Discussion: Will Big Food Protect Our Pets from Toxic Ingredients?

Charlie enjoying a homemade treat.
Charlie enjoying a homemade treat.

One of the revelations resulting from the massive 2007 pet food recall was that many different brands of dog and cat food are made by a few large corporations.  When news first broke that Pet Food Brand A, found to be contaminated with melamine, was sickening and killing family companions, many owners felt their pets were safe because they were feeding Pet Food Brand B or C or whatever.  As the facts slowly escaped, despite a massive cover up effort by pet food manufacturers, consumers learned that the melamine used in A was also used in making B, C, and a host of other brands.  Then no one felt safe.

Since then, the corporations have tightened their grip on the market.  J.M. Smucker announced this month it was purchasing Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods) whose products include Meow Mix and Kibbles ‘n Bits. And it’s big business:

The nation’s pet-food sales have nearly doubled since 2000, to more than $22 billion last year, American Pet Products Association data show.
Smucker expects pet food will contribute more to its bottom line than Jif, Pillsbury, Crisco and its namesake jams and jellies, combined.

Iams and Eukanuba were bought by Mars in 2014.  (Iams was key in forcing news of the massive melamine poisoning in 2007 to go public.)  While there are some smaller companies left, they represent a tiny portion of the market:

About 93 percent of the mid-priced dog and cat food sold in North America goes to only three companies: Big Heart, Mars and Nestle, the giant behind Purina, Dreyer’s ice cream and Hot Pockets.

If you buy mid-range pet food, chances are very high that it is manufactured by one of these three megabrands.  Do you feel confident that Smucker, Mars and Nestle are making the health and safety of your pet a high priority?  Do you trust these corporations to swiftly issue a recall when faced with sufficient evidence of toxic ingredients in their pet foods?  Do you feel consumers are in a better position to protect their pets from poisoned pet food today than they were in 2007?

13 thoughts on “Discussion: Will Big Food Protect Our Pets from Toxic Ingredients?

  1. NO! I lived through the toxic pet food poisoning when one of my cats ate Nutro pouches that were confirmed to be toxic. I cannot even begin to tell you how that has changed my life. Somehow, she survived and lived 7 years, but with many medical issues and health challenges. I know we were one of the lucky ones. Sorry, but I do not believe that any of these companies are the least bit interested in anything but their bottom line – profits. I wish my cats now would eat homemade, but they won’t. So everyday I feed them, it’s a crap shoot about what they are really eating.

  2. No of course not! Big Ag is big Ag. Even when it says Made in Usa it’s put together from byproducts from China. And never inspected. And I don’t know if more public pressure will help. I just spent a few days trying to get some “interamerican” product company to tell me what was in it’s dog food and dog treats supposedly Made in the USA. Since the melamine thing I never feed any brand of anything in exclusivity. Don’t trust em. And I cook some of their food as well.

  3. Given how much they seem to regulate themselves, how little accountability exists, and their track record of not giving a rat’s ass about dead pets (“Sorry your dog is dead, here, have some coupons!”), there’s precious little to trust there.

    My dogs have been on raw for … oh, something like 14 years? The cats are more difficult (apparently, my ability to home cook for them sucks – they say so every time I try it) and while they’re on half raw (-ish, depending on the cat, some more, some a bit less), I am still at the mercy of some commercial foods for them. This is especially frustrating given that one of my cats is extremely sensitive to many ingredients (he gets VERY itchy if he eats something he shouldn’t) and then I read that university report that stated that something like 30% of the foods they tested either had things in them that weren’t on the labels or or didn’t have in them what was on the labels.

    How is someone who is dealing with food allergies/sensitivities to handle that? Even if the food was perfectly safe and nutritionally sound, it may still have something in it that isn’t on the label! Yeah, I’m not exactly brimming with trust for big pet food companies.

    And don’t even get me started on the “voluntary recalls” aka “Friday night dump and run” bs. Yeah, they care. Realllllllly, care. About money.

  4. No, our food system is broken as far as I can see. I try to get decent food for my animals but I don’t really trust any of it. Tried some raw with my dogs but it didn’t agree with one of them at all. So far I’ve had luck with Newmans Own, and I think that’s still independently owned although I could be wrong.

  5. No, they will never put the well being of our pets over their profits. And they get away with it.

    Even if you can prove their food killed your pet, they are only reposiable legally for the cost of a replacement. Meaning, if you have a Heinz 57 they only have to pay you the going rate at AC for a “replacement”.

  6. I’ve deep reservations because the vulnerabilities revealed during the rolling recalls for melamine adulteration have not been fixed, and I’ve not seen any indication that they will be any time soon.

    Most pet food manufacturers are still sourcing nutritional supplements and supplement mixes from China, which remains the major supplier of supplements of all kinds. I’ve seen no evidence China’s practices have improved; given the recent kerfluffle over herbal supplements not containing what’s on the label, I’d say not. Recalls for unbalanced supplement mixes have also revealed that many of these are obtained through third parties, and in some cases they’re also proprietary, which may prevent some forms of independent testing. Other recalls have also shown that manufacturers are still often allowed to substitute ingredients at their discretion, so long as the formula adheres to given parameters; and the FDA still allows inaccuracy in labels, as well as the absurd ‘guaranteed analysis,’ which gives about as much indication of what’s actually in the foods as the Rider-Waite tarot.

    The thorny issue of the danger of jerky treats made from Chinese chicken also shows a very serious vulnerability, in that (just as with the melamine adulteration) none of the companies involved will stop production nor will the FDA act so long as it hasn’t been proven beyond all doubt just what’s causing the pet illnesses and deaths associated with them. So, everyone knows the damned treats are dangerous to some pets, there’s a possibility that it’s residues from veterinary drugs used by chicken farmers – drugs which are banned here in the US – but until we know just why and how and who, no-one’s going to actually do anything about it.

    The FDA and USDA are also still not providing adequate inspection, and the FDA both continues to explicitly exempt pet food from adherence to some regulations and has failed to implement the raft of new regulations which passed into law following the melamine recalls. As for the USDA, well. Only this week they were pointing to their investigation of fraud at Rancho Feeding Corp. and the vast associated beef recall as a rousing success … but the fraud only began after the USDA pulled most of their inspectors, and there’s a possibility that both one of their inspectors and their certified vet may have been complicit. Since they’ve settled the criminal cases out of court – the last just yesterday – it’s likely we’ll never know, and there’s not much of any indication of measures having been taken to prevent a repeat. They’ve said they’ll assign more inspectors to some slaughterhouses but they haven’t exactly said where and when, and if they’ve made any changes in-house, no-one outside is privy to them.

    So. No, I don’t trust big pet food companies with the well-being of pets. I wish I could.

  7. While I appreciate what you are saying. ..many do not have the option of feeding a more expensive food or raw….what then?

    1. There are a number of recipes online for homemade pet food. Some can be quite cost effective to prepare – a dog food recipe for beans, rice and vegetable trimmings being one example. I also feed nearly all the leftovers from our human meals to the dogs. Precious little is wasted in this house. I’ve never tried feeding homemade food to cats but I understand they can be finicky eaters. I have fed homemade food to many dogs over the years and never had a single refusal.

      1. Yes, I speak from experience. Cats can be much more difficult to feed!!! If I had a dog, I would consider making up a crockpot of doggie stew and feeding that. Cats? Not so much.

      2. All my animals love chicken. Even the cat and bird.when i cook chicken and they smell it boy do i have a bunch of happy animals! I did try the raw bone with my dogs and they love them an no longer throw up. My little pit bull thinks celery is a treat hahaha. She loves her raw veggies and fruit

  8. I used to make raw food for my cats from ground turkey (cheap at Aldi), fish oil, and bone meal, and they really liked it. I should start doing that again. My dog is very finicky, but with enough experimentation, I’m sure I could find a recipe for something he’ll eat.

  9. I’m now feeding Redd, my Pit Bull, a mixture of raw ground turkey, brown rice, broccoli (he won’t eat any other vegetable), and a little turmeric. He eats it enthusiastically, and his digestive problems have cleared up.

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