Pet Food Is So Very Profitable
Today’s pet owners spend many billions of dollars on the commercial foods they purchase and feed to their dogs and cats. The cost of producing these foods is low because the ingredients are inexpensive compared to human food ingredients. Fur- ther, there is little genuine scientific testing of any kind done on the nutritional suit- ability and safety of pet food, and virtually no long-term adequacy testing (the most costly of all tests). To make long-term feeding claims, pet food companies only have to meet basic minimum nutrient-content requirements without any testing at all, or may use small, six-month acute toxicity testing to earn the government’s quality certification. These tests typically are conducted by the companies them- selves, and the results are not closely monitored by the government. These ex- tremely lax validation requirements help to keep the profit margins for pet foods ex- tremely high. I have no quibble with corporations’ making a profit. Without a profit motive, no company would ever bother to produce a particular product. Excessive profits are intolerable, however, when they come at the expense of genuine science in the development and production of a product so that it is safe and meets its label’s claims. Most of the pet foods now available in groceries and pet stores claim to be
complete and balanced as a sole food for the entire life of a pet. This claim can- not possibly be valid unless the food has been tested scientifically for the life of at least a large enough number of animals to be statistically believable. To be con- vincing, such studies would have to show that the food does not cause acute or chronic nutritional diseases when compared to other, species-appropriate foods. No such scientifically valid long-term testing has ever been done on any of these products. As of the time of the writing of this book, no fewer than two large-scale pet food recalls have been issued by two major pet food companies in the past year. One of these recalls occurred because the food carried lethal amounts of aflatoxin (a poi- son from fungus) in some of the batches of food. Many dogs and cats became ill and some even died of this poisoning before the problem was discovered and the company had to recall the foods involved. Another recall occurred in several “pre- scribed” foods for pets made by one company. These foods had very high levels of vitamin D, which caused high calcium levels in a number of the pets fed the food. Once this was discovered, the foods were recalled. In the latter incident, a com- pany spokesman was quoted as saying that as a result of reports of affected pets “we started an exhaustive nutrient analysis of our canned products. In other words, the company felt compelled to conduct their rigorous nutrient analyses after the problem was discovered, but not before the foods were available for feeding to pets! This seems a back ward approach to quality assurance in foods labeled as safe for lifetime feeding to cats and dogs. These two most recent problems of untested foods are not isolated events. Such acute problems happen with some frequency, but do not always cause enough dis- ease and death to create a national or international uproar. Both illustrate perfectly how pet foods truly are inadequately tested for safety and efficacy by the self- regulated pet food industry. If the testing needed to properly validate even short-term safety of pet foods isn’t being done, imagine how much more unjustified are the lifetime safety claims on pet foods, considering that such tests are even more expensive than short-term tests. Further, long-term safety studies would delay the marketing of pet foods, in- creasing their cost. The pet food companies are simply not willing to make this in- vestment in science, and the FDA and AAFCO do not require such testing before they allow broad claims. In reality, the only long-term tests of pet foods that ever occur are the tests that owners themselves conduct when they feed these foods to their own pets.