Pet Food Safety In Question
Zach Carter, Senior Political Economy Reporter for the Huffington Post, published a scathing article today about the safety of pet food and the pet food industry as a whole.
He obviously did his homework.
The information about the huge pet food recall of 2007, when so many pets died and were sickened by melamine tainted food and how not a whole lot has changed since then, is heartbreaking. Carter also discusses the Blue Buffalo case and revealed something I was not aware of - again, melamine was found in the ingredients from a supplier in China.
Most people do not realize that a majority of the vitamins, minerals, fats and flavor enhancers added to pet foods are sourced from China. Just because your brand of pet food says "Made in the USA" doesn't mean all the ingredients are sourced here.
While I agree with most of what he reported, there were a few issues I feel compelled to comment on.
The market for premium pet food is dominated by a handful of large companies. Mars Petcare is the world's biggest pet food company with over $17 billion a year in annual sales, according to Petfood Industry data. It's also the parent company for a host of high-end brands most consumers don't associate with its flagship Pedigree label. Hippie-yuppie favorites, including California Naturals, Evo, Nutro, Eukenuba and Innova, are all heads of the Mars hydra.
Calling people who love their pets and want them to eat better food hippies and yuppies is unfair. Most people trust that what the manufacturers claim is true. Most do not know that many once independent healthy pet food companies like Natura, former producer of California Naturals, Innova, and Evo, have been sold to big pet food companies (in this case first to Procter & Gamble and then to Mars). Although ingredient labels may look the same on these products, consumers do not realize that the source and quality of the ingredients often changes once these foods are sold to large pet food companies.
Carter writes: Dozens of companies advertise specialty "skin and coat" or "healthy joint" offerings that suggest they will help prevent or treat itchy skin or arthritis -- common, painful issues for many dogs. PetSmart, a major retailer, has an entire sales category for "skin and coat" dog foods. There is typically very little scientific evidence to back up these alleged health benefits.
YES! Thank you!! This is true for life stages foods, as well. Kittens and puppies have the same nutritional needs as adult dogs - they simply need to eat a whole lot more! Offering many varieties from one label means more shelf space and more sales.
There are similarly flimsy claims made about a host of other fad pet food diets, from gluten-free to raw foods. The existing scientific evidence suggests that it is extremely rare for dogs to suffer from gluten allergies. There is no data suggesting that raw food diets -- popular with people who incorrectly imagine dogs to be wild carnivores -- offer any nutritional benefits superior to those of cheap brand names.
While I agree that terms like 'gluten-free' are marketing ploys, the fact remains that cats have no biological need for grains and cannot digest them well. Some dogs do well with grains, but whole grains, like oats and millet. Wheat is a recognized inflammatory.
I also happen to be a proponent of raw diets. I don't think anyone believes their dog or cat is a 'wild' carnivore, but educated pet guardians understand that their pets are carnivores. Many stick with raw food because of the results they have witnessed since their dog or cat has been on the diet - digestive issues diminish, skin and coat looks and feesl healthier, teeth are whiter and energy levels are up.
The reason there isn't a whole lot of data showing the benefits of a raw food diet is that the big pet food companies generally fund pet food studies. These big companies do not produce raw food - it is not in their interest to fund such studies.
Whatever theoretical therapeutic value specialized pet foods offer can be nullified by food safety issues. A two-year FDA study concluded in 2012 found that over 16 percent of commercial raw pet food was contaminated with listeria, a bacteria that can be fatal to humans. More than 7 percent was contaminated with salmonella. Healthy dogs are relatively resilient to both pathogens, but many dogs are not in tip-top shape. And as any pet caretaker knows, somebody has to feed the animal. If pet food is contaminated, it's very easy for human family members to get sick, even if the animal doesn't. Touch the food and forget to wash your hands, or experience a misfire on pet clean-up, and boom! You're laid out in the hospital. Pursuing nontraditional dog food in the name of nutrition, in other words, can be dangerous.
It is true that salmonella and listeria post a much greater risk to humans than to dogs and cats. But here's a fact - you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than contracting listeria. Most of the cases of listeria over the last few years have come from tainted ice cream, caramel apples and deli meat. These were serious outbreaks - many people died from eating these foods.
As far as the salmonella goes, more dry pet foods have been recalled due to salmonella than raw foods. Since 2010 there have been 27 salmonella-related recalls of raw foods (one for parsley) and 78 recalls of dry food (kibble).
Please read Mr. Carter's entire article - he discusses regulations that haven't been enforced, the power of lobby groups and more.