by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pet food

Jun 24 2010

San Francisco Chronicle writes about Feed Your Pet Right

This article appeared yesterday in the Datebook section.  The dogs loved the food—a huge relief because we had not tested the recipes (oops).

Photos by Russell Yip. Aussies borrowed.

Challenging the pet-food dogma

Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle, June 23, 2010

In her best-selling food industry exposés “What to Eat” and “Food Politics,” Marion Nestle taught the nation how to shop smarter at the supermarket. Now the New York University nutrition professor and Chronicle Food Matters columnist has teamed with animal nutrition expert Malden C. Nesheim to examine the $18 billion pet food industry in “Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat” (Simon & Schuster; $16.99).

Their research-based work examines the politics, marketing and science behind pet food, and offers pet owners advice on how best to feed America’s 172 million cats and dogs. She recently visited The Chronicle’s test kitchen, where canine tasters wolfed down an easy-to-prepare recipe from the book.

Q: This book began when you couldn’t understand the ingredients on pet food labels?

A: I couldn’t! I was in a supermarket in Ithaca (N.Y.), and the pet food aisle was 120 feet long. I was stunned by the amount of real estate devoted to it. This had to be some huge industry, and it surprised me because I didn’t think dogs and cats had taken over the world. I looked at the label and it didn’t make any sense at all: stuff about guaranteed analysis, profiles and health claims all over it. We gathered all the books we could find on feeding pets, and they were so dogmatic – saying you have to feed your pet this one way and everything else was poison. They were enormously contradictory, and none seemed to be based on actual research.

Q: Is it in the best interest of the pet food industry to confuse us?

A: Of course – they are selling products that are inexpensive to make and profitable to sell, and all they have to do is convince pet owners if they don’t use their products, they are making a big mistake.

They would prefer you don’t think about what’s in there – the byproducts of human food products. There are billions of pounds of leftover parts of cows, pigs, chickens and sheep after they are slaughtered for human consumption, and something has to be done with it or it will be wasted. One way is to feed it to dogs and cats. They don’t care what part of the animal it comes from.

Q: Give us a cheat sheet. What should we look for on the label?

A: If you want one-stop shopping that meets all the nutritional needs of your cat or dog, look for the words “complete and balanced” on the package. That’s code for meeting all the nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – the non-regulatory agency that sets the pet food standards.

Next is the ingredient list. Our rule of thumb is to check the first five ingredients; after that, the ingredients are so small, they do not amount to much. The first five should be real foods – not wheat gluten or something that doesn’t sound like real food. A lot have meat byproducts in them that are quite nutritious, but a lot of people think they are disgusting.

Beyond that, if you are concerned about the quality and interested in organic, seasonal and locally grown, you can find a commercial pet food that meets those standards, but typically you will pay more.

Q: Is there some truth to the claims that some foods are for aging pets, puppies, weight loss, organic, premium?

A: You can pretty much trust it the way you can human food labeling. There will be cheats every now and then.

Q: Is price an indicator of quality?

A: We were rather surprised by what we found. We bought a collection of chicken dinners for pets that were all premium brands, which is a code for higher price. We compared the first five ingredients, the health claims and price, and although the ingredients were all the same, there was a threefold increase in price. So there’s some heavy marketing going on here. The word “premium” has no regulatory meaning, so you have to read what’s in the product.

Q: What are the main things we are doing wrong when it comes to feeding our pets?

A: Overfeeding.

Q: Should we just be cooking for our pets?

A: People who do say it is healthier. One of the funniest things we found was a big clinical research book for cats and dogs put out by Hills Co. that had a very long chapter about how dangerous it is to cook for your pets, then it gave generic recipes for cat and dog food that were easy to follow. We put the recipes in our book!

Q: Since the invention of commercial pet food, is there any evidence that pets are healthier or living longer? Or the opposite?

A: We were curious what did people do before commercial pet food. But there was little information and an astonishing lack of research about pet life spans. In the last 10 years, there’s been some preliminary evidence that life spans of dogs and cats have increased a little bit, but I wouldn’t want to push that too hard. There’s certainly evidence that pets are not doing any worse since commercial pet food was invented.

Q: The top five pet food companies control 80 percent of the market – who is regulating them?

A: All of those five companies are also either human food companies or consumer product companies. Governing them is a complicated regulatory system comprised of the (Food and Drug Administration’s) Center for Veterinary Medicine, AAFCO and states. States have their own rules, AAFCO sets models it wishes all states would follow but about half do, and the FDA regulation is minimal. But that’s changing.

Q: Is that because of the pet food recalls in 2007 that were traced to melamine in China?

A: Yes, it made everyone realize we only have one food supply – and it feeds humans, pets and farm animals. If we have a problem with pet food, then there will likely be a problem with all food. Sure enough, melamine showed up in baby formula in China and in a lot of products that were supposed to be containing milk. We need a food-safety system covering the whole thing, and the FDA is not unsympathetic to that approach. We need food labels on pet food that we can read, and calorie counts should be on them.

Q: What foods are deadly to pets?

A: Raisins, grapes or macadamia nuts, onions, garlic and chocolate. Little amounts really won’t do any harm; it’s pounds that causes problems.

Q: If you want to cook for your pet, how do you do it properly?

A: Follow a recipe.

Q: On your book tour, what are the most common questions people have?

A: A lot of questions about poop and how to keep the amount down – all these people in Manhattan apartments want to know. I tell them feed a high-premium, low-residue product with not much fiber in it. PetCo even has a sign showing the poop size comparisons using these kinds of products.

Recipes: Homemade food that gives pets the nutrition they need. E5

Homemade Dog Food

From “Feed Your Pet Right,” by Marion Nestle and Malden C. Nesheim (Simon and Schuster; $16.99). This recipe, adapted from guidelines in “Small Animal Clinical Nutrition” (2000), feeds one 40-pound dog. Amounts should be adjusted to the size, age and condition of the animal.

  • 8 ounces cooked grains (rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, pasta and other grains and cereals)
  • 4 ounces cooked meat (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, fish)
  • 2 teaspoons fat (beef fat, chicken fat, vegetable oil, olive oil, fish oil)
  • 1 ounce raw or cooked vegetables
  • 1 teaspoon bone meal (or dicalcium phosphate supplement, see Note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon potassium chloride supplement (salt substitute)
  • 1 human adult daily multi-vitamin, multi-mineral tablet

Instructions: Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and serve.

May 11 2010

Feed Your Pet Right: The “Book Tour”

Book tours are not what they used to be, even for people like me who ordinarily write for impoverished academic presses.  For this book, we do have a few things going on.  I summarize them here.  Times are local.  The public lectures are listed in more detail under Appearances.

WASHINGTON DC

May 12:  Diane Rehm Show, WAMU-FM, Washington, DC, 11:00 a.m.

May 12: The Animal House, WAMU-FM, Washington, DC, 3:00 p.m.

NEW YORK

May 13: Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, 11:40 a.m.

May 14  Good Morning America, ABC

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

May 15 CPS Salon 7:30 p.m.  Requires rsvp.  Go to cpslectures.com.  Click on “invite me.”

May 18 Holistic Hound, 1510 Walnut St. / Berkeley, CA, 6:30 p.m.

May 22  Omnivore Books, 3885a Cesar Chavez Street / San Francisco, CA, 3:00 p.m.

May 23  Point Reyes Books, 11315 State Route 1/ Point Reyes Station CA  3:00 p.m.

NEW YORK

May 25  Authors on Animals radio with Tracie Hotchner

May 27  NYU Fales Library/Bobst, 3rd floor, 70 Washington Square So, 4:00 p.m.

May 10 2010

Feed Your Pet Right: Out at last!

The book about pet food and the pet food industry that I wrote with Malden Nesheim – Feed Your Pet Right (Free Press/Simon & Schuster) – comes out tomorrow, May 11.  At last!

Why would two human nutritionists interested in food politics write a book about pet food?

  • Pets eat the same food we do, just different parts.
  • The five major companies that make pet food – Nestlé, Mars, Procter & Gamble (Iams), Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s), and Del Monte – also make food for humans.
  • Pet food is a huge business that generates $18 billion in annual sales in the U.S. alone.
  • The marketing of pet foods is just like the marketing of human foods (health claims, production values).
  • The safety issues are identical.
  • And people do love their pets.

These are all reason enough to be interested in this segment of the food business, whether you do or do not own a cat or dog (which we do not, at the moment).

This book came about as an extension of what I wrote about in What to Eat.  I could see that pet foods took up a lot of supermarket real estate but I could not understand their labels.  But Mal, who taught animal nutrition for many years, knew exactly what they meant.  Hence: this book.

We signed on to write it in February 2007, three weeks before the melamine pet food recalls of 2007.  I intended my comments on the recalls to be an appendix to this book, but the writing got out of hand and ended up as Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine (University of California Press, 2008).

Feed Your Pet Right is out at last.  You can find out about it at Free Press/Simon and Schuster or Amazon or Borders or Barnes & Noble or IndieBound.

You can follow it on Facebook (Feed Your Pet Right), where we will deal with current issues about pet food, answer questions, and respond to comments.

Here’s what it covers:

1. Introduction

The origins of commercial pet foods

2. What pets ate

3. What pets need

4. Inventing commercial pet foods

5. Pet foods as an industry

What’s in those packages?

6. Pet foods: wet and dry

7. The ingredients

8. The rendered ingredients

9. Who sets pet food rules?

Commercial pet foods: the market

10. What’s on those labels?

11. The pet food marketplace: segments

12. Products at a premium

Special products for target markets

13. For young and old

14. For special health problems

15. For weight loss

The pet food extras

16. Snacks, treats, chews, and bottled waters

17. Dietary supplements

18. Do supplements work?

Alternatives to commercial pet feeding

19. Unconventional diets

20. The raw

21. The home cooked

Thinking about pet foods

22. Are commercial pet foods healthy for pets?

23. Do people eat pet food?

24. Do pet food companies influence veterinarians?

25. Is pet food research ethical?

26. Concluding thoughts

Acknowledgments

Appendix 1. The U.S. pet food industry: facts and figures

Appendix 2. Recent history of the pet food industry

Appendix 3. The history of pet food regulation

Appendix 4. Estimating pet food calories

Appendix 5. Food needs of Alaskan sled racing dogs

Appendix 6. Resources

List of Tables and Figures

Notes

Index

Enjoy!

Tomorrow: Where and when we will be speaking about the book.



1. Introduction

The origins of commercial pet foods

2. What pets ate

3. What pets need

4. Inventing commercial pet foods

5. Pet foods as an industry

What’s in those packages?

6. Pet foods: wet and dry

7. The ingredients

8. The rendered ingredients

9. Who sets pet food rules?

Commercial pet foods: the market

10. What’s on those labels?

11. The pet food marketplace: segments

12. Products at a premium

Special products for target markets

13. For young and old

14. For special health problems

15. For weight loss

The pet food extras

16. Snacks, treats, chews, and bottled waters

17. Dietary supplements

18. Do supplements work?

Alternatives to commercial pet feeding

19. Unconventional diets

20. The raw

21. The home cooked

Thinking about pet foods

22. Are commercial pet foods healthy for pets? 23. Do people eat pet food?

24. Do pet food companies influence veterinarians?

25. Is pet food research ethical?

26. Concluding thoughts

Appendix 1. The U.S. pet food industry: facts and figures

Appendix 2. Recent history of the pet food industry

Appendix 3. The history of pet food regulation

Appendix 4. Estimating pet food calories

Appendix 5. Food needs of Alaskan sled racing dogs

Appendix 6. Resources

List of Tables and Figures

Acknowledgments

Dec 29 2009

Pet food settlement rumors: not true!

A reader, Valerie Watkins, comments on my previous post about the long delay in settling the lawsuits over the pets harmed by the melamine scandals of 2007.  She writes:

The internet has several articles indicating the law firm that is handling the money helped themselves to the cash and there is no money remaining. Several reports indicate there are NO objections by anyone, it is just the law firms response to not allowing the claims to be paid out. After 3 years of waiting, I believe it. Pet owner’s will wait for nothing, the money appears to have been spent on those trusted with paying out the claims.

Oh dear.  The Internet is a wonderful invention but has one serious flaw: its content is unedited.  People can say whatever they like no matter how far from the truth.  I have learned not to trust anything I read on the Internet unless I know that its source is reliable.

My immediate reaction to Valerie’s comment: Could this possibly be true?

No, it most definitely cannot.

Take a look at the court documents.  Two appeals are still pending in the Third Circuit court. Until those appeals are settled, the money is in escrow and nobody – not even the lawyers – can touch it.  The documents clearly state that the lawyers are not to be paid until all appeals are resolved and the judgment is in effect.

The administrator of the settlement explains:

No payments may be made on eligible claims until all appeals are resolved. THE APPEALS HAVE BEEN FULLY BRIEFED AND WE NOW AWAIT THE DECISION OF THE APPELLATE COURT. It is uncertain how long these appeals will take to resolve, and the timing of resolving the appeals is not within the control of the parties or their counsel. It is not uncommon for appeals to take several months or even years to resolve.

For anyone with a pet harmed by eating tainted pet food, the long delay is painful.  It would be a help to have the settlement resolved.   But the delay is not caused by the lawyers who are representing aggrieved pet owners.  It is also in the lawyers’ best interest to settle the suit as quickly as possible.

When it comes to the Internet, don’t believe everything you read.  And check sources!  In case of the pet food class action suit, the documents are on the Internet and available to everyone who takes the trouble to see what they really say.


Dec 22 2009

Eating Liberally: Are pets responsible for climate change?

It’s been quite a while since Eating Liberally’s kat had a question for me, but this one certainly got my attention.  My book about pet food with Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right, has just progressed past its second set of page-proof corrections and is slowly making its way to publication on May 11.  Here’s her question:

Let’s Ask Marion: Is Fido The New Hummer?

Submitted by KAT on Tue, 12/22/2009 – 8:13am.

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Pet Food Politics, What to Eat and Food Politics.

Kat: Dog lovers are howling over a new book called Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living. The book claims that “the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle,” according to a report from the Agence France Presse.

The book’s authors, Robert and Brenda Vale, sustainable living experts at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, estimate that a medium-sized dog’s annual diet–about 360 pounds of meat and 200 pounds of grains–requires roughly double the resources it would take to drive an SUV 6,200 miles a year.

You’ve become an expert on the pet food industry in recent years with Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, and your upcoming book, Feed Your Pet Right. So, what’s your take on the Vales’ claims? Is Fido really the new Hummer?

Dr. Nestle: Since Mal Nesheim is my co-conspirator on Feed Your Pet Right, this response is from both of us. Hence, “we.”

We ordered this book through Amazon in the U.K. but it is taking its own sweet time getting here. So all we really know about what these authors say is what we read in the October 24 New Scientist, which not only reviewed the book (in an article titled, “How green is your pet”) but also ran an editorial that begins, “If you really want to make a sacrifice to sustainability, consider ditching your pet – its ecological footprint will shock you.”

Oh, please. We don’t think so for two reasons, one quantitative, one qualitative. First, the quantitative:

The New Scientist review says:

To measure the ecological paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450 grams of fresh meat and 260 grams of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, Fido wolfs down about 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals.

We don’t really have all the facts at hand. We have not seen the book, we don’t know what assumptions the authors made, and we can’t be certain that the review quotes the book accurately. Still, we are puzzled by these figures.

By our estimates, an average dog does indeed need about 300 grams of dry dog food a day; this much provides close to 1,000 calories. Fresh meat supplies about 2 calories per gram, so 450 grams would yield about 900 calories. Cereals have less water so they are more caloric; they provide nearly 4 calories per gram. The 260 grams of cereals would provide nearly 1,000 calories. If New Scientist got it right, the authors of the book are overestimating the amount of food needed by dogs by a factor of two.

On the qualitative side: Most dogs don’t eat the same meat humans do. They eat meat by-products—the parts of food animals that we wouldn’t dream of eating. These are organs, intestines, scraps, cuttings, and other disgusting-to-humans animal parts.

We think pet food performs a huge public service. If pets didn’t eat all that stuff, we would have to find a means of getting rid of it: landfills, burning, fertilizer, or converting it to fuel, all of which have serious environmental consequences. If dogs and cats ate the same food we do, we estimate that just on the basis of calories, the 172 million dogs and cats in American would consume as much food as 42 million people.

But they don’t. They eat the by-products of human food production. If we want to do something to help reverse climate change, we should be worrying much more about the amount of meat that we ourselves are eating–and the amount of cereals we are growing to feed food animals–than blaming house pets for a problem that we created.

Dec 9 2009

FDA’s new pet health & safety widget!

After years of complaints about how hard it is to get information about pet food recalls, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has  taken a big step to solve the problem.  It just posted a new widget for pet health and safety.  Technophobic dinosaur that I am, I can’t figure out how to load it.  I went to the link above, copied the code, and pasted it, but I can’t get the cute web gadget to display.  All that shows on my screen is a link to the site.

The FDA hosted a webinar on Tuesday about how to use it.  Alas, I was off giving lectures and couldn’t tune in on it, but the FDA posted the conversation on the website.

Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection was on the call, has much better technical skills than I do, and managed the upload.  She talks about how the FDA has “gone all widgety” and has some cautiously optimistic things to say about it.

This web gadget ought to make it easy for FDA to give the pet community straight information about foods recalled and not.  And anyone who wants to track this sort of thing can look it up on the site or, maybe, download it.  Good idea!  Cheers to the FDA!  And let’s hope the FDA uses is early and often.

Aug 10 2009

Do the food safety bills apply to pet foods?

A comment by Sophie on my post about the food safety bills needs an immediate response to set the record straight.  She says:

It’s my understanding that this [bill] excludes pet food manufacturers….our pets were the canaries in the coal mine in the 2007 pet food recalls; they helped bring huge awareness to the food safety issue especially when baby formula was tainted with the same melamine problem that pet food was…but yet our pets get left out of the food safety bill?  Something isn’t right here…

On this point, not to worry.  H.R. 2749 most definitely does include pet foods.  Here, for example, is Section 101 (C)(i):

The term ‘retail food establishment’ means an establishment that, as its primary function, sells food products (including those food products that it manufactures, processes, packs, or holds) directly to consumers (including by Internet or mail order).
‘(ii) Such term includes–
‘(I) grocery stores;
‘(II) convenience stores;
‘(III) vending machine locations; and
‘(IV) stores that sell bagged feed, pet food, and feed ingredients or additives over-the-counter directly to consumers and final purchasers for their own personal animals [my emphasis].

All sections of the bill, including recall authority, apply to  pet foods and animal feed, as well as to human foods.  As another example, see Section 420 (c):

Order to Cease Distribution- If the Secretary has reason to believe that the use or consumption of, or exposure to, an article of food may cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals, the Secretary shall have the authority to issue an order requiring any person who distributes such article to immediately cease distribution of such article [my emphasis again].

In this sense, the bill recognizes that we have only one (global) food supply and that this one (global) food supply feeds people, pets, and farm animals alike.

Jun 17 2009

Pesky problems with multi-nutrient supplements

It’s hard not to think of multivitamin supplements (which also include minerals) as perfectly safe, since the amounts of specific nutrients rarely exceed recommended levels.  But according to recent reports, formulation mistakes get made and these don’t always get caught by quality controls.  Here are two examples.

According to FoodProductionDaily.com, 25% of Adverse Event Reports (AERs) sent into the FDA last year concerned multivitamin supplements. This, says one supplement trade association, should not be interpreted to mean that there is anything wrong with the supplements.  Maybe not, but how about checking?

I say this because of the high zinc levels in the Nutro pet food recently recalled by Mars (see previous post).  Thanks to Sophie for sending a link to a report that some bags of the kibble contained zinc at more than 2000 ppm as compared to the 75 ppm that is supposed to be there.   This, of course, is why I keep insisting that everyone, not just pet owners, should be concerned about the quality of pet food.  We only have one food supply.  If a problem exists with pet food, it’s quite likely that something similar could happen to ours.

The take-home lessons:

  • For food manufacturers: Don’t trust the suppliers of vitamin/mineral mixes; test them!
  • For the government: How about requiring all supplement manufacturers to follow HACCP (science-based food safety) plans, with testing and quality control.
  • For customers (this means you): Contact the consumer affairs representative listed on the package label, ask if the company tests vitamin and mineral levels in finished products, complain if it doesn’t, and demand to see test data if it does.

Addendum: October 16, 2009: Thanks to Anthro for sending a link to this October 7 article from the website of the New England Journal of Medicine: “American roulette – contaminated dietary supplements.”   This is only to be expected from deregulated industries.

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