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Unfit for man or beast

MagazineFebruary 2012 (Vol. 22 Issue 11)Unfit for man or beast

It is no accident that the big players in the pet-food industry have enjoyed a spate of major buy-outs by even bigger multinational players in the human foods market: Nestl'e's bought Purina; Mars, owned in turn by MasterFoods, bought Royal Canin; Colgate-Palmolive bought Hill's Science Diet; and Procter & Gamble bought Iams

It is no accident that the big players in the pet-food industry have enjoyed a spate of major buy-outs by even bigger multinational players in the human foods market: Nestl'e's bought Purina; Mars, owned in turn by MasterFoods, bought Royal Canin; Colgate-Palmolive bought Hill's Science Diet; and Procter & Gamble bought Iams. Some 80 per cent of the cat and dog food market is now controlled by these big four.

The pet-food industry has become a sidebar of the human food industry, with pet foods providing the convenient disposal of all of the byproducts and leftovers of the slaughter-house and the mill and, indeed, all 'food' considered unfit for human consumption. The big multinationals have managed to recycle their own waste products and detritus into a $50 billion industry, a sleight of hand now largely responsible for a host of illnesses now experienced by cats and dogs.

Most processed pet food is an amalgam of indigestible or inappropriate carbohydrates, altered or nutrient-deprived or even diseased meat, supple-ments and chemicals, with very little regulation of either the quality of food included or the dubious or misleading claims made by manufacturers. Here are the main sins of commission and omission.

  • There are no regulations on the kind of 'meat' that makes its way into pet food.
What meat there is (and most wet pet food is 75-per-cent water) can come from any source, including euthanized animals, roadkill and the so-called '4-D animals' (dead, diseased, disabled or dying). Although manufacturers vehe-mently deny that dead companion animals are used in pet food, a US Center for Veterinary Medicine inves-tigation, published in February 2002, found that half of the 75 dry-food specimens tested had detectable levels of sodium pentobarbital, the main drug used to put down dying pets.
  • Dry food is cooked at such high heat that it destroys much of the life and benefit of the food.
All dry food consists of the rendered remains of animals once any meat has been removed (usually for human consumption). Carcasses of dead animals are skinned and deboned, and then the entire lot-bone, hooves, feet, feathers, unborn babies, ligaments, organs and heads-is sausage-ground. Batch cookers then essentially 'melt' this unholy sludge at extremely high temperatures of 100-132 degrees C (220-270 degrees Fahrenheit), a process that destroys or alters enzymes and proteins.
The resulting meat and bone is put through a press to squeeze out the moisture, and the remains are then pulverized into a thick grit, or 'meal'. Although pet-food manufac-turers claim that indigestible ingredients, such as feathers, are removed, one study found that they are often under-processed and end up in the final product (J Nutr, 1998; 128: 2812S-5S).

This 'dough' is baked again after being put through an extruder, a larger version of what's used for pastry dough, and cut up to create the cute little meat-like shapes that are supposed to bear some resem-blance to real food but, in fact, have as much connection with true food as Pot Noodles does to homemade pasta. They are then sprayed with the tallow that is separated out during rendering and often added to discarded restaurant grease to make the product more palatable to pets.

  • Dry foods, blended with the aid of computer programmes to establish the correct amounts of protein, fats and carbohydrate, often include ingredients that are largely indigestible to animals.
Most pet food, other than products that specifically claim to be pure meat of some variety, have as their main ingredients grains and vegetable products-such as soybean meal, barley meal and corn gluten-to boost the protein content. Studies have discovered that a fair amount of soybean meal in a product adversely affects its digestibility in the small intestine in dogs, particularly of certain amino acids (Anim Feed Sci Technol, 2003; 109: 121-32); most problematic of all are whole soybean foods (Anim Feed Sci Technol, 2005; 12: 79-91). The inclusion of these kinds of ingredients in virtually all commercially prepared pet foods has an undoubted role in the vast increase in allergies among pets.
  • There is nothing in the rulebook to impel manufacturers to determine the true bioavailability of the food in their products.
The main brands, which are manufactured in the US, are regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization composed of both state and federal officials, and industry insiders.Although the former regulator, the National Research Council of the Academy of Sciences, required that feeding trials be carried out, the industry found these trials too onerous. Consequently, the AAFCO has now created 'profiles' of the composition of foods to ensure that they are made up of the correct percentages of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, and simply require that companies provide chemical analyses to show that their food meets these profiles. Outrageously, the AAFCO has a notorious 'family rule' in its guidelines, which allows a company to claim that feeding trials were done so long as it is similar to food that was indeed tested on live dogs and cats. According to the AAFCO guidelines, a feeding 'trial' requires only eight animals at the start, with no restrictions on breed or gender, and only six need finish the 26-week trial. The dietary food being tested fails only if the animal shows clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess, or loses more than 15 per cent of its body weight-and that's only when a trial is done, which isn't often.

Chemical analysis, however, cannot provide any useful information on the true bio-availability of the components of the food.

Researchers at the department of Molecular Biosciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California at Davis have complained that there is virtually no information on the bioavailability of the nutrients in many of the common dietary ingredients used in pet foods and that those main ingredients, all byproducts of the meat, poultry and fishing industries, have wide variations in terms of nutritional composition.

This means that any claims of nutritional adequacy, as suggested by the AAFCO profiles, they conclude, cannot "give assurances of nutritional adequacy and will not until ingredients are analyzed and bioavailability values are incorporated" (J Nutr, 1994; 124: 2520S-34S).

Another big AAFCO loophole is that manufacturers are not required to list any product ingredient that they did not themselves add. One ubiquitous chemical which makes its way into pet food, for instance, is ethoxyquin, a preservative required to be put in all fish not used for human consumption.

  • Pet food is largely made as a one-size-fits-all product, and does not take into account the special needs of individual breeds.
Nevertheless, one study showed that differences in food tolerance do occur across breeds. In four digestive trials using two canned and two dried commercial diets across a variety of breeds, the ability to digest most nutrients was lower in Great Danes, which suffered faecal loss of water, potassium and sodium in three out of the four trials (J Small Anim Pract, 1995; 36: 354-9).

Lynne McTaggart

Factfile: How to read labels

Manufacturers are given a license to obfuscate their products, so stay alert for the following kinds of products; if you must buy canned food, look for specifically 'named-meat' food, such as 'lamb dog food', as these must contain 95 per cent of the named product (or 70 per cent once water has been removed).

  • Beef, poultry or fish 'dinners', 'recipes', 'entrees', 'platters' or 'formulas' need only contain 25 per cent of the named meat and, once the moisture is removed, only 10 per cent.
  • Products "with" a named meat or fish, such as "with real lamb", only need to contain3 per cent of the food in terms of weight, excluding water for processing.
  • Products claiming a "flavour" such as "beef flavour" simply need to contain only trace amounts of some extract of tissues from cattle, such as a digest, or even an artificial flavour. It does not need to contain any actual beef at all.
  • An animal (or a specified meat) 'digest' is the end result of the hydrolysis (using chemicals or enzymes) of unspecified parts of undisclosed animals. Any generic and unspecified meat or meat product can be from any source, with no regard for quality.
  • Quality and poor-quality pet foods:
  • use the tallow, or fat, that rises to the top and is skimmed off and often mixed with restaurant grease; and
  • permit a combination of ingredients to be included in the product name if each ingredient makes up at least 3 per cent of the product weight. The ingredient names are supposed to be given in descending order by weight, but only those in appreciable amounts appear before the first listed fats.

WDDTY VOL 22 NO 11, February 2012

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