Should You Boycott These Pet Brands That Think You're Dimwitted?

pet food industry

Story at-a-glance -

  • The processed pet food industry blames consumer distrust of pet food ingredients on “misinformation and myths on the internet”
  • The reality: The reason consumers think so many pet food ingredients are bad is because so many pet food ingredients are bad
  • One only has to look into the countless recalls for tainted pet food and treats to become distrustful of processed pet food manufacturers, most of whom are unwilling to discuss the quality or sourcing of their ingredients, or how the products become contaminated
  • In addition to the massive 2007 melamine-related pet food recall, pets have also been subjected to tainted imported jerky treats, pentobarbital-laced dog food, and pet foods contaminated with heavy metals, aflatoxins and flame retardants

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Recently, while flipping through a pet food industry journal, I came across an article headlined "Why consumers think so many pet food ingredients are bad."1 My immediate thought was, "Probably because so many pet food ingredients are bad." The first few paragraphs of the article discuss and critique all the things today's pet parents want to see — and not see — in the food they buy for their animal companions, including:

Shorter ingredient lists with more recognizable names

Non-GMO

No byproducts

No additives or preservatives

Carrageenan-free

No corn, wheat or soy

Grain-free

BPA-/BHT-/ethoxyquin-free

No fillers

Unlike the processed pet food industry, I think this is a fine list. Now, whether pet food producers can actually meet all these criteria and still manufacture massive quantities of inexpensive, AAFCO-compliant, shelf-stable pet food is a subject for another day.

Pet Parents Are Justifiably Distrustful of Big Pet Food

Next, the article author asks, "What spurs pet owners to think they should avoid these ingredients in the pet foods they buy," and then immediately places blame on "misinformation and myths on the internet" aka "Dr. Google." Interestingly, the author acknowledges that all the so-called misinformation is partly the fault of the pet food industry:

"After the 2007 melamine-related pet food recalls, when many consumers first started to become truly aware of how pet food is made and the ingredients in it, pet food companies had a golden opportunity to open up to pet owners and educate them — with accurate information.

A few pet food makers did just that, but many missed the opportunity. The internet abhors a vacuum, so into it rushed all sorts of 'experts' with their opinions, agendas and myths about pet food and ingredients. That morass of misinformation has only grown since then, and that's what many pet owners see and believe."

The rest of the article is dedicated to picking apart what the author perceives as conflicts of interest among the creators of a "worst pet food ingredients" list that has apparently been widely circulated on the internet. The details aren't important and I won't bore you with them.

Perhaps Big Pet Food Is Deceptive for a Reason

I think the important takeaway from the article is that the majority of processed pet food companies, for a variety of reasons that aren't hard to imagine, have made a conscious decision not to level with pet parents about the ingredients they use, the sourcing of those ingredients, or their manufacturing processes.

The melamine-related pet food disaster was hardly an isolated incident, though it was arguably the worst to date. Since then, there have been endless reports of contaminated pet foods and recalls too numerous to count, including these two jaw-dropping cases:

Toxic jerky treats — Since 2007, toxic jerky treats imported from China have made thousands of dogs ill and caused over 1,000 deaths. In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an update on its ongoing (thus far virtually useless) investigation into the issue.

There have been no "official" updates since then, but from 2007 when the FDA began its search for answers to the end of 2015, the agency had received over 5,000 complaints of illness caused by chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats made with ingredients imported from China.

Those complaints involved over 6,200 dogs, 26 cats and three people (including two toddlers). Tragically, over 1,100 of the 6,200 dogs ultimately died after eating the tainted treats.

And incredibly, it still isn't over. Pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton reported in March of this year that "Jerky dog treats imported from China are sickening and killing pets again. It is unknown how many complaints FDA has received; TruthAboutPetFood.com has received multiple complaints over the past couple of months."2

Pentobarbital-tainted dog food — The first incident of the euthanasia drug pentobarbital discovered in dog food was in 2017 and involved Evanger's formulas.

More recently, the same drug was found in Gravy Train dog food, produced by J.M. Smucker/Big Heart Brands, and has resulted in a class action lawsuit that now has 12 plaintiffs, all pet parents who fed Gravy Train to their dogs, with devastating results. According to court documents:

"… [O]ver ninety million cans of food manufactured and distributed by Defendant [Smucker] were recalled because of the inclusion of pentobarbital.

Moreover, the testing results showed alarmingly high levels of pentobarbital in the tallow [beef fat]. Specifically, the current supply tested showed levels ranging from 801 ppb to 852 ppb, and the retained sample from 2017 contained pentobarbital at the level of 529 ppb."3

To learn more about some of the shadier pet food industry practices and the harm done to pets, read "Dozens of Dog Deaths Now Linked to This Pentobarbital-Tainted Food."

Additional Recalls and Issues

A small nonprofit organization tested over 900 of the best-selling pet foods for over 130 contaminants and toxins; heavy metals, including high levels of lead and mercury, as well as arsenic and cadmium were found in a variety of tested pet foods, and contaminants of one kind or another were measured in nearly every food

Aflatoxin contamination has been responsible for a number of regional pet food recalls and several major disease outbreaks over the past 20 years. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus fungi, and are the most extensively researched mycotoxins in the world.

Aflatoxins are known to cause acute toxic illness and cancer in animals and humans, and are considered among the most carcinogenic substances on the planet. Cats and dogs are more sensitive to aflatoxins than many other animals. Aflatoxins frequently contaminate agricultural crops before they are harvested. Aflatoxicosis is more common in dogs than cats because commercial dog food formulas more often contain corn products.

Flame retardants and other chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or furniture flame-resistant have been proven to leach into pet food from packaging. These chemicals can interfere with reproduction in dogs, and are linked to hyperthyroidism in cats.

Contamination of rawhide chews with an ammonium compound. The compound is approved for use in cleaning food processing equipment, but certainly isn't approved as an ingredient in rawhide chews, and can cause reduced appetite and gastric irritation including diarrhea and vomiting.

These are just a handful of issues that have surfaced regarding the safety of processed pet food ingredients and manufacturing processes. Perhaps the industry should focus more on producing safe, high-quality, nutritious pet food and treats, and complain less about "demanding" customers who are simply trying to nourish their pets without rolling the dice on their health.

What to Do if You No Longer Trust the Pet Food Industry

Between low-grade ingredients, too-frequent recalls, lack of transparency, and an exploding population of pets with chronic digestive issues, allergies and degenerative disease, it's no wonder so many pet parents are exploring homemade diets, fresh food diets made by smaller, transparent pet food producers, raw diets and other alternatives to the dead, rendered, dubious, processed stuff.

My advice? Search this website for more information on choosing the best diet for your pet. There are dozens of videos and articles here that can help you become more knowledgeable about pet nutrition so that you can make the best diet choices for your own dog or cat.

If you want to help change the deceptive practices occurring in the pet food industry, I recommend becoming a member of the Association for Truth in Pet Food, which is the only organization out there committed to holding the regulatory agencies and AAFCO accountable.