Editorial February 2018 Issue

Dog Food: Marketing or Substance?

Look for third-party certifications of your pet food.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

The latest trend in pet food has to do with ingredient provenance. Over the past year, a number of the companies who make some of the most expensive foods on our “approved foods” lists are making strong claims about their ingredients. It’s not enough to promote “All ingredients from North America,” or the more pointed claim, “No ingredients from China.” Today, a number of companies promote the fact that they formulate their dog foods with sustainably farmed grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and/or humanely raised, grass-fed, and/or free-range food animals and wild-caught fish.

In the cases where the claims are true, it’s a fantastic development for those who can afford these products and the consciousness that drives the impulse to include them. Many of the practices of conventional factory farming of plants and animals harm the environment and are intrinsically cruel to animals. But there is no getting around the fact that so-called “ethically sourced” alternatives are more expensive, and not all pet owners can afford foods that are made with sustainable/humane ingredient sources. But if even some pet owners can afford them, even just some of the time, it helps these companies and the farms from which they buy their ingredients. Every little bit helps.

There are divergent views of this trend within the pet food industry. Long-time industry observers grimly point out that the supply of “ethical” ingredients is incredibly limited, and that using this sort of ingredient in pet food is profligate and perhaps even unconscionable with starving people in the world. In contrast, cheerleaders for the industry promote any trend that sells more pet food – and the enthusiasm for ethically sourced ingredients is strong and growing.

And when a trend gets popular enough, even the industry giants lumber in the right direction. In 2010, Mars Petcare, the world’s largest pet food company, with more than $17 billion in annual sales, pledged to buy fish only from fisheries or fish farms that are third-party certified as sustainable. And, after credible articles were published in 2014 and 2015 about the use of human slaves on factory fishing boats, Mars and Nestlé Purina (the largest pet food company in the United States, with about $12 billion in annual sales) both announced that they will take steps to ensure their pet food supply chains are free of human rights abuses and illegally caught seafood.

This is all great news – but don’t take any company’s claims of ethical ingredient provenance for granted. Make sure to look for certification by a legitimate third-party auditor. Today, there are a number of companies that provide verification and certification of not just organic, but also socially, environmentally, and/or humanely responsible ingredient suppliers.

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Comments (11)

I lost my little girl, Chocolate, my little brindle terrier, to Kidney Disease back in October. She was with me fourteen years, which, as I found after I started researching the whys and wherefores of her leaving this life by way of her illness, was a relatively long life for a dog.

Regardless, as anybody knows who has ever lost someone, you immediately turn to the questioning: What caused it? Was it something I 'd done? Was there something I could have done?, and of course, we're living in the age of constant news about toxins in their foods, treats, water, and you may as well include air, homes, products, insecticides, etc.

In no time at all you see there are so many possibilities you could never know what the cause actually was. One thing you will immediately notice when investigating the usually suspected toxins, is that the list topping damages are to the kidneys and liver, which should be no surprise since these are the organs on the front line of our bodies fight against toxins.

As for the Pancreas, in answer to (Cody357); I believe my vet tested her for Pancreatitis when we started seeing signs of kidney problems in her blood work and it was negative, but he did comment that it was a common problem around the holidays from us spoiling our pets with too many fatty treats from the table. So, I would go very lean if you're having this problem. Indeed, her kidney problem involved eliminating meat until chicken and turkey were the only acceptable meats, and eventually a prescription diet, and no meat at all. I'm curious, have you talked to your vet? Your vet should have these answers.

When we were young and hardy, I would slice my sliver off the meat, give the rest to her(raw and cooked), and I would eat my sliver of meat and the vegetables. I'm right there with (GiftofGalway). Dogs eat meat; although, I did have a dog once that had to eat anything he saw me eating. I just thought he was a freak.

Chocolate was very particular about what she ate. It pretty much had to be meaty. Although, as I say that it brings to mind the strange phenomenon of the fact that I could throw her a steak on the floor and she would walk past it to eat garbage. I caught her eating something off the mudflap of a truck more than once. Now, what could possibly be so delicious, residing on the mudflap of a truck, that I just gotta get me some of that. It boggles the mind.

Once, she vomited a piece of foam. That's the story in Chapter 4 of the book I've been inspired to write by this situation. You can read it at www.thelifeofchocolate.life if you want. It's one of her best stories, among many. I'm including a blog that is more to the point we are dealing with here. It will be about research into the quality of our options for food, water, treats and the like, along with the contaminants and what we can do about it.

I've come to one conclusion from this and other situations I've been researching and analyzing in my life. You can't passively count on anybody to take care of you. You've got to take care of yourself and yours.

The government isn't going to do it for you. In my opinion, most of what there doing is counter to your health and safety needs. Then there's just the plain lack of trustworthiness factor when it comes to the government. Likewise, who's vetting these people who are certifying these other providers of products and who is really verifying these claims being made.

Short of it being a local source that you can actually visit and inspect yourself how can you really know. As for contaminants,we need to devise ways to test these products ourselves cheaply and accurately at home. As far as water(from any source) goes, filter it. It's the only way to be sure.

Posted by: Doguard | February 12, 2018 7:49 AM    Report this comment

You mentioned the limited resources issue briefly and I have thought about this quite a bit lately. It would be great if all the food was created naturally, organically grown and wild caught and pasture raised. The problem is we coiuldn’t feed the existing population. When I hear that we have enough food that no one should starve, I think about the cost of that food. If food was truly plentiful, the population would increase until the food is not plentiful. That is how the system operates. So the food that is truly sustainably made, will have to cost more that that which is not. And as more people pay for the sustainably made the price will go higher, because that resource is limited. There is only so much to go around. This will cause even a greater disparity between those who have and those who have not. We all will end up paying for higher health care for those whose diets are less than ideal. I’m not talking just about people, but everything we feed. I would love to hear your ideas on a solution. Food for thought.

Posted by: Remysmom | February 12, 2018 6:26 AM    Report this comment

Having lost 6 pets (5 dogs and 1 cat) over the last 14 months, yes they were "older", but not "elderly". As 4 of my beloved pets succumbed to cancer, I became aware of an ingredient called Carrageenan. I found that it is a known carcinogen and that as a "thickener" nearly all wet dog food manufacturers use it, as well as some wet canned cat foods, plus some human ice creams. There are 2 types of carrageenan/seaweed derivatives, claiming only one is used as that thickener. But I found that both have been labeled as carcinogenic.
I contacted (by formal e-mail letter) several of the large manufacturer's headquarters. Out of 7 brands, I received 3 answers, 2 claiming "it's only a thickener and derived from seaweed); and one from Halo who advised they were in the process of eliminating that ingredient from their product. (And indeed, they have.) It would seem to me this ingredient does NOT have to be included to thicken foods, as there are many other ingredients that do the same thing. And how is it that the USDA is overlooking the inclusion of this ingredient? Granted it cannot be assumed that this ingredient is the sole cause of cancer in our pets, but if it has been identified as carcinogenic and companies claimed it'a "only" a tiny amount, why push the envelope? I would like to suggest that Whole Dog Journal investigate and evaluate this ingredient. Based on the placement of carrageenan, frequently listed towards the beginning of ingredient lists, that claim of "just a tiny bit" is misleading to say the least.

Posted by: katznk9s | February 11, 2018 3:18 PM    Report this comment

HELP. My 8 1/2 year old std. Poodle has a bout of pancreatitis. I home cook for him. I need some recipes and how much to feed him @ 95 lbs.

Posted by: CODY357 | February 11, 2018 2:51 PM    Report this comment

Thank you WDJ for alerting people to the need to look for 3rd party certification. There is one certification that I wish more people would look for when considering which food to feed their dogs - Global Animal Partnership (GAP). This program not only assures that the animals our dogs eat are raised in humane conditions, it also assures that wildlife on and around the farms where those animals are raised is not indiscriminately killed.

Most people may not be aware that there is a government agency called USDA APHIS Wildlife Services that routinely kills millions of animals a year, primarily to protect farm animals. That of course, includes the animals that end up in our dogs' food. Even if you feed a raw diet, native wildlife is being killed to protect the cows, lambs, chickens, etc… that your dogs are eating. Many non-target animals (e.g., deer, eagles) lose their lives due to the indiscriminate nature of the traps and snares used by Wildlife Services and pet dogs have also been maimed and killed.

We have been feeding our dog only products containing 3rd party certified sustainably harvested wild fish to avoid feeling complicit in the unnecessary slaughter of native wildlife. Many effective non-lethal methods to protect livestock are available and thankfully, more and more farmers are using them to produce food for humans and marketing their products as Wildlife Friendly. The dog food industry has taken up the humanely-raised livestock banner but is lagging behind in the wildlife-friendly department.

That’s why we were thrilled to see a new food in the 2018 WDJ Approved Dry Dog Food List that was GAP certified! At all levels, GAP certification requires that non-lethal predator control be the first choice and lethal methods can only be used to selectively target offending predators. See Section 8 in this GAP Audit Prep tool for Turkeys pdf to see the requirements for compliance with GAP Predator Control standards (green-shaded boxes):

I wish that WDJ would publish an article on GAP certification with information on their predator control standards to increase awareness about the issue of wildlife are being killed to provide food for pets despite the fact that there are many effective non-lethal alternatives for protecting farm animals from predators.

I hope that more people choose to feed their dogs foods that treat both farm animals and the wildlife that share the landscape with them humanely. Change happens fastest and is most effective when consumers demand it.

Posted by: PComeleo | February 11, 2018 1:45 PM    Report this comment

I cannot believe that Blue Wilderness dog food is not on your approved dog food list! It was last year. What happened? I have been very pleased with the food for my miniature Schnauzer!

Posted by: Nancy C | February 11, 2018 1:33 PM    Report this comment

What a load of garbage (I'm being polite). There is no such thing as a healthy commercial dog food. They ALL contain grains/carbs antithetical to a dog's needs. And they all use clever buzzwords and language to justify it..."natural," "negligible," nutritious," etc. "Third party verifier/certifier"? Good grief. So now we're into "ethical" ingredients, which is an entirely different subject, a diversionary tactic that has nothing to do with what's in a bag of dog food. Dogs are carnivores. Period. Feed them meat and bones as nature intended, not manufactured garbage (I'm still being polite) made by huge conglomerates to enhance profits, not health.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | February 11, 2018 11:53 AM    Report this comment

We only eat pasture raised protein and organic vegetables, and that's all I'm willing to feed our dog. I wish all food was produced this way world wide, and hope that someday it will be. I'm thankful there are dog food producers formulating foods of this quality. If I couldn't afford it, I'd get a smaller dog.

Posted by: BHealthy | February 11, 2018 11:44 AM    Report this comment

I look at the web site of any food I plan to feed to read the fine print. I feed Primal and have for a long time. If anyone is interested, I think their site does a good job of explaining their quality and their ingredients. I have also found their customer service to be excellent. It is costly - if I had several large dogs versus one young German Shepherd, I could not afford to feed this exclusively but with one large dog, it's fine. I believe that food is one of the foundations of health and hope that Primal will help my young dog to enjoy a long and healthy life. I love my vet but would rather pay more for food - and less for vet bills.

Posted by: Lynnmd | February 11, 2018 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Who are the "legitimate third party auditors" that provide " verification and certification of organic and environmentally, humanely responsible ingredients" in pet food? Is this information supposed to be printed on the food label/bag?

Posted by: Cody's mom | February 11, 2018 10:21 AM    Report this comment

My understanding is that the FTC, and by extension the AAFCO, regulations state that s dog food that claims to be “Made in the USA” can contain “no or negligible foreign-acquired content.” That means the food must be both sourced and manufactured within the United States. Granted, there’s no specific definition of what percentage qualifies as “negligible.” Here’s my question: What qualifies an entity as a “third party verifier/certifier”? Aside from the USDA requirements for organic certification, are there uniform standards and definitions that are used across that industry? If so, where did they come from?

Posted by: bgarbarino | February 11, 2018 9:59 AM    Report this comment

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