Your Cat Is an “Experimental Animal”

Your Cat Is an “Experimental Animal”

  If a food is marketed as “complete and balanced for the life of a pet” with the AAFCO statement on the label assuring this completeness, pet food purchasers have no reason to doubt the safety of that food. This assurance is unfounded, however. Because of the strong profit motive of the pet food companies to rush products to market, and the lack of governmental regulation controlling this rush to market, pet owners are themselves providing the experimental animals for testing the actual truth of adequacy claims. It is hard to imagine a more unfair, and unsafe, situation. Having pet food purchasers test the foods on their own pets is only half of the problem, however. Not only are pet owners unaware of the untested nature of the claims on pet foods, the veterinary profession is equally unaware of it. Veterinarians are familiar with the rigorous safety testing imposed on pharmaceuticals they use for their pa- tients. They receive assurances from the pet food companies that products with AAFCO label assurances undergo similar kinds of testing to validate the claims on those labels. Naturally, veterinarians assume that a government statement of ade- quacy deserves their trust and endorsement. Most veterinarians today make com- mercial pet food recommendations to their clients. Few, if any, would provide those endorsements if they understood how little meaningful testing those recommended foods actually undergo. This point has been amply illustrated by re- calls of dry food for alflatoxin contamination in 2006 and a massive recall for kid- ney toxins in canned cat foods in 2007. In both situations, the packaging of all con- taminated foods carried AAFCO nutritional safety and efficacy guarantee state- ments, despite not being uniformly safe at all. Without their knowledge, veterinarians have been assigned the role of profes- sional evaluators of the results of long-term pet food feeding trials in which their patients are experimental animals. But if veterinarians don’t understand that they are unwittingly cast in the role of pet food researchers, how can they possibly know to watch out for negative effects of these untested foods? If veterinarians believe the foods they are recommending have already been proven safe in real tests, why would they become alarmed or even suspicious of nutritional disease when large numbers of their feline patients develop chronic degenerative problems like obe- sity, diabetes, bladder problems, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney problems, and many others? This is exactly the situation in which we all find ourselves. The short-term and long-term feeding tests needed to earn the label claims on pet foods have not been done in the manufacturer’s laboratory. Instead, they are being done in the general pet population, with millions of test subjects. This is certainly enough test animals to satisfy any statistician, but the veterinarians who are monitoring the results of this huge test don’t know what to watch for in this experiment. In fact, these med- ical professionals have no reason to believe they are to watch for anything at all. These testing inadequacies apply not only to the “well-pet” cat foods, but also to the so-called prescribed foods that are commonly used to manage disease in cats. Although these special foods often claim to have been validated in scientific stud- ies conducted at veterinary schools, these claims are also misleading. The third- party research these foods undergo is actually quite limited. Not only are the num- bers of diseased cats involved small, by scientific standards, the studies them- selves are very narrowly designed and funded by the various producing companies. Usually the purpose of such studies is to prove the food does what the manufac- turer already claims that it does. Because these studies are specific-results-oriented and funded by an interested party, there is too little objectivity in their design and implementation. Further, if a study fails to provide a positive result for the company’s marketing purposes, the company will not publish that information. Veterinarians do not get to see research results that reflect negatively on the manufacturer’s claims. Unfortunately, without pet food company funding for research, academic veterinarians do not have the re- sources to conduct genuinely objective, thorough evaluations of these disease- managing diets

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