Sextiped Valley column: Evil empire of pet food, part 2
Last month’s column, titled “The Evil Empire of Pet Food,” ended by suggesting that when we are duped as consumers, we are not entirely innocent victims. Virtually all of us, if asked whether we believe the beautiful graphics on bags of kibble honestly represent the ingredients inside, would admit that we know better.
We no longer live in a naive era where we expect literal truth in advertising. We even take the assurance of veterinarians about the healthfulness of these products with more than a grain of salt. No human health care professional would suggest that processed foods, however “enriched,” are better for us than fresh, whole foods.
Even more fundamental than nutritional claims is the issue of safety. Several lawsuits going forward challenge the pet food industry’s harmful and deceptive practices. For many years, intensifying exponentially in the last decade, this industry relies on deception to ensure its amazing international growth and profitability, while selling essentially industrial waste.
As consumers we want reliable indicators of quality. As a retailer, I investigate the claims manufacturers make to verify their products’ value, but most of them maintain a stone wall of secrecy around ingredient sourcing’s middle layer. There are some 457 meat brokers and wholesalers in the U.S. selling animal products of every grade, from decomposed and toxic to USDA-certified organic, on the open market. Pet food makers know that the FDA has given them a pass on enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of “adulterated” ingredients, which include various nonedible by-products and carcasses that died other than by slaughter.
As in every other industry, these 457 vendors occupy a spectrum of reputation and quality of products offered. The company that sold the euthanized horse’s meat to the pet food company that sold it as human grade beef was accidentally identified in lawsuit documents, revealing it to have no current USDA certification and also to operate on the same premises as a “carcass pick-up and disposal” service. It is rumored to be still providing meat to nine other pet food companies. It hasn’t been closed down nor suffered any meaningful sanctions for its blatant violation of the law, resulting in the death and illness of several dogs.
If we can’t verify the claims manufacturers make because this huge segment of the supply chain is carefully concealed from view and shielded by the government agency charged with enforcement, what can we do? Smaller and newer companies are safer because they are competing on quality and ethics rather than relying on savvy marketing teams. But watch out when they sell out or “partner” with a venture capital firm so they can grow. Independent stores keep track of these developments.
But we must also ask ourselves if we are demanding the impossible: safe, wholesome, widely available and cheap food. Our dogs and cats are carnivores and must eat meat, but they needn’t consume ribeye steaks and chicken breasts — in fact, they can more healthily dine on organ meat, lesser cuts and trim, from less than prime livestock.
Industrial agriculture produces mind-boggling quantities of waste that would present a public health menace, and would enormously raise the cost of processed meat (for humans and pets) if this disposal had to be done responsibly, rather than recycled into pet food.
Because the costs of cleaning up pollution are usually not borne by the entities creating it, they are not passed on to consumers but are externalized to be addressed, if at all, at public expense. Ask yourself what the price of meat would be, if not kept artificially low by, among other things, being able to offload farm, restaurant, slaughterhouse and manufacturing waste onto pet food companies?
If we do not want to feed our beloved companion animals industrial waste, I have three suggestions:
First, learn to feed them using whole foods. The information is readily available on how, and you can buy direct and local from trustworthy farmers. Second, press pet food companies, and the regulatory agencies that are supposed to enforce the law, to make their entire supply chain transparent and accountable. Third, don’t shirk the obligation to look at the big picture. We humans should eat much less, but better, meat, and our pets need more that is wholesome.
Don’t ask industries to do the impossible. Work toward ultimate solutions that serve us all well: livestock, farmers, pets and ourselves. Acknowledge that this will have some costs, but it can be done. Don’t our honest pets deserve it?
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.