March 2013 Letters & Corrections


Three companies have reported that we made errors concerning their products in the “Approved Dry Foods List” in the February issue of WDJ.

Ainsworth Specialty Brands’ product, Back to Basics, is manufactured only in Ainsworth’s plant in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

The manufacturing location of Canine Caviar was also reported incorrectly. Canine Caviar is currently manufactured at Hi-Tek Rations in Dublin, Georgia.

Merrick Pet Care’s newest product lines were misidentified. What were previously called Merrick 5-Star foods are now called Merrick Classic, and there are seven of those products. Products that were previously called Before Grain are now called Merrick Grain Free, and there are four products in that line. The “sample variety” we highlighted has been reformulated; the first six ingredients in Merrick’s Classic Real Chicken Brown Rice + Green Pea Adult are deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, brown rice, peas, and barley. It contains 30% protein and 15% fat.

We regret any inconvenience these errors may have caused.

We also received (and are still receiving) mail from our subscribers regarding the dry food review. We received many inquiries about foods that readers thought should be on our “approved foods” list but weren’t. Here are a number of potential reasons for this:

1. The food a person is curious about IS on the list; check the name of the company that makes/sells the food.

2. We’ve never heard of it. Encourage the company to send us some information about their products.

3. It doesn’t meet our selection criteria, which is described in the review. Check the ingredients on the label of your food, and compare it to our criteria. It should be easy for you to determine by comparing the ingredients to our selection criteria.

4. It may meet our selection criteria regarding ingredients, but the company does not disclose its manufacturing location (which is also one of our selection criteria).

5. The final possibility is that it does meet all of our selection criteria, we have heard of it, but we have been reluctant to add it to our list because the product is sold in a way that makes it difficult for a dog owner to reach the company. There are some worthy products sold through a multi-level marketing strategy that we haven’t added to our lists for this reason: In our opinion, it’s critical that a consumer (say, a person with a sick dog) is able to reach a person who has direct control and responsibility for a product – not a pyramid of people without answers.

Finally, we were ready to hear that we have “sold out” since we included products from Hill’s and Eukanuba on our “approved foods” list. Here’s part of one letter we received:

You have changed??? Why?? . . . I was VERY disappointed to see them on your cover and to read your article backing them up. . . WHO BOUGHT YOU OUT????? I will never stock your magazine in my four stores nor subscribe to you ever again. You’re changing sides and doing it quickly.

I responded: We haven’t changed, but the industry is changing. I hope you read the whole article to understand why it is that the products made by the “big guys” are on our lists: they meet our selection criteria, which have not changed. And the article says our criteria will change, they need to change, to raise the bar again, so that products from any pet food maker that contain any possibly inferior ingredients don’t end up on the list again.

The problem is finding criteria that accomplish what you want them to do. Until recently, it was easy enough to eliminate the big companies from our list by simply saying “no by-products, no unnamed species, no artificial preservatives or colors, etc.” But the big companies now make foods that meet all of those old criteria. If we say, “No products from big companies,” then how big is too big?

I discussed these issues in the article, and hinted at what’s next: trying to discover a way to identify the companies that use only “human-grade” or “edible” ingredients. Right now, there is no legal way for a pet food maker to say this, unless the food is made in a human food plant, with all human-grade ingredients.

In the article, there was a section with a sub-headline “More Can Be Better,” which discussed the various reasons why there has been such a proliferation of SKUs. I wasn’t at all trying to say that the proliferation was a good thing; I was simply trying to explain why the market has exploded. It’s “better” in that some of the big companies now offer foods that meet our criteria (in addition to all the ones that don’t).

Our publisher is the same, owned by the same people, and I sure haven’t been bought or bribed! But it was high time that I address the fact that more food companies make products that meet our criteria – which is good for the nation’s dogs – and discuss the challenge to finding criteria that can be applied across the board to identify the better products out there. Believe me, I’d like to find some new criterion that could divide our current list into super-premium and “good” sections.

Until there is a legal (and therefore verifiable) definition for “human-grade” ingredients, I don’t know what else to do to raise the bar and make our selection criteria tougher. I’d welcome whatever input you’d like to offer.

Here’s the response I received:

I wish your article had reflected what you just wrote me. Instead you featured something much different on your cover! I get why you must include the big guys but you need to write about it like you did in this letter instead of making them out to be great like you did in the article?

I’m not trying to hide anything, I’m not changing my tune, I don’t have to include the big companies. I included the ones I did because so many people have asked about new products that meet our criteria. P&G and Hill’s now have products that meet our selection criteria, they “feature ingredients that are comparable to those found in ‘super premium’ pet foods.” I also said that this means we need to toughen our criteria – and explained why this will be difficult.

More on this next month! – Nancy Kerns