Nutrition

Remember the old saying, you are what you eat?

And, remember this?

“On March 22, 2007, the law offices of Merchant Law Group LLP launched a series of class action lawsuits against the product manufacturer (Menu Foods), as well as various retailers and other defendants, asserting that millions of containers of their products: a) posed a serious danger to the health of cats and dogs, b) were unfit for sale and unsafe for pets to eat, and c) caused devastating harm to families with pets.”On Thursday January 24 2008, CBC TV (http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/dogsbreakfast.html) aired a documentary produced by Yap films (http://www.yapfilms.com/index.html) entitled, ” Pet Food: A Dog’s Breakfast”.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST

Aired on CBC Newsworld on January 26 2008

Do we really know what we’re feeding our pets? In the Spring of 2007, pet owners across North America were devastated when upwards of 50,000 of their beloved pet dogs and cats fell seriously ill after eating tainted pet food. Many of the animals died. Menu Foods of Toronto, the manufacturer, initiated the biggest recall of pet food in North American history.

In the wake of the scandal, the trust pet food makers so carefully nurtured with pet lovers has been severely shaken, and the $16 billion dollar pet food industry has come under public scrutiny as never before. Pet owners and governments are asking: Is pet food both nutritious, and safe? Does it live up to the claims of its makers? Is the industry adequately regulated?

Yap films’ new documentary, PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, investigates, and discovers that a ‘dog’s breakfast’ may be just that.

This exposé takes viewers inside the world of pet food manufacturing and is essential viewing for every pet owner.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST features critics of the industry, foremost among them Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, a California vet, and insider who used to work in the pet food industry. She says the recall of food made by Menu Foods of Toronto is a sign of larger problems. “Unfortunately the pet food industry is cutting corners, is not doing the testing it says it’s doing, is not using the quality of ingredients it wants pet owners to believe are in that bag and can, and is not forthcoming with pet owners about those facts. It is not a truthful industry.”

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST profiles three pet owners who say their pets have been made ill or died as a result of eating tainted food. They are plaintiffs in class action lawsuits seeking to recover not only money spent on vet bills, but also compensation for the emotional trauma they have suffered. One of the owners, Jovanna Kovacevic of Toronto, says, “You get very close to a cat. It’s not just an animal, it’s a member of your family. One of her cats died after eating food that was later recalled. Another is still sick and needs ongoing, and ruinously expensive, veterinary care. “It’s not my fault”, she says, “so you want them to pay for their mistakes. You’re angry.”

As Vancouver class action lawyer Lucianna Brasil explains, the claim for emotional damages indicates how our view of pets has changed over the past decades. Animals used to be thought of as companions. Now they are more like members of the family – like substitute children. In fact, about two thirds of pet owners are childless. Even though under the current law, pets are considered ‘property’, the pet food industry strongly promotes the view that pets are family members and markets its products on that basis.

Critics also say there is a big gap between how the companies want consumers to perceive their product and what it actually is. Pet food commercials and labels show fetchingly presented ingredients that humans would be happy to eat. The pet food industry often refers to its products as “human grade’. But Elizabeth Hodgkins says this kind of marketing is misleading. “I think many pet owners would be very surprised to learn about the ingredients that are actually going into the can or the bag of food that they’re feeding to their pet. They would be shocked.” Hodgkins goes into the kitchen to reveal the secrets of what’s actually in your pet’s food and how it’s made.

Dr. Meg Smart, of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, says that expensive pet foods labelled ‘premium’ are often no better or different than cheaper food. The program tests that assertion in a feed testing lab. And Smart also brews a strange concoction, made of old leather boots, wood shavings and motor oil, which in theory could pass one of the minimum standards for pet food, even though it’s inedible. Smart – an educator of veterinarians – also warns that many vets don’t know as much about pet food as consumers think they do. The program offers advice for those wondering what they should be feeding their pets.

As seen in PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST, there is a growing call among consumer activists for greater regulation that will bring the pet food industry to heel. Your pet’s life may depend on it.

PET FOOD: A DOG’S BREAKFAST is produced by yap films in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

It’s no wonder why consumers are now highly suspicious of commercial pet foods and don’t know what to believe. Even though the melamine poisoning has been extremely devastating to so many, some good could come out of this fiasco, namely speaking; consumers are more inclined to read label and question what is in the food. Just because a commercial pet food is called “Premium” doesn’t make the product superior to less expensive foods. Just because a pet food lists lamb meal as the first ingredient, thus insinuating that lamb meal represents the largest proportion of the formula, this is not necessarily so. One manufacture list whole grain brown rice, white rice and rice bran as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ingredient. We all know that white rice is brown rice minus the bran so if we re-add the rice bran to the white rice, what do we have? – brown rice, right? Then why is the manufacturer listing lamb meal as the first ingredient when it should be listed as the second ingredient? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

So what choices do we have? The way I see it there are three basic choices available. 1: Commercial dog food, raw diet dog food and homemade dog food, and all three choices have negatives and positives to varying degrees.

Commercial dog foods

If you must use commercial dog food, try to identify what product best meets your needs. Read the label carefully and ask questions. Remember that the most expensive pet food with the catchy phrases and pleasant graphics may not be any better than the plain packaged product at half the price. Email the manufacturer and ask questions. You may even receive some free product in the process.

Raw diet

Many consumers have turned to raw diets for their pets and have had good results. Pet owners have reported their dogs are healthier, more energetic, shinier coats etc. This is a good choice for many, but it may not be the product for everyone. Of course, like anything else, the subject of raw diets is controversial. Lisa S. Newman, N.D., Ph.D., Azmira’s Director of Research conducted a study in the 1990, comparing commercial foods, raw diets and homemade diets. You should read her paper at http://www.azmira.com/StudyRawFoodDiets.htm and decide for yourself what it all means.

Homemade diets

There is a growing trend among pet owners to cook their own pet foods. This is a good alternative if you have the time to prepare the meals and to undertake some research into recipes and required nutrition. One has to be careful not to overcook the food and not to include food items that could be harmful to your dogs. You could expect your dog to have irregular stools until it adjusts to the new diet. The homemade diet is not very convenient because it is time consuming and you need some extra refrigeration space to accommodate all the ingredients.