Updated: Apr 6
Why is commercial pet food dangerous?
The 2007 Menu Foods recall shed light a number of the pet food industry’s dirtiest secrets. Most people were surprised —and appalled — to find out that all Iams/Eukanuba canned foods aren't made by The Iams Company. As a matter of fact, in 2003 Iams signed an exclusive 10-year contract with Menu for the production of 100% of its canned foods. This type of deal Iams made with Menu is commonly referred to as “co-packing.” One company makes the food, but puts someone else’s label on it thereon. This is a really common arrangement in the pet food industry. It was first illustrated by the Doane’s and Diamond recalls, in which dozens of seemingly private labels were involved. But none of these companies were as large nor as "reputable" as Iams, Eukanuba, Hill’s, Purina, Nutro, and other high-end, so-called "premium" pet foods. The big question raised by this arrangement is whether there's is any real difference between the expensive premium brands versus the lowliest of generics. The recalled products all shared similar things in common: they contained the ingredient wheat gluten, but also all contained byproducts of some kind, including specified byproducts like giblets or liver.
Whatever the differences are between cheap and high-end food, one thing is clear: the retail price of pet food doesn't always determine whether the food is good or bad or even safe. However, the very cheapest foods can be relied on to have the very cheapest ingredients without exceptions. Take for example the Wal-Mart’s store brand Ol’ Roy, which has now been involved in 3 serious recalls. Fancy Feast has never been recalled, but is additionally a prime example of inferiour/low quality food made with animal byproducts. Additionally, filler ingredients such as wheat, corn, soy, and meat byproducts may trigger food sensitivities in kitties.
Animal Testing Another unpleasant practice brought to light by this recall is pet food testing on live animals. Menu’s own lab animals, who were deliberately fed the contaminated food, were the first identified victims. Menu's testing began on February 27 [a week after the first reports]; animals started to die painfully from kidney failure a few days later. After the initial reports released by the media, Menu quickly changed its tune and started calling these experiments “taste tests.” But Menu has continued with practices such as: live animal feeding, metabolic energy, palatability, and other tests for Iams and other companies for years under this terms. Videotapes expose the animals' lives in barren metal cages; callous treatment; invasive experiments; and careless avoidable cruelty. They keep huge colonies of cats and dogs for these testing purposes, or use testing laboratories that have their own animals for testing. There's a new movement toward using companion animals in their homes for palatability & other studies. In 2006, The Iams Company announced that it would be reducing the utilisation of canine and feline lab animals by 70%. While they may proclaims this as a moral victory, the important reasons for this switch were most likely financial in nature. Regardless of the reasons, it is a really positive step for the animals. Marketing Magic A trip down the pet food aisle with all the wonderful claims made by pet food makers for their repertoire of products, will boggle the mind of the average consumer. Knowing the nature of the ingredients helps filter out some of the more outrageous claims, but what’s the reality behind all this hype?
Niche claims. Indoor cat, canine athlete, Persian, 7-year old, Bloodhound, or a pet with a sensitive tummy, too much flab, arthritis, or itchy feet — no matter what, there’s a food “designed” just for that pet’s personal needs. People wish to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is sure to sell better than a general product like “puppy food.” Truthfully, all pet foods are measured against these two basic standards: adult and growth [which includes gestation and lactation]. Everything else is a marketing gimmick, with the exception of some prescription-only formulas for different health issues [k/d etc.] only available via your veterinarian.
“Natural” and “Organic” claims. Some companies use terms like “Nature” or “Natural” or even “Organic” within the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definitions. Consumers should specifically be aware that the term “organic” does not imply anything at all about animal welfare; products from cows and chickens may be technically organic, yet the animals themselves are still just seen as “production units” in enormous inhumane factory farms.
Ingredient quality claims. Many pet foods today still falsely claim they contain “human grade” quality ingredients. However, this is a totally meaningless term — which is why the pet food companies are able to get away with using it. The same is applicable to “USDA inspected” or similar such phrasing. It's trying to imply that the food is made using ingredients that are passed by the USDA for human consumption, but there are some ways around this. For example: a facility could be USDA-inspected during the day, but the pet food is made at night after the inspector has gone home.
“Meat is the first ingredient” claim. A claim that a named meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) is that the #1 ingredient is usually seen for dry food. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight, and raw chicken weighs tons, since it contains tons of water. If you look further down the list, you’re likely to see listed ingredients like as chicken or poultry byproduct meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or any other high-protein meal.
Special ingredient claims. Many of the high-end pet foods today depend on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients like fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of those items actually present within the food are small; and likely the items themselves may likely be scraps and rejects from processors of human foods — not the whole, fresh ingredients they're hoping you'll picture. Such ingredients don’t provide any significant health benefit and are more so a flimflam marketing gimmick.
WHAT CONSUMERS CAN DO
Do not buy pet food that contain ambiguous labeling, meat byproducts or chemical additives!
Write or call pet food companies and the Pet Food Institute and express your concerns about commercial pet foods. Demand that manufacturers improve the quality standards of the ingredients in their products.
Stop buying commercial pet food; or at a minimum stop buying dry food. Dry foods are the subject of many more recalls than wet foods, and have many adverse health effects in the long-term. If that isn't possible for you, reduce the quantity of commercial pet food and supplement it with fresh, organic foods, especially meat [Freeze-dried meat is an excellent alternative]. Acquire one or more of the many books currently available on pet nutrition and make your own food at home. Check that a veterinarian or a nutritionist has reviewed the recipes to ensure that they are balanced for long-term use.
AAFCO Pet Food Committee
David Syverson, Chair MN Dept of Agriculture Dairy and Food Inspection Division
625 Robert Street North
St. Paul, MN 55155-2538
FDA — Center for Veterinary Medicine Sharon Benz
7500 Standish Place
Rockville, MD 20855
Pet Food Institute
2025 M Street, NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036
Jackson Galaxy video on how to read cat food labels Have you ever read the label on a can of cat food and felt totally lost? If so, you're not alone, in this video Jackson Galaxy will guide you through the mysterious and confusing world of cat food labels, so you know how to choose the best food for your budget:
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Cat Feeding Myths | Dr. Jean Hofve's website
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How Petfood is Made | the Gargoyle Catterie
General Feline Nutrition info | the Gargoyle Catterie