Why does dog food have to be so complicated?

I don't know about anyone else,but the recent rash of recalls on some very well-known brands of dog food is really stressing me out!

That might seem a bit silly, considering that the dogs and cats at Chez Tucker are all on a prey model raw diet (although they do get small, occasional meals or snacks of commercial food, such as canned tripe, or things like Honest Kitchen for the dogs if we are traveling and feeding raw for that brief time is not convenient or possible).  

But even though I don't personally have anything to worry about as it relates to the Diamond realls, which are now confirmed to have affected not just the foods in the Diamond family of pet foods (including Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Premium Edge, Professional, 4Health, and Taste of the Wild) but also foods that are CO-PACKED by Diamond, specifically Natural Balance, Wellness, and Solid Gold, I'm still stressed out, and worried, and, to tell the truth, pretty darn mad! Because even though I wasn't using any of the affected products for my animals, other people were! 

Now about those co-packers.  Just what are they, anyway?  Well, in short, a co-packer is a company that manufactures and packages foods for other companies. This means that the company whose name is on the bag or can of food you're buying for your dog or cat may not be who is responsible for actually producing the food.  The reason for this is simple economics.  Manufacturing plants are expensive to purchase, set up, staff, and maintain, so many companies contract with a co-packer to actually produce their foods in accordance with the recipes and guidelines they set forth. 

The problem is that while this practice is sound from an economic standpoint, it does not succeed so well from the standpoint of quality control.  Companies who contract with co-packers have varying degrees of control or supervision over their company's food runs (some companies send a representative to oversee their company's production runs, for example, while others do not), but when multiple brands of varying qualities of foods are being produced in a single facility, the potential for many or all of the foods produced there to be affected by the same issue (if one should arise) is high.  This is what happened in the mass recalls of 2007 with the melamine issue.  Some lower priced, lower quality brands of foods were purchasing vegetable proteins from China that later proved to be contaminated with melamine, and due the equipment not having been properly cleaned during production runs, even foods whose recipes did not include the contaminated ingredients wound up being affected.  As a result, many dogs and cats became ill, and many died.

As it pertains to the current recall situation, to my knowledge, no pets have yet fallen ill as a result of the salmonella contamination that prompted the recall, but CBS News  reports that fourteen people in nine states have become ill and five have been hospitalized as a result of handling the food. Disturbing to be sure, and yet, perhaps perversely, I have to laugh a little bit, even if that laughter is of the sardonic variety, rather than a true expression of mirth.  After all, it's certainly NO laughing matter that people are becoming ill and having to be hospitalized as a result of handling this salmonella contaminated pet food.  Yet, as a raw feeder, well-accustomed to being on the receiving end of the side eye when the subject of what I feed my pets comes up in conversation, I will reluctantly admit to feeling just the teeniest bit smug.  Because, after all, commercial pet food is supposed to be the SAFE choice, while we raw feeders are, according to many, risking the health and safety of not just our pets but ourselves by making this, allegedly, unorthodox choice.  (For the record, Tucker and gang are thriving, and neither they nor any of the humans in the house have ever been ill as a result of the diet I choose to feed.)

But wait ... I digress.  This post isn't about raw feeding.  It's about the fact that going out and buying commercially prepared food for our dogs and cats (hopefully after making a considered decision regarding the food in question) should not feel like some bizarre game of Russian roulette.  It shouldn't be life and death, for our pets, or for us.  But it is.  Because here's the sad, ugly, but very real truth:  the entire pet food industry came into being when some savvy individuals figured out that marketing the grain hulls, sweepings, rendered meat, and other "leftovers" of the human food industry for consumption by pet dogs and cats was a great way to turn a tidy profit from things that had previously been discarded as waste. 

Thankfully, a lot has changed since those days, and there are now a handful of companies making very carefully considered dog and cat foods using quality, human-grade ingredients, who actually seem to truly care about the health and welfare of the animals consuming their foods.  Unfortunately, a lot has stayed the same, and the truth is that the lion's share of pet food companies out there are driven not by a love of animals but by a desire to improve their bottom line.  I wish this wasn't so, but it is, no matter how many adorable dogs and cats they have romping through their high priced television advertisements.  Here's a suggestion ... spend less on slick ad campaigns and more on quality ingredients and in creating species-appropriate foods that are actually GOOD for dogs and cats.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that any company spending what it takes to advertise on the national stage is probably not a company whose products I'd ever in a million years want to feed to my pets.  And I'm in advertising!  I'm also a believer in free enterprise, but NOT at the expense of the health or safety of one's customer's, or that of their pets. 

Co-packers, as mentioned above, complicate the whole issue exponentially.  When a consumer goes into a store, be it a small, boutique type store, a grocery store, or a large supermarket type pet supply store, to purchase pet foods, they are, hopefully, making the decision to purchase a particular brand of food based on a considered assessment of the ingredients, guaranteed analysis, and the history/reputation of said food/company rather than on the basis of the cute dog or cat in a given company's advertisements or on the packaging itself.  But even then, how do you know if the food you're buying is actually made by the company whose name is on the bag?  The truth is - often, you don't.  Most people don't give much thought, if any, to the whole co-packing issue, and it's certainly not something the pet food industry as a whole wants to encourage people to delve too deeply into.  In addition, assuming that someone actually WANTS to find out if a company uses a co-packer, or who that co-packer is, it's often very difficult to do.  Inquiries into the matter are often met with slick double talk by company customer service representatives, and, even worse, the more dubious a company's reputation is, the slicker that double talk is likely to be.  Not to mention that many pet food companies whose reputations have been tarnished by frequent recalls and safety issues pay their representatives to participate in discussion groups pertaining to pet issues, which inevitably includes talk about what foods the participants use and recommend.  After all, pet food is big business, so spin doctoring as damage control is only to be expected.

The dilemma of finding a food to feed one's dog or cat that contains quality ingredients, is species-appropriate, and SAFE, is difficult enough if you have a healthy animal that doesn't suffer from allergies, food sensitivities, or other ailments.  If you have an allergic or food sensitive animal, for example, then things become even more complicated.  Here's a case in point.  Imagine my friend E.'s horror at discovering that a brand of food she had recently tried for her two dogs in an effort to find a food that her itchy/allergic/food intolerant boy would do well on was one of the brands affected in this recent recall.  The good news is that her dogs are fine, and by the time the news of the recall hit, she had stopped using the food anyway.  But I've been in a similar situation (back in 2007), and regardless, it's still scary! 

Here's the bottom line.  As our pets' guardians and caregivers, it is up to us to be as discerning as we can possibly be when deciding what to feed our pets.  For some people, it is simply not feasible, for any number of valid reasons, to prepare food for one's pets at home, either by cooking for them, or by feeding a raw diet.  I, myself, even though for the most part my animals are raw fed, still have to rely on commercial food from time to time. But if we are going to spend our hard-earned money on commercial pet food, we need to do our best to be sure that the food we're spending that money on is as nutritious, as species-appropriate, and as SAFE as it possibly can be.

It's a decision our pets can't make for themselves.  In this, as in so many things, they must rely on us, and their health, their longevity, even their very lives, are at stake.  We must hold pet food companies accountable, and never forget that pet food manufacturers, even the best of them, are motivated at least in part by the potential for financial gain.  That's their job.  Our job is to protect our pets.  They're counting on us. 


Winnie said...

Really important Blog post. You are so right.

Love and licks Winnie

Jeanne Pursell said...

Thank you for voicing the opinion of so many of us! Excellent post!!

tubby3pug said...

Brilliant post. We are worried too. We do have Wellness in our rotation. Right now we are feeding Orijen so I think we are ok

urban hounds

Katie Isabella said...

It IS a brilliant post and in a vague sort of way it falls into my human blog rant of yesterday, Only 3 people have commented as it is long and has some links I was ranting about obesity in the Nation, diabetes and food additives and co-packers tho I did nit use that descriptor! If I would have known it I would have.

GREAT blog, Tucker's Mommy.

houndstooth said...

I really agree with you! Actually, we feed TOTW, and it's a company I feel really has our pets' best interests at heart. I was glad to hear that they initially announced the recall even when they didn't think they were affected as a precaution. I'm still not sure what we're going to do in the meantime, because even finding places that carry decent food here is difficult. There aren't a lot of options, and I was really excited when we found TOTW available. Thinking about finding another food that all four of the dogs will eat gives me a headache, but I will do what I have to for them!

Foley Monster and Pocket said...

Thank you for this important post. This is why I say Mommy's should cook all my food. Mommy says no. Oh well.

snoopy@snoopysdogblog said...

My Mum finds it all very confusing as well!!

Me? I just find it tasty, but I find my buddy Cosmo's food more tasty, that's why I decided to eat his whilst I stayed at his house the last 2 weeks and he thought it was exciting to eat mine….. :)

Wags to all,

Your pal Snoopy :)

Spitty-the-Kitty said...

My Human does the best she can to find healthy and safe fudz for me, but it makes her verreh nervous and sad when there are stories like this one. These companies have to do better.

Alejandro Newman said...

It is normal to react to the news because there are a lot of people who buy products for their pets. The good thing is that the producer recalled all of its products, and there were no reports of pets getting ill because of the food. Anyway, it is true that, as our pets’ guardians, we are responsible for what they eat. That is why we should watch out what kind of food they eat.