A response to the article titled "Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Pets Food" By Dr. Lisa Freeman.
In December 2018, Dr. Lisa Freeman, the person responsible for the mass panic over grain free foods, wrote an article on questions you should ask your pet food manufacturer. It was a ridiculous article that was meant to imply all “boutique” pet foods as being sub-par to big brand pet foods. Here are my responses to her questions, followed by the REAL questions you should be asking pet food companies.
1. Does the manufacturer employ at least one full-time qualified nutritionist? This means a PhD in animal nutrition or board-certification (and, ideally, both) by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition.
- First off, why does the nutritionist need to be full time (it’s not like they are actually making the food) and why does there have to be “at least” one (implying they should have more than one)? Second, and most importantly, many of the better “boutique” brands that Dr. Freeman likes to bash have in fact hired veterinary nutritionists. To imply that they do not is scaremongering.
2. What are the qualifications of the person who formulates their food (if it’s not the same person as their nutritionist)? This expert should have the same qualifications as in #1.
- Um…isn’t that the point of hiring an animal nutritionist? They help to formulate the food. Not sure what she is trying to imply here.
3. Does the manufacturer own the plant(s) where their food is manufactured? Most small companies do not own their own plants which can reduce the control they have over quality.
- Freeman tries to imply that if the company is small, they do not manufacture their own food, and therefore this can reduce the quality control over their product. In fact, many small companies manufacture their own food. Some, like Answers, actually are involved in the farming of the animals, the slaughtering of the animals, and the manufacturing process. Can Purina (who pays Dr. Freeman) say the same?
- Furthermore, to suggest that the only important part of food manufacturing is that they make their own food is rather short sighted. Royal Canin, Purina, and Science Diet all “manufacture” their own food, but they are also all importing ingredients from China and have been involved in recalls that have killed thousands of pets. Science Diet recently with their excess Vitamin D, and all three during the Melamine Recall in 2007. I would also like to point out, that the recall was a result of 1 manufacturer (Menu Foods) making all three of their products…so Dr. Freeman implying that the bigger companies make all of their own food is also a false statement.
4. What quality control measures does the manufacturer practice? These vary widely among manufacturers but strict quality-control measures are critical to ensure safe, consistent, and nutritious food for your pet. Saying it’s the highest quality doesn’t make it true. Nor does having a statement on the label saying the food is complete and balanced. In fact, many of our studies have shown nutritional deficiencies in pet foods that claim on the label to be nutritionally complete and balanced (and the foods that had those deficiencies would not have met the standards detailed on this list). Examples of quality control measures the manufacturers should be using include certification of a manufacturer’s procedures (e.g., Global Food Safety Initiative, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or American Feeding Industry Association); testing ingredients and end products for nutrient content, pathogens, and aflatoxins; materials risk assessments; and supplier audits.
- Many of the smaller companies are testing their products from start to finish. Testing the meat, testing the vitamins, testing everything. To imply only the “big” manufacturers do this is a lie…in fact, they generally do not hold very high standards for quality control. Case and point, Science Diet Vitamin D Recall. If they were actually testing this product from start to finish for nutrient content, you would think they would have caught that they would be poisoning pets. If what Dr. Freeman says is true of all big manufactures, that would imply that Science Diet purposefully poisoned pets, since they must be testing their end product and auditing suppliers.
- I would also like to point out that she brings up testing for aflatoxins…that’s really only a concern in products that contain corn and soy. Ingredients that most of the smaller, “boutique” companies avoid for that very reason. Also, the FDA actually allows for a percentage of Aflatoxin in animal feed, so the big companies are just testing (if they even are testing) to make sure the levels of aflatoxin (a toxin), does not go above “accepted levels”
5. Are their foods tested with Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials? (this information also can be found on the label). If AAFCO feeding trials are not conducted, the manufacturer should at least ensure their diets meet AAFCO nutrient profiles through analysis of the finished product (rather than by predicting they meet the profiles based only on the recipe). This information can only be determined by asking the manufacturer.
- These feeding trials are a joke. Only 8 animals are involved and only 6 have to pass the trial. The trial also only lasts for 26 weeks. So essentially, as long as 6 out of 8 dogs don’t get super sick or die in 26 weeks, the food is apparently good for the life of a pet.
6. Does the company conduct any research? Do they publish it in peer-reviewed journals?
- Many of the smaller companies do conduct their own research, as well as consult with animal nutritionists. In order to get the type of research that can be published in peer-reviewed journals though, that takes money…lots of money. Most small “boutique” companies are more focused on creating amazing products with high quality ingredients and sourcing, rather than ripping customers off by charging them an obnoxious amount for a bag full of corn. That doesn’t mean the research the small companies are doing is of any less value, it’s just not research veterinarians paid by Purina will listen to.
7. Can the manufacturer provide you with the amount of any nutrient of interest (for example, sodium, protein, copper, or calcium). They should be able to provide this information not just as guaranteed analysis numbers (which will be only minimums or maximums, and are nearly useless), but as the average (or typical) analysis. This should ideally be provided on an energy basis (i.e., grams per 100 kilocalories or grams per 1,000 kilocalories), rather than on an as-fed or dry-matter percent basis, which does not account for the variation in energy density among foods.
- Um, yes. I actually don’t know of a single manufacturer that can’t provide that information. In fact, most of the small “boutique” companies will go above and beyond and tell you the farms their meats are coming from and how many carbohydrates are in the bag. Notice how she avoids asking about carbohydrates….it’s actually against AAFCO regulations for pet food manufacturers in the United States to put the carbohydrates on the label. Who do you think made that rule? Purina, Science Diet, and Royal Canin sure don’t want the fact that their foods are over 50% carbohydrates on the label.
8. Can the manufacturer provide you with the number of calories for any of their foods on any requested weight or volume basis (for example, per cup, per can, or per kilogram).
- Sure, good to know….that’s generally listed on the bag of all pet foods.
9. Does the manufacturer bash other pet food companies (especially using information that is based on myths, rather than factual information) in their advertisements or on their websites?
- Is she referring to how Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina, and herself in several articles bash raw pet food and boutique pet food manufacturers? Like that right?
In the end, the pet food industry is virtually unregulated. The people responsible for making the rules and regulations are the same companies that are making billions of dollars off of pet parents in this industry…Hills Science Diet (Colgate & Palmolive), Royal Canin (Mars), and Purina (Nestle). They create the rules to fit their needs, but then ironically, do not follow their own recommendations.
There is no such thing as a perfect pet food. Whether processed like kibble, canned, or pre-made fresh raw and cooked, each company has their own philosophy on what will keep pets alive and the better, boutique brands, on what will keep pets healthy. It is good to ask questions of your pet food manufacturer. Here are a list of questions that many of the boutique brands will love to answer, and ones that may be “proprietary information” or even worse “I don’t know” from the Big Brands that Dr. Freeman loves so much.
- Who manufacturer’s all of your food? What is that manufacturing plants recall history? (Many pet food manufacturer’s not only make their own food, but they make other companies foods as well).
- Where do all of the vitamins in your product come from? If it is a pre-mix, where do the original vitamins in the pre-mix originate from? Are they simply combined in the United States or Europe, or does every part of that pre-mix originate from the United States or Europe? (Most vitamin pre-mixes come from China. Taurine in particular is very difficult to acquire from anywhere other than China.)
- What is the percentage of Carbohydrates in your diet?
- What is the sourcing of all of your meat, grain, and vegetable ingredients? Can you provide the farms you get them from?
- Are the vegetables/grains in your product Non-GMO?
- Has your company ever been involved in a pet food recall? If so, what for?
- Keep in mind, almost all raw foods have been recalled for bacteria…it’s raw food…there is going to be bacteria on it. The recalls that should be worrisome are Vitamin Toxicity, Pentobarbital inclusion, Melamine, Vitamin Deficiency, Aflatoxin, etc. These are all recalls that can result in actually making your pet sick or in severe cases death.
*The original article can be found at: http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2016/12/questions-you-should-be-asking-about-your-pets-food/