by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pet food

Nov 15 2018

Pet food: a roundup of recent stories

I maintain an active interest in pet food, even though my books on the topic came out a few years ago

Here are some recent items:

  1. Pet food is big business ($63 billion last year).  It brings people into supermarkets and boosts sales.  [OK.  You already knew this, no?]
  2. Evangers, a pet food maker occasionally in trouble over ingredient and food safety problems has been caught with horse meat in its products. It says it doesn’t use horse meat, even though it has a license to use it.  It blames its beef supplier.Private label pet food brands are selling well.   They are cheaper.  For the record: all complete-and-balanced pet foods are required to meet the same nutritional standards and to support dog and cat reproduction, growth, and development (they are like infant formula in that regard).
  3. Food safety issues for humans also mean food safety issues for pets. The CDC is warning people not to consume certain turkey products because of illnesses caused by Salmonella. “Evidence collected by federal officials investigating the illnesses has revealed the outbreak strain in samples from live turkeys and many kinds of raw turkey products, including pet food.”
  4. Raw pet food  continues to raise food safety risks: Rad Cat Raw Diet has been recalled due to Listeria contamination.   A case of human Salmonella illness has been linked to a Darwin’s raw pet food.
  5. And the FDA announces the recall of Nutrisca dry dog food with levels of vitamin D so excessive that they made dogs sick.
  6. Mars Veterinary, the biggest manufacturer of pet foods, is working on some new products made from—get this—lab-grown mouse meat.  No, I did not make this up; I got it from Business Insider.
  7. Wild Earth, Inc., a biotech pet food startup, sells treats made with lab-cultured protein from the koji fungus, Aspergillus oryzae.
  8. The humanification of pet food, says The Atlantic, is nearly complete.
  9. Whole Dog Journal asks this burning question: Should you feed ice cream to your dog? (The short answer is no, but this gives me a chance to praise Nancy Kerns’ admirably sensible advice about dog feeding, care, and training).

You can see why I love writing about pet food.

Jul 31 2018

Dog owners: watch out for grain-free pet foods containing legumes or potatoes as the main ingredients

The FDA is warning dog owners about an observed association of enlarged hearts in animals fed dog foods containing peas, lentils, other legumes, or potatoes as main ingredients (these appear first or second on ingredient lists).  These pet foods are often labeled “grain-free.”

Large breeds are more seriously affected but cases have occurred in medium and small breeds too.

The reason for the association is not known but one possibility is that these diets are low in the amino acid taurine, which is usually present in meat (see note at end).

As Mal Nesheim and I discussed in our book, Feed Your Pet Right, dogs—like humans—do best on a highly varied diet containing many different foods.

The FDA website contains lots of information about pet foods and pet food recalls.

The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see the link below about “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

As for what’s going on here, the New York Times quotes veterinary nutritionist Lisa Freeman:

Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-fee diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.

The Times also a quotes a veterinarian who feeds his own dog a mainstream commercial pet food:

A lot of people would have qualms because it uses less expensive or nonorganic ingredients…But we’ve seen dogs thrive on these diets.

That is indeed what the research shows.

In our book, Mal and I repeatedly emphasize that pet foods are like infant formulas in that they all have to meet exactly the same nutritional standards.

Whether the sources of ingredients providing those nutrients make any difference to a pet’s health is a mystery.  Why?  Because no pet food company wants to do the obvious, but expensive, experiment: Compare the effects of the cheapest complete-and-balanced pet food to the one made with the highest quality (and most costly) ingredients.

At some point, all complete-and-balanced pet foods were tested to make sure they properly supported growth and reproduction.

Are there critical differences?

In marketing, definitely.  To health?  We just don’t know.

Added note, September 4, 2018

The best discussion of the taurine-in-dogs issue I have seen is this one in Whole Dog Journal by Linda Case.

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Jun 21 2018

Salmonella in Honey Smacks cereal?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  The latest source of Salmonella is a kids’ cereal, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks.  They may be a good source of vitamin D, but watch out!

This is no joke.  The CDC reports the damage: 73 cases in 31 states, with 24 hospitalizations.

The CDC says you should not eat this cereal.  Period.  You should especially not eat this if its used-by date ranges from June 14, 2018 to June 14, 2019.  Kellogg has recalled packages with this used-by date.

I took this photo on June 16 at Wegmans in Ithaca.  I was surprised to see them on the shelf, but their use-by date was May 19, 2019 so Wegmans must think they are OK.  Even if I habitually bought sugary kids cereals, I’d pick another one until this outbreak is over and gets an all-clear signal.

Recent Salmonella outbreaks have involved pre-cut melon, eggs, dried coconut, pre-made salads, and sprouts.  Food safety lawyer Bill Marler says don’t eat them either.

Outbreaks caused by contamination of commercial boxed products are rare.  Bacteria don’t grow well in dried foods.  The CDC doesn’t discuss how the Salmonella got into the package.

Could honey be the source?  Honey is not sterile, but bacteria don’t grow in it very well (not enough water).

This reminds me of the situation with dry pet foods and treats.  Canned pet foods have been cooked and are sterile until they are opened.

Dry foods are not sterile.  Although the extrusion process heats them enough to kill bacteria, flavors and other additives are sprayed on before they are packaged.  Contamination with Salmonella and other pathogens is a constant problem (Mal Nesheim and I discuss this in our book about the pet food industry, Feed Your Pet Right).

I will be interested to see if Kellogg can find the source of the contamination.

Mar 6 2018

Why so may pet food recalls?

Is it just me or does it seem like there are an unusually large number of pet food recalls this year.

The American Veterinary Medical Association keeps track of them and I am astonished at how many are on the 2018 list—already.

As I look at the list, the 2018 recalls are due to three causes: Listeria, Salmonella, and Pentobarbital.

Dry pet food is not sterile and easily contaminated by pathogens (these can make pets or owners sick).  Pet food manufacturers know this and are supposed to take precautions.

Food Safety News often writes about Salmonella problems in pet foods; it obtains inspection records that nearly always reveal sloppy production practices.

Pentobarbital is another matter entirely.  This is a euthanasia drug.  Euthanized animals are not supposed to be included in rendered meals used in pet foods.  If pentobarbital is present, the manufacturer is not paying attention to the quality of its ingredients (and whoever is doing the rendering is not excluding euthanized animals).

I have a special interest in pet foods, having written two books about it.

Pet foods are a profitable business and lots of companies make them.  It’s a good idea to keep track of the recalls and avoid recalled products.  Stores do not always remove recalled products immediately.

Caveat emptor.

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Mar 8 2017

Pet owners: watch out for Evangers’ beef foods

The FDA warns pet owners not to feed their pets any of these foods because of risk of pentobarbital contamination (this seems like a really good idea).

  • Evanger’s Hunk of Beef: 20109
  • Evanger’s Braised Beef: 20107
  • Against the Grain Pulled Beef: 80001

The products have expiration dates of December 2019-January 2021.

The FDA explains:

The FDA began investigating Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company Inc. when it learned about five dogs in a single household that suffered acute neurological symptoms shortly after eating the product. One dog was euthanized after secondary complications, and three others recovered after receiving veterinary care. One of the dogs treated remains on seizure medication, and the fifth dog that ate the least amount of food recovered with time.

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab, and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA’s lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

In a classic example of how NOT to instill confidence among customers in your products, Evangers’ is fighting the FDA’s assertions about how it sources ingredients.

I highly recommend working with the FDA to clean up food safety problems.  Really, that is a much better approach.

Pet food buyers: There are plenty of pet food brands that do not contain pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug).

Give Evangers’ a pass until all this gets straightened out.

Feb 21 2017

Yikes! Pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug) in Evanger’s pet food

Last week the FDA warned pet owners not to feed  specific lot numbers of Evanger’s canned Hunk of Beef or Against the Grain Grain Free Pulled Beef with Gravy canned dog food  because they might contain enough pentobarbital to sicken or kill their animals.

The FDA began investigating Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company Inc. when it learned about five dogs in a single household that suffered acute neurological symptoms shortly after eating the product. One dog was euthanized after secondary complications, and three others recovered after receiving veterinary care. One of the dogs treated remains on seizure medication, and the fifth dog that ate the least amount of food recovered with time.

The stomach contents of the deceased dog and an open can of the product were tested by an FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network lab, and unopened cans of the product from the pet owner and retailer that sold the products (from the same production lot), were tested by FDA’s lab. All of the samples tested positive for pentobarbital.

Yikes indeed.

Pentobarbital is a drug used for euthanizing animals.  Years ago, the remains of euthanized animals (sometimes pets) went to rendering plants and the resulting mess ended up in pet foods.

But when Mal Nesheim and I were researching our pet food book, Feed Your Pet Right, which came out in 2010, we searched for but could not find evidence that any pet food company was still doing that.

Everyone we asked, from veterinarians, to pet food makers, to government regulators told us that rendered, euthanized animals were no longer in pet foods, not least because the ingredients would have to be disclosed on the labels and no manufacturer wanted to do that.

The USDA says it checked and the canned foods really do contain beef.

Since when are cattle treated with pentobarbital?

If they aren’t, how did the drug get into the pet food?

Evanger’s advertises its ingredients as “human grade.”  Oops.

Susan Thixton, who runs the blog, TruthAboutPetFood, snagged a screenshot of Evanger’s website before they “edited” out the part about how their products are “made with completely human grade” ingredients.  Here’s her explanation:

The FDA must agree.  It says:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a “USDA approved” supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger’s supplier of “Inedible Hand Deboned Beef – For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption” and determined that the supplier’s facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade.

For more information:

Dec 13 2016

Lawyers file class action against leading pet food companies. The issue? Prescription pet foods.

Attorneys in California Minnesota, Georgia, and North Carolina have filed a class action lawsuit in California against the leading manufacturers and sellers of pet food: Mars, Nestlé (no relation) Purina, Hills, Petsmart, and several veterinary hospital chains owned by one or another of these companies.

Why?  Prescription pet foods cost more but are no different than any other kind of pet food.

As the complain puts it:

  • Defendents’ prescription pet food contains no drug or other ingredient not also common in non-prescription pet food.
  • Defendents’ marketing, labeling, and/or sale of prescription pet food is deceptive, collusive, and in violation of federal antitrust law and California consumer-protection law.
  • Defendents are engaged in an anticompetitive conspiracy to market and sell pet food as prescription pet food to consumers at above-market prices that would not otherwise prevail in the absence of their collusive prescription-authorization requirement.

As Malden Nesheim and I explained in our book Feed Your Pet Right (which is really an analysis of the pet food industry), all compete-and-balanced pet foods must meet identical nutritional standards.

The only difference between the most expensive and cheapest commercial pet foods is in where the ingredients come from.  When writing our book, we could not find any research demonstrating that pets eating the most expensive commercial brands were any healthier than those eating the cheapest.

No pet food company would want to do research like that.   Much more and better research is needed.

The lawsuit charges that the companies are using prescriptions to raise the price of the products.

The complaint is interesting to read.

  • Item 46 points out that prescription pet food does not follow FDA requirements for manufacture, does not appear in the FDA’s “green book” listing approved animal drugs, and is made from the same ingredients found in common pet foods.
  • Item 53 points out that nobody would purchase prescription pet food at higher prices, “if not for the misleading marketing described herein.”

I will be watching this one with riveted interest.  Stay tuned.

Nov 23 2015

USDA grants encourage veterinarians to work on farm animals

When I wrote my books on pet foods some years ago, Feed Your Pet Right and Pet Food Politics, I was reading a lot about veterinary practice and how it has shifted from large animals to small.  The shift is so great that hardly anyone trains to be a farm-animal veterinarian anymore.  Almost all students focus on pet dogs and cats.

Among practicing veterinarians,

  • 75 % treat pets
  • 6% work treat horses
  • 8% treat farm animals

 

The USDA wants to change that, at least a little.

It announced an award program of $4.5 million to pay off the school loans of up to 49 veterinarians who promise to work for three years in rural America where veterinarians are scarce.  The maximum award is $75,000, which is expected to cover half the average school-loan debt.  Recipients may be required to devote at least 80% of their time to work on food animals.

Sounds like a great opportunity to get terrific experience.  I hope lots of recent grads apply.