Thursday, April 05, 2007

TIME on pet food: last post of the day on this topic

Last one, I promise. This is from TIME.
Unraveling the Pet-Food Mystery | TIME

... critics of the pet food industry point to two factors that may contribute to unsafe food: the centralization of the process for making food and the use of unsanitary material from rendering plants. The recall brought to light that the wheat gluten, which was eventually recalled, came from a single Chinese company but ended up in over 100 brands of pet food. ChemNutra Inc., based in Las Vegas, bought 873 tons of gluten from the Chinese company, farmed it out to three pet food makers and one distributor that services the industry. A highly centralized process may be cheap, but "at that size and scale if something goes wrong it goes wrong big time," says Nestle.

Rendering plants, which boil down dead animal carcasses from slaughterhouses into fats and proteins, sell cheap material that often ends up in pet food. The "meat" in your cat's kibbles could be any kind: there's no law against even using rendered material from cats and dogs in pet food. Plants can mix in anything from road kill to supermarket deli meats, and investigations by KMOV-TV in St. Louis and the Los Angeles Times have suggested that pets killed in animal shelters just might make it into the slop. The Pet Food Institute, whose members create most of the dog and cat food sold in the U.S., told the Times that pets are not allowed in their products. But the FDA has admitted to finding "very, very low levels" of sodium pentobarbital — the chemical used to euthanize animals — in some brands of dog food. Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the U.S. said the allegations need more scrutiny. "The pet food industry is not the most transparent of industries and it has been really difficult for the public to obtain information," he says.

What Should You Feed Fido?

Besides staying away from recalled products, pet owners might want to consider using natural food from smaller companies. "I would suggest feeding pets organic instead of commercial dog food from big companies who are focused on filling food at the cheapest price," says Friedrich from PETA. Some pet lovers are bypassing store food altogether, serving up home cooked meals — everything from bone-shaped biscuits to homemade hamburgers. Sales of cookbooks for cats and dogs have increased dramatically, according Nielsen BookScan. But Goldstein of Cornell warns against cooking for your pet. "I would hate for people to stop using commercial pet food, because it's the healthiest diet in the long term for dogs and cats who need multiple vitamins at the proper ratios."
I wonder how "balanced" those vitamins really need to be - especially for dogs. Goldstein needs to point to some science. In the meantime we're going to go "organic" as a starting point, though it will be a gradual migration. (Gradual because our dog's diet is already gluten free, migration because this has shown how insane the pet food industry is.)

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