It takes a lot these days to floor me, but when I first read Joe Hattersley's cover story this month, I had to pick my jaw up from where it fell on the floor. Not because of what he wrote about the state of human nutrition, which was bad enough, but for what he wrote about dog food.
Dog food, he wrote, is state of the art, upgraded every three years to a new nutritional high. He claimed that the Recommended Daily Allowances for dogs are better researched and higher than the RDAs for people, and that veterinary nutrition is 50 years ahead of human nutrition. He also said that mineral supplements for people don't provide nearly as many needed minerals than the mineral supplements routinely given to dogs and farm animals.
I was sure Joe had gone too far and had indulged in a bit of hyperbole. So I popped into my local Safeway the other day and bought a variety of pet foods. Admittedly, this stuff is, in the main, processed gunk. Dogs are given meat 'derivatives' - and I'm frightened to even think what that might mean - but the point is, added into this stodgy gloop which passes for meat, the manufacturers have pumped in extremely high-dose vitamins.
For instance, on the can of Pedigree in front of me, I discovered that dogs are given 1500 IU of vitamin A for every kg of the stuff, or about 700 IU per can - the daily meal for a dachshund. In addition, it included healthy amounts of vitamin D (70 mg per can), vitamin E (40 mg per can) and copper (1 mg per can). And that's not all they get. The happy little pet who eats Pedigree also can eat Pedigree Complete, an insurance programme which has a complete complement of vitamins and minerals.
Now, those are the supplement levels given in the food for a 5-kg dog. If you translate those levels to me, a 58 kg human, I should have 8120 IU of vitamin A in my food before I even get near my supplements, 464 mg of vitamin E and 812 mg of vitamin D.
Just going on the can alone, this hypothetical dachshund is getting higher nutrients than the European Parliament wants to give us with the new vitamin laws.
They are even higher than the RDA for humans, which is 5000 IU for vitamin A, 10 mg for vitamin E and 5 mcg for vitamin D.
So then, I moved on to cat food and found, in among this dried hardtack of lamb, rice, corn, fish and meat, one of the healthiest of superfoods - brewer's yeast. Vitamin A (12000 IU per kg) and a whopping 955 IU per kg of vitamin E was also included.
The smaller the animal, the more likely you were to have a nutritional feast. Hamster food contained an incredible 14,000 IU of vitamin A per kg, 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per kg and 60 mg of vitamin E per kg. Even the little seeds and cereals given to budgerigars contain iodine and calcium, and more vitamins per kg than what the EU may permit as safe levels for humans.
Once you start in on pet supplements, humans are really left in the dust. The latest animal mineral supplements include chromium and vanadium to help eliminate animal diabetes. As Joe pointed out to me, no law requires those trace minerals in humans' food. In fact, the Food Supplements Directive is planning to ban them in human supplements.
The good thing about this discovery is that it should act as a shred of hope. If the EU parliament succeeds in limiting high-dose vitamins, there is a way you can get what you need.
The prospect of eating dog food may not sound very palatable but, judging by the state of today's food, it's no worse than what we're eating already.