Pet Food Industry & Vets: Undue Influence?

by Mary Haight on January 23, 2010

There are many varieties of commercial dog foo...
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It’s not escaped anyone’s notice that the pet food industry has been a hot topic for several years now, and not only because of recalls.  The other part of the conversation centers around the relationship between that industry, our Vets, and the quality of pet foods offered through them.

I haven’t come across a practice that doesn’t promote  foods from the some of the giants of the industry:  Science Diet and Iams. (Pedigree, Purina, Beneful, and the rest do not support vets but do use controversial preservatives named in this blog.)   And the two food companies give appropriate financial support to veterinary practices in exchange, like paying costs for continuing education, which adds up to be quite an expense for larger practices, and conferences.

This is not, repeat, not a criticism of vets.  If they cannot trim their cost of doing business, the prices we pay will go higher and any flexibility in their charging practices will disappear.  Keep in mind that many vets do an enormous amount of giving to rescues, shelters, people who have lost their jobs but the cat is sick, or the dog is injured. They unselfishly do not charge for many parts of treatments given, trying to balance the needs of their clients with the needs of supporting their practice and the people they employ.

What’s important here is that we are inundated with ads for these foods everywhere, on websites,  promoted at our vets office as healthful, preferred, the best, because that’s the message the client gets when they look at the display on the counter. 

They are conveniently available at the local supermarket when we are shopping for our household. Because of this millions and millions of people buy without a further thought.  There’s not much room for alternative foods on supermarket shelves nor is it necessarily affordable for new products,  so customers with convenience in mind don’t always get much choice or opportunity to judge differences.  But let’s look at some ingredients that are common to almost if not all of the major brands of  kibble.  

BHA/BHT, synthetic preservatives, are used to stop spoilage (oxidation) of fats in dog food. Preservatives are necessary.  But both these synthetics are known carcinogens.  Ethoxyquin is also used as a preservative in pet food and is a pesticide controlled by the EPA. For researchers, it’s about risk assessment and shelf life. For consumers, it’s about removing any possible harm from their furry friend’s food.  Vitamins C and E are used to preserve many natural and organic dog foods, albeit without the longevity of  synthetics, lasting only around four months. But does food that lasts for years in an unopened bag scream quality nutrition to you?

Research posits that as long as the carcinogens and pesticides are only so many parts per million, health hazards should not result in a major cross- section of the pet population, a conclusion which  allows pet food companies to use these harmful ingredients.  Am I, a non-scientist, missing something or is this the crazy talk I think it is?

Then there’s tartrazine, carmoisine and sunset yellow, are all of which are thought to cause hyperactivity in humans.  Would it not have a similar effect in pets? Kidney and liver disease, heart disease, and dental problems are all on the rise, as are allergies and other issues linked to food.

The numbers on pet obesity stand at one in four (National Academy of Sciences) which just adds fuel to the diet fire as related to processed foods.  Just as with the current health argument that processed foods with a particular ingredient profile are making people sick and fat (even outside the obvious lack of exercise and overeating issues that are also present), so it may be with our pets. Not all processed foods for dogs are bad of course, but it takes time and information and reading the labels to figure it out.

Other things that don’t belong in your pet’s food: Wheat and corn gluten meal and rice protein concentrates (all poor sources of protein), by-products are not good if they are the main source of protein, sweeteners like sugar, sucrose, corn syrup.  Molasses or honey is fine in your dog treats.  You can do your homework at thepetfoodlist which has links to the manufacturer’s sites to confirm timeliness of the information provided.

I’ve chosen to stick with what I see as the non-controversial end of the food ingredients argument.  These are the things that should be an easy fix for the major pet food companies. These are things they should want to change. 

Do vets have any influence with the pet food industry, or is this up to people, petitions, and the inevitable plea to legislators?  Why can’t the major pet food companies get in front of the curve for a change? Anyone have some insight, an opinion to offer? How tied are the hands of vets in their relationship with the industry?

Source: Daily Mail

Related Posts: Survey Says: No Trust in Pet Food Jan 23, 2009

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