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?

How will animals fare during the government shutdown?

As many of you know, there is no federal oversight of animal shelters.  They will continue to operate as usual during the government shutdown which, in too many cases, is a tragedy in itself.  But with the failure of Congress to do its job and keep the government running, I wanted to mention a few animal related services that are being impacted by the federal government shutdown.

  • USDA food inspectors will remain on the job so the food you eat and feed to your pets – or for those who feed kibble/canned pet food, the ingredients used to make that food – will be as safe as it was before the shutdown, which is up for debate.
  • Although the animals are still receiving care, the National Zoo is closed and the panda cam is dark.  The loss of the panda cam seems to be the only thing that might motivate citizens to take to the streets.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

Are there body parts from research primates in your pet’s food?

I was reading an article on the KTBS website about a hand and foot – originally suspected as being human but later found to belong to a primate – which turned up at a Louisiana rendering plant.  Rendering plants, for those who don’t know, take animal remains – sometimes whole, sometimes parts – and grind/boil/obliterate them into protein powder.  The powder, called meat meal or sometimes more specifically named chicken meal or what have you, is sold to pet food companies and other buyers.

I was wondering how a primate hand and foot ended up at this rendering plant when I noticed a story under “Related Content” about a place called Chimp Haven.  The sanctuary will be taking in another 100 chimps from a large research lab in New Iberia, LA.  (Both the lab and the sanctuary are federally funded.)  So while I can’t say for certain how the primate body parts ended up at the rendering plant, it seems only logical to consider the research lab as a possible source.  You can just play that out in your mind for a little bit.

Oh, also: Good morning!


Recalled, no illnesses reported:

Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal & Rice. This is being done as a precautionary measure, as the product has the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. No illnesses have been reported and no other Diamond manufactured products are affected.

Not recalled, hundreds of illnesses (and some deaths) reported:

  • Waggin’ Train (made by Nestle Purina)
  • Canyon Creek Ranch jerky treats or tenders (made by Nestle Purina)
  • Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats (made by Del Monte)

A log of complaints collected from pet owners and veterinarians contains references to at least three popular brands of jerky treats that may be associated with kidney failure and other serious ailments, according to internal Food and Drug Administration documents obtained by msnbc.com.


“No specific products have been recalled because a definitive cause has not been determined,” FDA officials said in a statement.

Nestle Purina and Del Monte both maintain their chicken jerky treats are safe.  Those of us who endured the massive 2007 pet food recall are accustomed to hearing such assurances which sooner or later result in recalled products.

It is very easy to make your own dog treats (sample recipe here).  You can also share your own food with your dogs as treats.  It’s a good use for stuff that’s gone stale from the cupboards (crackers, corn chips, cereal) and you can also give fruit/veggie pieces (apples, bananas, carrots).  By making your own treats you have complete knowledge and control over what ingredients are in the treats, which is useful for owners of dogs with food sensitivities as well as those wanting peace of mind.

Tastes Like Chicken!

Consumer Affairs reports that Dianne, a volunteer with Collie rescue in IL, was feeding her own 4 dogs at home when she says she found a dead frog in a can of Pedigree chicken with gravy dog food:

“My big concern is what’s going into this food,” she says. “What’s going into this food that people are feeding their pets? Obviously, it’s not chicken. There’s a frog in that food – a whole dead frog. And if there’s a frog in there, what else is in the food?”

Mars Petcare, maker of Pedigree, seems to be attempting to file the claim under W for Wendy’s Chili Finger Fraud:

“At Mars Petcare US, quality and food safety is our top priority,” the company said in a statement ConsumerAffairs.com received Friday evening. “While it’s highly improbable that this could occur, we’re taking it very seriously and launching a full-scale investigation into this consumer’s claim.”

Mars added: “We are sending a third-party to the consumer’s home today to collect the frog and deliver it directly to an independent lab for testing. It’s important to note that canned pet food is cooked at high temperatures and processed on high speed equipment, making it very unlikely that a frog could become enclosed in a can.“

Dianne told us on Saturday that no one with Mars or an independent lab came to her home on Friday to pick up the dead frog.

Stay tuned.  And yes friends, there is a photo of the dead frog at the link.

How Do You Feel About Pet Food Corporations in 2010?

It’s only been 3 years since the massive pet food recalls of 2007 but anytime is a good time for a refresher.  I’ve already blogged quite a bit on things I learned due to the recalls, including:

  • My thoughts at the one year anniversary of the pet food recalls
  • Why the AAFCO stamp of approval is worthless
  • The similarities between the pet food and peanut butter recalls
  • A list of things I think are worth avoiding in pet food
  • The only product I can recommend

Basically, I was left with a strong feeling of distrust after learning about the widespread pet food industry practices which resulted in the deaths and tragic illnesses of thousands of pets in this country.  That feeling remains as strong as ever because the pet food companies didn’t say, “This is unacceptable!  We’re going to do a complete overhaul and come back with new, transparent practices that will restore consumer confidence.”  Far from it.  What they said was more along the lines of,  “Circle the wagons boys!  Consumers are daring to ask questions.  Screw that!”

As far as I know, not one significant thing in the practices of the pet food industry as a whole has changed for the better since all those pets suffered and died.  Therefore, the potential for a recurrence is plausible to my mind.  And indeed, we have regularly seen pet food products recalled, though on a smaller scale, in the years since.  Granted, recalls are going to happen, but the reasons that they happen and how they are handled by the pet food companies  are very similar to 2007.  There have been a few isolated cases where I thought recalls were handled well – for example Orijen – but the large corporations still deny problems, rely on secrecy and employ the “proprietary information“, duck and cover business model.

Overall, I would say my opinion of pet food corporations has changed little since 2007.  How about you – do you feel things in the pet food industry are better, worse or about the same?

Treats on the Internets

Food Geek Edition:

The New York Times has a good article called The Truth about Cat and Dog Food:

[…]I wonder whether people who invest in high-end pet foods are getting their money’s worth. Are their pets really healthier and happier? Do they live longer? And are these foods any better than the generic versions sold in supermarkets and big-box stores?

Terrierman has posted a view on the above article.

The NYT piece contains an interview with food expert Marion Nestle, as does this piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A Veterinarian links the 2007 pet food recall to food safety issues which affect us all

FDA launches a pilot program for GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) “substances” in animal food.  Let me guess, that would include everything on the planet?

Bravo, a company which sells raw pet food, is moving its production of beef and lamb formulas from the U.S. to New Zealand.  Bravo had previously sourced some lamb and beef parts from New Zealand but did the manufacturing of the product in the States.  One reason for the switch:

Sourcing and manufacturing the products in New Zealand enables Bravo to use the entire carcass and reduce the number of steps involved in the production process, thus resulting in better quality products[…]

I always like the idea of using an entire carcass of a food animal.  I hate to think that anything edible or usable is wasted.

A cooked, homemade dog food recipe I came across

How does this vid compare with feeding time at your house?

Evanger’s Still in Trouble with FDA, Still Denying Food Problems

The most popular post on my blog right now seems to be this one from a year ago about the FDA telling Evanger’s pet food company to get it together on the botulism thing (I paraphrase, heh). So an update is probably in order. Apparently Evanger’s has not made satisfactory changes and the FDA (a government org which, inexplicably, lacks the authority to mandate recalls of anything but baby milk) has recently, in effect, shut the company down:

When the FDA announced its latest enforcement against Evanger’s, the agency’s Dr. Bernette Dunham said: “The FDA is stopping Evanger’s ability to ship pet food in interstate commerce. Today’s enforcement action sends a strong message to manufacturers of pet food that we will take whatever action necessary to keep unsafe products from reaching consumers.”

Before Evanger’s can resume shipping products, the FDA said, it must prove that corrective actions and processing procedures have been made to ensure the company’s finished product will not present a health hazard.

Botulism is a toxin that affects the nervous system and can be fatal, the FDA said. Symptoms of botulism in dogs and cat include progressive muscle paralysis, disturbed vision, trouble chewing and swallowing, and progressive weakness to the body. Death is usually caused by paralysis of the heart or the muscles used in breathing.

FDA Seizes Organic Herbs and Spices from Filthy Warehouse

NPI Center reports:

U.S. Marshals seized millions of dollars worth of ingredients on May 7 2009 from American Mercantile Corporation, based in Memphis Tennessee. During an inspection of the company in March, FDA investigators discovered evidence of extensive rodent and insect infestation throughout the company’s warehouse, which the company failed to correct.

American Mercantile stores and processes food ingredients, which are sold or used in the dietary supplements, food, tea and pet food manufacturing industries.
American Mercantile apparently also has links to pet and equine foods. According to a story on herbs4horses.com, American Mercantile is a parent company of Herbs for Horses, an herbal product company for the equine and pet market. American Mercantile’s ability to source ingredients for equine and pet foods is what attracted Don Silver, Manager of Equine Science to sell his company to American Mercantile in 2006.
No one at Ingredients Corporation of America or Herbs for Horses was available for comment at the time of publication, but the ownership affiliation between these two companies and American Mercantile gives rise to the question about whether contaminated ingredients are in finished foods and pet products.

Based upon past recalls involving the contaminant melamine and the recent contaminated peanut product recall, we know that some ingredients are spread throughout the human and pet food market in a large scale manner. While we don’t know yet how widespread the use of these seized ingredients may be, I think it’s probably worth following the story to see what develops.

Greenies Chews Will No Longer Be Sold at Supermarkets

The dog chew called “Greenies” have been on clearance at the supermarket where I shop for groceries and now I know why. Consumer Affairs reports that Nutro, maker of “Greenies”, is pulling them from supermarket shelves:

NUTRO Products, Inc. says it is pulling its Greenies line of pet dental chews from supermarkets and other mass markets. Beginning in June, the Greenies — which have been blamed for illness and deaths in some dogs and cats — will be distributed only through veterinary hospitals and pet specialty retailers.
It’s the latest attempt to resolve highly-publicized incidents of pet deaths attributed to the popular treats. Pet owners said the treats failed to be properly digested and led to fatal intestinal obstructions.It’s the latest attempt to resolve highly-publicized incidents of pet deaths attributed to the popular treats. Pet owners said the treats failed to be properly digested and led to fatal intestinal obstructions.

Read more on the safety concerns regarding the product at the Consumer Affairs website.

Nutro’s announcement is here.