We Now Know What Mystery Meat Was in Tainted Gravy Train

New testing has revealed the truth about the “animal fat” that contained traces of a powerful euthanasia drug. And the results actually aren’t as horrible as you might have thought.

Detail from Gravy Train dog food marketing materials.

There is no evidence of dog, cat or horse meat in recalled cans of Gravy Train, Kibbles ’N Bits, Ol’ Roy and Skippy dog food, according to the company that makes the food.

The J.M. Smucker Company, which issued a huge recall in February 2018 after traces of a euthanasia drug were discovered in an ingredient called animal fat, says testing by a “third-party microbiology laboratory … indicates the animal fat was from cow, pig and chicken, and no other animal of the 9 types tested.”

A Smucker’s rep emailed the above statement to a customer, who then shared the email with Petful. Gravy Train has now confirmed the information on an updated page of its website.

This news puts to rest rumors that the pentobarbital — a powerful barbiturate often used in companion-animal euthanasia — got into the dog food because the animal fat contained euthanized dogs and cats. Rather, the company says, only beef, pork and chicken meat was part of the rendered animal fat in the affected products.

“Due to speculative and erroneous reporting, there has been a lot of false assumptions made about this,” Gravy Train states on its website. But “DNA testing of 9 animal species confirmed the animal fat was from cow, pig and chicken.”

How Does Pentobarbital Get Into Dog Food?

“Because pentobarbital is routinely used to euthanize animals, the most likely way it could get into dog food would be in rendered animal products,” according to the FDA.

“Rendered products come from a process that converts animal tissues to feed ingredients,” the agency states. “Pentobarbital seems to be able to survive the rendering process. If animals are euthanized with pentobarbital and subsequently rendered, pentobarbital could be present in the rendered feed ingredients.”

Animal fat, one of the first few ingredients in canned Gravy Train, is a by-product of rendering an unnamed mix of animal meat. It’s just “a euphemism for a low-quality, low-priced mix of fats of uncertain origin,” maintains Nancy Kerns of Whole Dog Journal.

Really? Euthanized Chickens?

Let’s think about this. Would chickens really be euthanized by pentobarbital injection?

Not very likely. Usual methods include neck-breaking, decapitation, head-smashing or captive bolt. One reference online, “Practical Guidelines for On-Farm Euthanasia of Poultry,” includes no mention of any kind of injection.

What about pigs? Would pigs be euthanized by pentobarbital injection?

Perhaps. But other methods — such as gassing, gunshot, captive bolt, electrocution and blunt head trauma — cost less and require less skill to do successfully, according to a reference guide titled “On Farm Euthanasia of Swine.”

Finally, what about cows? Are sick or injured cows typically injected with pentobarbital to kill them? Sometimes, yes.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) says there are 3 primary methods of euthanasia for cattle: “penetrating captive bolt,” gunshot to the head or a lethal IV injection (such as that of pentobarbital).

According to Dairy Herd Management, the kinds of livestock animals that are euthanized include the sick or diseased, the injured, the severely lame, and those animals that can no longer stand.

Illegal in Pet Food

Here’s the trouble with selling the meat of any animal that has been euthanized by pentobarbital — you can’t do it.

According to the AABP, “Cattle euthanized using a barbiturate overdose may not be accepted at rendering facilities since the drug persists in residual material following the rendering process.”

And that’s exactly where Gravy Train and Smucker’s other recalled dog food brands went wrong. Including meat with pentobarbital residue is not only against proper livestock protocols, but it’s also in direct violation of FDA rules for pet food.

The FDA calls pentobarbital “an illegal substance” that “should never be present in pet food … [in] any amount.”

What Now for Gravy Train?

Smucker’s says it is no longer using the tainted animal fat.

“We stopped production at our manufacturing facility that makes these specific products until we could obtain the ingredient from a new supplier, and we are no longer sourcing the ingredient from the original supplier,” the company states on the Gravy Train website.

The company adds: “We will now test our products for the presence of pentobarbital as a new quality assurance protocol. In addition, we are enhancing our sourcing and supplier oversight procedures to ensure this does not occur again.”

For the latest news and updates, visit Petful’s Pet Food Recall Center.


 

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Dave Baker

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Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past 10-plus years, and more than 30,000 pet parents are subscribed to his recall alerts — which often arrive faster than even the recall alerts put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Learn more about Dave and the rest of the Petful team here: Meet the Team.

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