Pet food companies have to suck it up
Just last week I posted an entry on what I feed my dogs. And many of you responded with comments on your own beliefs and experiences. Some of you even chastised me for my choices. It’s all fair game. For the most part I took it in stride (except for a little testiness there at the end), basking in your informed opinions in spite of the mild battering.
So here’s the mea culpa: I stand corrected—at least on the issue of big brand-name foods as a safe means of supplying your pets with some of their basic health needs.
Yesterday, I read the New York Times. And today, the Wall Street Journal. Shocking revelations on “renal failure linked to pet foods” caught my eye immediately. Yes, it seems it’s true. One of those giant pet food conglomerates got caught stuffing unwholesome ingredients (apparently, spoiled wheat gluten) into their foods. It could be in as many as forty different brands of wet dog foods and forty-eight kinds of wet cat foods.
And pets are dying. Ten so far—that we know of—since the end of February. Not to sensationalize, but you may not even know if your pet is sick…yet. Among the offenders? The [generally] well-respected Iams and Nutro dog and cat foods. What’s worse, we have no idea how far the crisis extends, geographically or pathologically.
Which is why my clients are calling in droves . And coming in for bloodwork (two this morning so far, and it’s only 9:30).
A batch?…perhaps I could be brought to comprehend this level of misfortune, horrible as it might be. (I’ve often informed owners to throw away bags of food after a bout of gastroenteritis—just in case.) But widespread renal failure due to a supplier’s huge quantity of bad gluten? Affecting more than one pet food label’s entire production lines?
That’s disgusting!…and telling.
It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to find that our pet foods are at high risk for safety-related manufacturer indiscretions. After all, they don’t often get the benefit of the oversight our human foods do. Yet I had heretofore considered these minor risks when purchasing relatively high-end brands.
But as some of you pointed out, these brands are now owned by large conglomerates who have managed to shave costs not just with consolidation’s economies of scale but, greedily, also by dealing with shady, lowest-bid suppliers, if these revelations prove true. This case was even more egregious in that the supplier was allegedly a known-offender in providing unsafe-quality foods.
To be frank, I’m revolted by my Iams food. I threw it away. I don’t know if I can ever buy it again knowing that somewhere, some corporate person decided it was OK to take a chance on my pet getting some of that poisonous gluten from a poor quality supplier.
The worst part? How many times has it happened in the past? When—ever?—have we had this quality of information-routing capability that allows us to identify “outbreaks” of disease from poor quality foods? We discovered Diamond’s last year and now we’ve sussed out Iams and Nutro, among others, but how many past offenders have gotten off scot-free? More than I care to contemplate.
Still, I stand by my previous statements on by-products and ingredient lists: As a general rule, reading a list of arcane ingredients does not raise flags with me. Having worked in industrial kitchens and cooked foods for large quantities of people, I know how important it can be, economically speaking, to replace or supplement ingredients. So if my dog ends up eating cow hoof-generated gelatin, I don’t automatically object. (I make excellent molded desserts with the stuff all the time.)
In other words, by-products don’t disgust me. In fact, I eat tripe, intestines and other foodstuff most Americans would almost uniformly consider inedible by-products. My meat-based soups almost always include “gross” organ meat. Even feathers, beaks and feet have been known to make their way into my chicken stock. It’s all admissible—as long as it’s fresh and clean and comes from a good-practices farm environment.
The gross factor is one thing, but what about wholesomeness, which refers to the safety and nutrient viability of the food? If you don’t have that—well, that’s another story. You might as well throw the stuff away. It won’t provide sustenance and it might make you sick. That’s where I draw the line.
After watching Fast-Food nation yesterday I’m wondering…If I can believe it happens in human food (and I do) then why don’t I expect it in my dogs’ food? If I refuse to eat at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, to name but a couple among hundreds, then why should I expect my own pets to eat from a bag of potentially lower-grade food than that? Even if it’s just for breakfast?
I don’t know. I’m still working it all out. The revelation is still too new—and too shocking—to process in a few short hours. I still worry about small producers who may too easily fly under the radar. And I still won’t feed my dogs like wolves, whatever that means (or raw as a rule, for that matter), but I guess I’m considering all my options at this point.