding rmb against all veterinary advice, because they are using good common sense.

Jill invited me to participate at their booth at a big September event, Taste of the Range, an annual culinary celebration of Hawaii meat products. The resorts' best chefs team with meat producers to cook up gourmet dishes, and residents and visitors feast. We will write and distribute a glossy handout to promote rmb for pets. Perhaps, our local experience will be useful to other rmb supporters in other places. Just the fact that a meat producer wants to support rmb for pets is a small victory.

I think we should consider how to get meat producers on our side. American beef producers are a powerful lobby. Same is probably true for pork, poultry, and sheep processors. If my local experience is representative, these guys are losing a lot of money from USDA rules against using many animal parts for human food. Their waste must go to rendering plants on the mainland, but wouldn't it be much more profitable for them to sell fresh raw meaty parts to pet owners? Potentially, meat lobbies will strongly support feeding pets rmb. Has anyone tried to recruit their support, to change meat inspection rules, to market rmb pet foods from waste parts?

Has anyone pointed out to meat producers how their products are being misrepresented in dry pet foods? Those "super-Premium" bags of kibble
that list meat as the first product actually contain a tiny percentage of meat after high-temperature processing. Kibbles are cooked starches masquerading as meaty pet foods. Meat producers may take umbrage at such violence to their good names.

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