Where, how, and what kinds of crops are grown; where and how livestock and poultry are raised and treated; and how the foods derived there from are processed that we and our animal companions eventually consume, have profound consequences that call for bioethical evaluation and accountability. The hidden costs of the dominant, multinational, agribusiness food production system, of which the pet food industry is a highly profitable and politically influential subsidiary, concern and involve us all as consumers; and in particular as veterinarians, because of the animal health, welfare, economic, and ecological implications of clients feeding conventional manufactured pet foods to their dogs and cats. Examined from this broader bioethical perspective, what people select to feed their pets and consume for themselves in the future must be based upon sound science, ethics, and informed choice. Both the government and the FDA—the Food- Drug-Agribusiness industrial complex— must held accountable and be responsive to public demand and right to guaranteed food quality and safety standards (regardless of country of origin), and for foods derived from humane, sustainable, socially just, and organically certified farming systems.
AMERICA’S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM NEEDS CORRECTIVES: ALSO ANIMAL CARE
The report by the Commonwealth Fund, U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2022: Accelerating Spending, Worsening Outcomes, is a clarion call for reforms and correctives. The U.S. spends nearly 18 percent of GDP on health care, yet Americans die younger and are less healthy than residents of other high-income countries.( U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2022 | Commonwealth Fund).Not only does the U.S. have the lowest life expectancy among high-income countries, but it also has the highest rates of avoidable deaths.
Part of this problem is that now, for the first time in nearly 30 years, the FDA is changing its requirements to label food as “healthy,” with cholesterol, saturated fat and other concerns in mind. A group of 50 organizations is urging the U.S. government to disclose any “potential financial conflicts of interest” amongst those involved in creating the next dietary guidelines.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” hearkens back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. This quote, though thousands of years old, acknowledges the importance of healthy eating and how the nutrients in various foods have healing properties. Few medical and veterinary colleges provide adequate courses in nutrition, nutraceuticals and nutrigenomics. But this may soon change as research has opened the door to provide a better understanding of how nutrition influences the gut microbiome; the diverse population of bacteria that play a vital role in our physical and mental health, immune system defenses and longevity.
I have long questioned what I see as an unhealthy alliance between various government regulatory agencies responsible for public health and nutrition-education, their sins of omission and commission ultimately benefiting the agribusiness food and pharmaceutical industries, as per my 1997 book Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food. All veterinarians going in to companion animal practice should, prior to graduation, have read Canine Nutrigenomics by W. Jean Dodds DVM and Deana R. Laverdure. (2015, Dogwise Publishing).
There are several ethical areas of concern that need to be considered in determining the kind and quality of food that people should give to their animal companions. The term bioethics rather than ethics is preferable because ethics has more to do with how we behave toward each other, while bioethics has a broader scope. One definition of bioethics in my book Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food, is “the extension of ethical issues and concerns from the immediate human community into the broader biological dimension of our relations with and duties toward the biotic community—animals, plants, and the whole of nature. Bioethical principles in food production and consumption are the keys to a more sensible and compassionate future.”
The first area concerns the animals’ welfare and respect for their basic rights. One of the basic rights or entitlements is their right, under our dominion, to a wholesome and healthful diet. It is a responsibility that all pet owners should willingly accept, and see as a moral duty to their animals since the animals have no choice but to eat whatever they are given.
Another area concerns the veterinary profession whose duty it is to advise their clients fully on all matters that may harm or enhance their client-animal’s health. From a veterinary preventive and holistic medical perspective, right (optimal) nutrition is one of the four pillars of good practice and animal well-being.
* Paper presented at the American Holistic Veterinary medical Association 2008 Reno Conference
Providing animals under our care with right nutrition, proper understanding, an optimal social environment and freedom from inherited diseases are bioethical principles that need to be more widely understood and adopted by all the people, professions, industries and institutions that have anything to do with animals, and profit from them in one way or another.
In addition to the bioethical imperative of putting compassionate concern and respect for all animals into action, there are other broad bioethical principles that are relevant to how we choose to live, feed ourselves and our pets, and impact the natural environment. We have a long way to go. A first step is to apply bioethics to agriculture and consumer food choices. In linking our own food choices with a more humane, sustainable and organic agriculture, we must also include our animal companions under the ethic of “eating with conscience.” It is ethically inconsistent, costs notwithstanding, for us to claim to love and respect our companion animals and not have the same concern about the origins and quality of the food we give to them as we have for ourselves and for other human members of the family. We all need to care enough about farm animals, their suffering in agribusiness factory farms and feedlots, and the harmful environmental, wildlife, and public health problems caused by these industrialized livestock production systems, to help put an end to them. There will be no end in sight until we all eat and feed our pets with conscience.
The science of animal nutrition first evolved as an adjunct to farm animal husbandry, its primary emphasis being on maximizing profits through formulating livestock and poultry feeds that produce the best growth/ovulation/lactation at the least cost. Applying this kind of animal production science to the formulation of pet foods, a step-up for many companion animals that were hitherto often severely malnourished, and who suffered such nutritional deficiency diseases as rickets, and canine pellagra or black tongue, has been highly profitable. But based on the same animal production paradigm, a host of companion animal health problems have been created by most manufactured pet foods. Some of these parallel the so called ‘metabolic syndrome’, obesity-diabetes epidemic in the human population
Now veterinary clinical nutrition, coupled with nutritional genomics, are being called upon to help various pure bred, mutant varieties of dogs and cats avoid certain dietary ingredients that can make them ill, and to be prescribed special supplements to avert various nutrition-related diseases. Clinical nutrition for elderly humans is as deficient as it is for geriatric companion animals, the veterinary profession being more advanced, from my perspective, than the medical profession in this regard. Both professions parallel each other in addressing the special nutritional needs of patients with various chronic degenerative diseases like arthritis, cancer, heart and kidney disease. More are now recognizing that the best prevention is to not make manufactured, convenience foods for both people and pets their dietary staple. Many health problems are in part due to the nutritional flaws of manufactured, highly processed foods and whole-food byproducts, compounded by genomic variables. Epigenetic variables are also being recognized, and from a bioethical perspective, they underscore the precautionary principle. This principle should have been applied before pet food manufacturers decided to proclaim that their products were scientifically formulated, and therefore safe, ‘complete and balanced’, to provide for all of a pet’s dietary needs. Nutritional genomics alone, rules this out such a statement as pure marketeerism without any scientific basis.
Nutritional epigenetics, for example, is revealing that mothers on a junk food diet have offspring who are highly susceptible to the same health problems as their mothers, like diabetes and obesity, and who actually prefer junk food over a more healthful diet. The nutritional status of the mother, and of the offspring during their formative postnatal period, can influence their cognitive and emotional development, disease resistance, fertility, fecundity, quality of life, and longevity. So we should regard the transgenerational consequences of manufactured pet foods on the health of companion animals as a major issue of holistic and preventive veterinary medicine, and a responsibility of breeders of dogs and cats to address.
The kinds of nutritional diseases attributable in part to highly processed pet foods mirror those seen especially amongst impoverished indigenous peoples who have been disenfranchised from their lands and from traditional, sustainable farming, fishing, and gathering and hunting economies and healthful diets to which, over generations, they have become biologically adapted. These people in particular are not biologically adapted to the kinds of food available in poorer communities, just as cats and dogs are not biologically adapted to manufactured, nutrient-deficient and imbalanced (too high cereal content) pet foods. The sudden generational switch to essentially unnatural diets, coupled with multiple negative environmental, social, and economic stressors, exposed genetic susceptibilities to a host of diseases, making some epidemic, like diabetes Type 2 with all its complications from blindness to amputations and life in a wheel chair for Arizona’s Pima Indians and other impoverished indigenous peoples.. High blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, obesity, arthritis, gall bladder and liver disease, arteriosclerosis, various types of cancer, allergies, and other immune system disorders linked to elevated cortisol levels and associated development of arteriosclerosis and increased susceptibility to infections, depression, hopelessness/helplessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, pharmaceutical dependence, crime and violence are epidemic afflictions of impoverished and disenfranchised communities around the world. They are notably evident in the poorer communities of the more affluent developed industrial technocracies, where the Western diet and the appetites of mammon are the cause of much dis-ease. The annual costs of diabetes Type 2 in the US alone is around $20 billion.
The byproducts of this diet are fed back to livestock and poultry, and are the main ingredients of manufactured pet foods to which few pets are biologically adapted. Wild foods, from meats and herbs to fruits and vegetables, had higher nutrient content and far fewer harmful contaminants than any ingredient in the modern, so called Western diet, and no adulterants, synthetic additives or preservatives. Now for purported public health reasons, (but really because the food industry is dysfunctional and non-sustainable—unsafe at any cost), the FDA is proposing that meat and other perishable consumables should be irradiated: Foods not of the gods but of the disgodded. (For further discussion see Postscript).
Veterinarian Dr. Lon D. Lewis, one of the first Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, sent me a personal communication on December 11, 1997, in which he stated:
“Commercial dog foods do not provide optimum nutrition, safety, or, to paraphrase your book title [Eating with Conscience: The Bioethics of Food], to feed with a conscience—From 30 years in veterinary medicine and nutrition practice, teaching, consulting, research and development in private practice, academia and industry, I believe most pet food companies are doing a good job of providing nutrition for the amount that the foods cost, but not in providing optimum nutrition, food safety, and certainly not in promoting good agricultural, environmental and animal husbandry practices. Of course major human foods producing companies, as well as our government, I do not believe are doing much to promote the latter either…”
Let’s revisit Dr.Lewis’ statement that most pet food manufacturers are doing a good job of providing nutrition ‘for the amount that the foods cost’. This is the crux of the problem with most manufactured pet foods—the economics of lowest-cost ingredients to satisfy minimal ‘science-based’ nutritional content in order to maximize, not quality but profit margins. As one Chinese businessman told the press, the pet food poisoning debacle of 2007 from wheat flour imported from China spiked with melamine and cyanuric acid that caused acute renal failure and killed thousands of cats and dogs, should have been suspect by the importers because it was too cheap to be sold as wheat gluten and rice protein.
What of corporate ethics in a business world where the bottom line is the profit margin and where consumer demand, based on trust, is manipulated through advertising propaganda and disinformation? These have become the “collegiate” norms of market-driven policies and programs in a highly competitive global market economy. Until competition is eliminated via corporate mergers and monopolistic cartels, a competitive down- spiral in the quality of manufactured foods, including pet foods, is a market-driven reality. This down-spiral is created by the profit-margin factor that is determined by the ratio between ingredient, processing, marketing and advertising costs, and the wholesale price of the product.
Such productionism, as philosopher and agricultural ethicist Paul Thompson calls this market-driven process, is the dominant ethos of industrial society, and of agribusiness in particular, of which the pet food industry is a subsidiary and beneficiary, converting essentially condemned, and discarded food and beverage industry byproducts into a profitable product, companion animals being used as waste- recycling agents.
The silencing of corporate, government and non-government organization whistleblowers, the control of the media, and the enactment of laws like the Food Disparagement Act, serve to disenfranchise consumers from the realm of truth and from their right to know. Criminalizing free speech and unbiased professional opinion when vested interests and the status quo are perceived to be threatened, is a sign of how corrupt and surreal these Orwellian times have become.
British Broadcasting Corporation television canceled a scheduled interview in England with me where I was going to discuss his new book Agricide: The Hidden Farm and Food Crisis that Affects Us All, because the pet food, livestock and agribusiness industrial complex felt it was too threatening to have the harmful consequences of excessive livestock production and meat consumption exposed to the public after a documentary on world hunger contrasted the plight of the poor with how well pets are fed in Europe.
An increasingly monopolistic control over how our food is grown, processed, and marketed is a fact of the times that has implications in terms of consumer choice and right to know, and in terms of our health and the health of our animal companions. As consumers and public citizens we must all take a stand, and by voting with our dollars support those good farmers and food retailers who know that, as Chef Alice Waters observes, “Good food starts in fields and orchards well tended. This is knowledge that we ignore at our peril, for without good farming there can be no good food; and without good food there can be no good life.”
Now with the globalization of the industrial economy, developing countries affluent consumers want more steaks, chicken and ice cream, so factory farms have proliferated, notably with development loans from the World Bank. Since there is much animal offal coming out of these factories, Western agribusiness subsidiaries—the pet food industry and livestock feed and biological products (from hides to gelatin) companies, are importing such animal industry by-products, and setting up processing facilities and pet food manufacturing plants abroad, where labor is cheap and environmental and health and safety regulations more flexible. And the affluent in these countries are purchasing ever more cat and dog food as the specialty markets for commercially produced purebreds of dog and cat profit from increasing public demand for such status symbols, while their own indigenous dogs and cats suffer on the streets and are rarely adopted from local shelters. According to figures from the UK’s Compassion in World Farming, reported in The Economist, (Dec. 2nd 2006, p. 88), over 50 billion animals are killed for food every year, which comes to almost 100,000 a minute 24⁄7. In the past 40 year meat consumption per person has risen from 56 kg to 89 in Europe, from 89 kg to 124 in America, and from 4 kg to 54 in China, in spite of the nutritionally inefficient conversion of grass or grain to meat, some 10 kg of feed being needed to produce 1 kg of meat. No caring person, once informed, can continue to regard meat, poultry, and sea foods as dietary staples.
It is noteworthy that the UK’s Environmental Minister Ben Bradshaw has advised consumers of the hidden costs of meat and dairy consumption, part of an
effort to reduce the ecological footprint of agriculture in the British Isles, and to address the issue of global warming/climate change. On a new web site for British shoppers, (www.direct.gov.uk/greenerfood) it is stated that the ‘production of meat and dairy products has a much bigger effect on climate change and other environmental impacts than of most grains, pulses, and outdoor fruits and vegetables.” It is encouraging that at least one developed nation is taking the initiative to change dietary habits by informing shoppers of the risks and costs of foods of animal origin.
The recent report from the United Nations (1) that shows how the livestock industry is the main cause of climate change/global warming has ramifications across the board when it comes to making enlightened changes in consumer choices and habits, and especially in how our food is produced. That responsibility includes the pet food industry, an agribusiness subsidiary of a now global industrial agriculture and food commodity market system that needs to be overhauled and made sustainable, environmentally ‘friendly’, socially just, humane and healthful.
The sheer convenience of opening a container of relatively low cost food for our dogs and cats, and the pet-food industry promotion of the many benefits of companion animals have combined to create a highly profitable (around $ 15 billion per year) branch of agribusiness. It has relied for too long on recycling cheap food industry byproducts unfit for human consumption; and on a very limited knowledge base and scientific evaluation of the nutritional adequacies and health risks of such ingredients, and of the various supplements and additives used to make pet foods not go bad or look bad, and conform to the National Research Council’s minimum nutritional standards.
Some erroneous information has been spread by the pet food industry to the public and to veterinary students whose short course in animal nutrition was, until recently, usually taught by industry employees. One is that pets don’t need variety and that switching brands and giving different kinds of food will cause digestive problems, or turns them into finicky eaters. Other myths that have no scientific or clinical credibility are that human food is bad for pets, and that an all-dry kibble diet is fine for cats because it keeps their teeth clean. Yet another myth is that because most commercial pet foods are scientifically formulated and balanced, feeding nutritious supplements is not necessary and even harmful because the “balance” of the diet may be upset. These unqualified generalizations are neither scientifically valid nor professionally ethical. Nor are the claims and even content information on pet food labels that follow a standardized format orchestrated by the non-regulatory American Association of Feed Control Officials. Claims such as ‘providing complete nutrition’ year after year have proven false a decade or so later when all the cases of pets who became sick were recognized by veterinarians as falling into a category where an essential nutrient has been found to be lacking, or a supplement put in at concentrations that turned out to be poisonous. As for FDA and USDA oversight of the pet food sector of agribusiness, the public hearings held following the largest pet food recall ever in 2007 revealed a wholly inadequate pet food quality and safety system, with no government regulatory power: and a human food-safety system, especially with regard for imported foods, supplements, and pharmaceuticals, to be in total disarray, under-funded, under-staffed, and essentially dysfunctional.
The avaricious quickening of industrialism and consumerism has created a non- sustainable and unethical enterprise system that can only be made to cause less harm by all of we Earth consumers voting with our dollars. We should eschew all manufactured, processed and prepared (pre-pared) foods, and ideally prepare our own meals from organically certified whole foods, or purchase prepared foods that are organic and whole rather than highly processed. This same initiative should be applied to what companion animals are given to eat, for their own health, and indirectly for the health of the environment by supporting more sustainable, and humane farming and food-production methods.
All consumers need to take a stand and use their purchasing power to support humane, sustainable organic food producers and retailers for the good of the environment, farm animals, farmers who care, and for their own health and that of their animal companions. Just as more and more doctors and other human health care professionals are advocating healthier diets and a healthier agriculture, so should all veterinarians and those organizations and individuals concerned about the health and welfare of both companion and farm animals.
The public is becoming more knowledgeable about “junk” foods and the linkage between good nutrition, good farming practices, and good health. The demand for certified organic produce is increasing as public opposition mounts against conventionally grown and genetically engineered crops and foods, and against animal produce from livestock and poultry raised under stressful, cruel, disease-enhancing, concentrated feeding operations,—factory farms and feedlots. It is only a matter of time before there is a majority of pet owners who either prepare home-cooked meals for their animal companions, consisting of whole foods of known origin with supplements as needed, or who choose a new generation of commercial pet foods that provide optimal nutrition for their animals, the ingredients of which come from humane, sustainable and organic farms and food wholesalers. More research is also called for in this area of natural organic supplements. Organic farming methods are highly productive, and, contrary to its detractors and advocates of conventional agriculture, can be sufficiently productive and affordable to feed the hungry world. There is also increasing evidence that organically certified produce contain more nutrients and have higher nutritional value by far than conventionally produced meat, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses, confirming that ‘organic’ is the only way to go.
Organically certified foods of both animal and plant origin contain more essential nutrients, notably antioxidants, than conventionally grown produce, and of course cause less environmental harms and are pesticide free. For documentation, see Cooper J, Leifert C, and Niggily U, (eds) ‘HANDBOOK OF ORGANIC FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY, Cambridge, UK, Woodhead Publ. Inc. 2007. For evidence that organic farming methods can feed the hungry world, see Badgley C, et al, Organic agriculture and the global food supply. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 22:86-108, 2007
Several studies have shown that organic farming practices are good for wildlife, and help in the recovery of regional biodiversity. See Tracy Davis, ’Study: Organic is More Productive’. July 22, 2007, The Ann Arbor News./Mlive.com) Also see Bob L. Smith ‘Organic Foods vs. Supermarket Foods: Element Levels’, Journal of Applied Nutrition vol. 45, 35-39, 1993, and Virginia Worthington ‘Nutritional Quality of
Organic Versus Conventional Fruits and Vegetables’, Journal of Complementary
and Alternative Medicine, vol. 7, pp 161-173, 2001
Genetically engineered food ingredients and by-products from genetically engineered crops are put in to pet foods and livestock feed, and can be hazardous for many reasons, notably herbicide residues and endogenous, (plant manufactured) insecticides. For details, see M.W.Fox, ‘Killer Foods: What Scientists Do To Make Better Is Not Always Best’. Guilford, CT, 2004
American Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, GUIDE TO CONGENITAL AND HEREDITARY DISORDERS IN DOGS. P.O.Box 208, Davis, CA 95617-0208
Bauer, John E. Responses of Dogs to Omega-3 Fatty Acids. J. Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc., 231:1657-1661, 2007
Campbell T.C, ‘The China Study: The most comprehensive study of nutrition conducted, and the startling implication for diet, weight-loss and long-term health’. Dallas TX Bell Bella Books, 2005
Dye J.A. et al, Elevated PBDE levels in pet cats: sentinels for humans? Environmental Science & Technology, 41: 6350-6356, 2007
Fox M.W, Veterinary Bioethics, pp 673-678 in COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE, A.M.Schoen and S.G.Wynn, eds, Mosby, St Lois, MO 1997
Heinemann, K.M. and J.E. Bauer, Docosahexaenoic acid and neurologic development in animals. J. Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc., 228:700-705, 2006
Mc Michael, M.A, Oxidative stress, antioxidants, and assessment of oxidative stress in dogs and cats. J.Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc., 231: 734-720, 2007
News/Companion Animals, Top 10 reasons pets visit veterinarians, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc, Sept 1, vol.229, p 651, 2006
News and Reports. Rats reveal risks of ‘junk food’ during pregnancy. The Veterinary Record, Aug 18, p 215, 2007.
Platinga, E.A, et al, Retrospective study of the survival of cats with acquired chronic renal insufficiency offered different commercial diets. The Veterinary Record, vol 157: p455-6, 2005
Roudebush, P. et al Nutritional management of brain aging dogs. J. Amer. vet. Med. Assoc.227:722-728, 2006
Steinfeld, H, P. Gerber P, Wassenaer T, Castel V, Rosales M, and de Haan C, LIVESTOCKS’ LONG SHADOW: ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND OPTIONS. United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Washington, DC, 2006.
Caution is called for especially with cats, when using household cleaners and other chemical products. See Alexandra Gorman, HOUSEHOLD HAZARDS: POTENTIAL HAZARDS OF HOME CLEANING PRODUCTS. A report by the Women’s Voice for the Earth, 2007
Note: a common flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used in carpet padding, fabrics and mattresses, and found to be at high levels in fish-flavored canned cat foods, has been recently linked by the US Environmental Protection Agency, with HYPERTHYRIODISM in cats. PBDEs are endocrine disruptors like the PCBs and dioxins, high levels of all these being common in farmed salmon.(www.epa.gov/oppt/pbde).
Dr. Fox writes the nationally syndicated newspaper column ANIMAL DOCTOR for United Features. His latest books are ‘Killer Foods: What Scientists Do To Make Better is Not Always Best’, and ‘Cat Body, Cat Mind’, and ‘Dog body, Dog Mind’, all published by The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT. For more information go to www.doctormwfox.org
For additional reading and documentation of manufactured pet food concerns, see Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food by Drs. Michael W. Fox, Elizabeth Hodgkins, and Marion E. Smart, Quill Driver Books, Sanger,CA. 2008
There are several aspects of the natural history and ethology of dogs and cats that are relevant to what and how we feed them. Dogs are scavengers by nature, as well as hunters, being more omnivorous than cats who have a lower tolerance and natural aversion for spoiled meat and other foods. After an estimated 100,000 years and more of being domesticated and living with humans, dogs adapted to a diet of leftovers from the human table, most of the protein (meat) being consumed by humans. As free-roaming animals in the community, dogs survived and adapted as omnivorous scavengers. This does not mean that modern dogs should be given poor quality food. But they may not tolerate a high protein diet, and as scavengers may do better being given 3 – 4 small meals a day instead of one large meal. Feeding a dog only one large meal daily may increase the chances of bloat and other less serious digestive problems. A very high protein diet may contribute to kidney disease, dysplasia and other health problems in certain individuals and breeds.
Cats have been domesticated for a much shorter time, and during that time they were still primarily kept to control rodents around the farm or homestead, and thus stayed close to their natural, carnivorous diet.
The transition from eating wild caught game/prey and later, the human left-overs from free-range farmed animals, and then more recently, conventionally raised ‘factory’ farmed animal parts and remains, has been nutritionally challenging for dogs and cats in the developed world. Of particular concern are high levels of saturated fats increasingly contaminated with dioxins and PCBs; omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiencies and pro-inflammatory omega 6 excesses. Heavy metal contaminants like lead, copper, cadmium and arsenic in ground bone and organ parts, antibiotic, anabolic steroid and other veterinary and production drug residues, lipophilic pesticide contaminants in fatty tissues, along with mercury contamination in sea foods, pose additional health risks.
Domestic animals do adapt to diets that are sub-optimal, through natural selection, those who are free-ranging being sometimes able to compensate for nutritional deficiencies in what food is given to them, by hunting and scavenging.
The health consequences of under-nutrition and nutrient deficiencies have been fairly well documented over the years, while over-nutrition and its harmful consequences are more recent problems. Examples include too much protein in older animals, too many calories for sedentary pets, too many carbohydrates for cats and dogs, and too much protein in puppy hood for certain breeds like Labradors. Pups and adult dogs who are biologically adapted as scavenging aboriginal or ‘pariah’ dogs may be especially prone to the harmful consequences of over-nutrition when given the kinds of food that provide optimal nutrition for most dogs in Western society.
Feeding dogs and cats highly processed and variously denatured human food and beverage-industry byproducts, artificial additives, preservatives, and chemical supplements, is another biological challenge, and is not consistent with their dietary natural history. Also most cats are not adapted, in terms of their thirst mechanism, to thrive on dry foods.
Dogs and cats are not always immediately adapted physiologically to a diet that consists entirely of raw whole foods. Transitioning to such a diet should always be gradual. The Precautionary Principle should also be exercised when introducing an animal to a complete or partial raw food diet. Raw beef and poultry products need to be handled with care, since modern intensive livestock production and centralized processing are responsible for frequent outbreaks of E. coli, Lysteria, Salmonella, and other forms of bacterial food poisoning in humans, and companion animals may also be affected. Thoroughly cooking ground meats before feeding is advisable. Solid chunks of meat should be scalded, or rinsed in cold running water before serving raw to dogs and cats. Raw pork should not be given because of the risk of Trichinosis, a parasitic disease, and other raw animal remains such as fish may also harbor transmissible parasitic and pathogenic organisms.
There is evidence that dogs and cats seek out their own natural dietary supplements as needed. They eat various grasses and certain herbs, and dogs especially enjoy deer and horse feces and sometimes eat soil with high mineral content, especially when anemic. Both dogs and cats will eat the entire carcass of small prey, which includes partially digested plant foods and bacteria (probiotics?) in the prey’s digestive systems.
Dogs and cats kept confined indoors may be deprived of such natural dietary supplements and cannot exercise their “nutritional wisdom.” Some consideration should therefore be given to this other aspect of dietary natural history, as by putting chopped barley or alfalfa sprouts in the animals’ food, and by providing probiotics and digestive enzymes. More research is also called for in this area of natural organic supplements.
The massive pet food recall in the spring of 2007 left many serious concerns unaddressed. One involves the use of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in foods consumed by both animals and humans.
Genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) plants – “Frankenfoods” to critics- contain artificially inserted genes from viruses, bacteria, other plant species, also from insects, humans, and other animals. This process can result in entirely novel chemicals being produced that were never in our foods, or what farmed animals were ever fed before. Also normal nutrients may become deficient as a consequence of alien gene insertion, while other naturally occurring plant substances may become so concentrated as to become toxic.
GM plants are created primarily to increase their resistance to herbicides and insect pests. Both the US government and the multinational corporations patenting and selling these seeds of potential destruction to farmers to plant crops that go to human, pet food and livestock feed manufacturers would have us believe that GE crops and food ingredients are safe, and that to believe otherwise is to not trust in science and progress.
On March 23, 2007, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets announced that they had found ‘rat poison’ in contaminated wheat gluten imported from China. The poison is a chemical compound called aminopterin, but it was in such low concentrations that it was not thought to be the main cause of poisoning. Aminopterin is used in genetic engineering biotechnology as a genetic marker.
This finding means that genetically engineered ingredients are in pet foods and that should be no surprise since in 2006, an estimated 136 million acres of U.S. cropland was used to grow GM crops. Some 89% of soybeans and 61% of corn crops are now genetically engineered. Canola is also genetically engineered, and vegetable oils (canola and corn) along with soy protein and lecithin, are used widely in a variety of prepared foods for people and their pets. Genetically engineered sugar beet will soon be planted widely as a source of sugar for the food industry. Beet pulp is a common ingredient in pet foods.
Numerous issues and unanswered questions surround the “safety” of GM foods.
Since the FDA does not insist on the labeling of human or pet foods when they contain GM ingredients, we have no way of knowing what we are really eating or feeding to our pets: Unless, that is, there is the green USDA label saying USDA ORGANIC, indicating Organic Certification. Many manufacturers may also label their product GM FREE or NO GM INGREDIENTS.