What they don't want you to know: The skinny on pet food labels and calorie counts'¦
Time once again to discuss the epidemic of obesity suffered by US pets. But this time we’re talking about solutions the pet food industry might offer—in this case, the act of listing calorie counts on their labels.
Yesterday, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommended the FDA require calorie information on pet food labels. In his testimony, John Branam of the AVMA spoke out in favor of this labeling requirement on the grounds that more information can only help the consumer make better choices.
The AVMA’s position is that consumers understand calories on labels and would use this information wisely to decrease their dog’s weight when necessary. According to Branam, “Pet owners do not always know how much to feed. They may not realize the high number of calories associated with some of the pet food they are giving their pets.”
The pet food industry’s counter-argument? “[Calorie counts don’t] work for people.”
The Pet Food Institute’s VP of technical and regulatory affairs, Nancy Cook, was responsible for that gem of a statement. The presumption is that we don’t need labels on foods because we consumers wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway.
Mind you, I half agree with Ms. Cook. Probably one-half of the pet owning population will never even look at these labels, much less utilize them to achieve their pets’ optimum health requirements. But what about the other half of us?
Sure, consumers may not know what to do with this kind of labeling yet, but veterinarians are there to help you out and after all, you’re smart enough to compare one brand to another based on calorie counts, right? That’s not rocket science. And I think that’s indisputably helpful right off the bat.
So what is it the pet food companies are scared of? Do they not want us to trouble our little brains with the kind of higher math calorie counting requires? I think not.
Because the pet food companies already keep these caloric tallies, handing them out to consumers when they call to ask, you’d think it wouldn’t take a significant capital investment to pay for a printed calorie count on the next version of the label. That way when you’re at the pet store you can compare them side by side. Think you can handle that?
It’s my take that the pet food industry simply wants to keep at bay any intrusive regulation that may change how the industry’s strategic marketing game is currently played. The Pet Food Institute is there to keep the big guys on top. Admitting that PFI rock stars Alpo and Old Roy have 20% more calories per serving might not go over so well, right?
But then…those who buy these low-barrel brands may not even care. Hmmm…
Nonetheless, cynical consumer that I am, I’m willing to support this labeling requirement on the basis that the pet food industry doesn’t want me to have it. On those grounds alone I would feel thoroughly justified in calling for its mandatory adoption.
Luckily, I don’t have to. It’s obvious that obesity in pets is a problem. It’s also obvious that consumers use calorie counts on a regular basis. Does it not then stand to reason that we deserve the chance to improve our pets’ lives through the greater transparency afforded by one simple tool?