March 30th, 2007, 04:24 PM
CINCINNATI - Debra Tarter's two-year-old boxer, Patchez, is just like a member of the family. That's why the national recall of the dog food Patchez had been eating for two years prompted Tarter to switch to brands that cost twice as much, but contain organic and natural ingredients.
"My children are grown, and Patchez is our baby," said Tarter, 55, of Cincinnati. "We would pay anything to keep her safe."
And pay she does. Tarter, who has taken Patchez for tests to make sure her kidneys weren't damaged by the recalled food, had been paying 84 cents a can for the recalled wet food she mixed with a dry food costing about $20 per 16-pound bag. Now she pays $1.69 a can and $40 a bag for a brand with more-natural ingredients.
Concerned pet owners such as Tarter are helping to increase already booming sales of organic and natural pet food, according to industry officials and store owners. An executive at Wild Oats Markets Inc., the specialty food chain that caters to health-minded consumers, says that it's still a little early to measure the recall's impact on the natural and organic food segment for pets that's been growing at 15 to 25 percent a year.
"People are extending their food ethic to their whole family, including the pets," said Rickard Werner, director of dry grocery for Wild Oats, based in Boulder, Colo.
Daryl Meyerrenke, owner of Anderson Township Family Pet Center in suburban Cincinnati, will be stocking an extra brand of organic pet food this week, spurred by increased customer demand for organic and natural products since the recall.
"The demand for healthier pet food has been skyrocketing over the past few years, but since this recall, I've had a lot more people coming in asking for organic products," said Meyerrenke. "Sometimes it's not even organic they want — just a higher quality food with more natural ingredients."
Before the recall, Meyerrenke had carried only one brand of organic dog food costing about $15 for a 5-pound bag. He has added a second organic brands.
Grocery stores charge as low as around $2 for a 5-pound bag of non-organic brands.
But Meyerrenke stocks more than 30 dog-food brands, many of which include ingredients such as carrots, rice, broccoli and even cottage cheese and often are geared specifically for dogs with sensitive stomachs or allergies.
As far as taste goes, Meyerrenke said, "dogs don't turn their noses up at much. They'll usually eat what's there. It's the owners that sometimes decide what they think looks tastier or more appealing."
Menu Foods Inc., which makes pet food for most of North America's top retailers, last week recalled 95 brands of products believed to be responsible for the deaths of cats and dogs around the country. A veterinarians information service said Tuesday that it had reports of 104 animal deaths. The maker of the recalled pet food has confirmed the deaths of only 16 pets.
Scientists identified the rodent poison aminopterin as the likely cause. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation was focused on the ingredient wheat gluten, that they maker said was purchased in China. Scientists have not offered any theories on how aminopterin got into the products.
Shelley Gunton, co-owner of Clackamas, Ore.-based Castor & Pollux Pet Works, reported an uptick in orders from stores. She also reported that she has received 10 times the number of usual hits to the pet product company's Web site.
"This is going to reinforce to pet parents that there are choices," said Gunton, whose company makes organic and natural pet foods.
Proponents of natural and organic pet foods and treats say those products can help prevent disease in dogs and cats. Some products avoid chemical preservatives, fats, fillers, salt and sugar. Others are free of ingredients exposed to pesticides, herbicides or insecticides that also may harm pets.
Dog and cat food sales in the United States reached over $14.3 billion in 2005, according to the Pet Food Institute that represents manufacturers of commercial pet food. Surveys by the Organic Trade Association indicated sales of organic pet food increased from $14 million in 2003 to $30 million for 2005.
The fast growth of the organic pet food industry and disagreement about what qualifies as organic food led to the creation of an Organic Pet Food Task Force. The task force has proposed labeling standards that organic manufacturers would have to meet in addition to existing requirements that apply to all pet foods. A committee of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board is reviewing the standards that could go into effect by 2008.
"Hopefully, it will clear up a lot of confusion and let consumers know more what they are getting when they buy pet food," said task force member Rochelle Lavens, president of Heidi's Homemade Inc., an organic dog and cat bakery in Columbus.
Meyerrenke, who has been in the pet store business for 34 years, said pet owners have become much more selective.
"People have increasingly elevated pets to family member status," Meyerrenke said. "And that means doing what you can to keep them healthy."
March 30th, 2007, 04:35 PM
I personally think all pet food (and human, for that matter), should definately be all organic. Dogs and cats don't need BHA and all that crud that's in some of that cheap stuff.
I feed my dogs organic food only (Holistic Blend, which is a member of the Organic Trade Association), wouldn't feed them anything else.
March 30th, 2007, 06:56 PM
Substance used to make plastics; recall expands to include cat kibble
• FDA: Chemical in recalled pet food
March 30: Recalled pet foods contained a chemical used to make plastics, but government tests failed to confirm the presence of rat poison. NBC's Tom Costello reports.
• Mar. 17 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Updated: 9 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Federal testing of recalled pet foods turned up a chemical used to make plastics but failed to confirm the presence of a cancer drug also used as rat poison. The recall expanded Friday to include the first dry pet food.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it found melamine in samples of the Menu Foods pet food involved in the original recall and in imported wheat gluten used as an ingredient in the company’s wet-style products. Cornell University scientists also found melamine in the urine of sick cats, as well as in the kidney of one cat that died after eating some of the recalled food.
Meanwhile, Hill’s Pet Nutrition recalled its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food. The food included wheat gluten from the same supplier that Menu Foods used. The recall didn’t involve any other Prescription Diet or Science Diet products, said the company, a division of Colgate-Palmolive Co.
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FDA was working to rule out the possibility that the contaminated wheat gluten could have made it into any human food. However, melamine is toxic only in high doses, experts said, leaving its role in the pet deaths unclear.
Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of cat and dog food, sold throughout North America under nearly 100 brands, earlier this month after animals died of kidney failure after eating the Canadian company’s products. It is not clear how many pets may have been poisoned by the apparently contaminated food, although anecdotal reports suggest hundreds if not thousands have died. The FDA alone has received more than 8,000 complaints; the company, more than 300,000.
Company officials on Friday would not provide updated numbers of pets sickened or killed by its contaminated product. Pet owners would be compensated for veterinary bills and the deaths of any dogs and cats linked to his company’s products, the company said.
Toxicity levels uncertain
The melamine finding came a week after scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory identified a cancer drug and rat poison called aminopterin as the likely culprit in the pet food. But the FDA said it could not confirm that finding, nor have researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey when they looked at tissue samples taken from dead cats. And experts at the University of Guelph detected aminopterin in some samples of the recalled pet food, but only in the parts per billion or trillion range.
“Biologically, that means nothing. It wouldn’t do anything,” said Grant Maxie, a veterinary pathologist at the Canadian university. “This is a puzzle.”
• Toxic chemical in pet food
March 30: It's not clear that the chemical found in recalled pet food caused animal deaths or illnesses, an FDA official said during a press conference Friday.
Meanwhile, New York officials stuck to their aminopterin finding and pointed out that it was unlikely that melamine could have poisoned any of the animals thought to have died after eating the contaminated pet food. Melamine is used to make plastic kitchen ware and is used as a fertilizer in Asia.
An FDA official allowed that it wasn’t immediately clear whether the melamine was the culprit. The agency’s investigation continues, said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
In a news conference, Sundlof and other FDA officials said the melamine had contaminated a shipment of wheat gluten imported from China and purchased by Menu Foods from an undisclosed supplier in the United States. At least some of the that wheat gluten was used in all the recalled wet pet food, according to Menu Foods.
Menu Foods said the only certainty was the imported Chinese product was the likely source of the deadly contamination, even if the actual contaminant remained in doubt.
“The important point today is that the source of the adulteration has been identified and removed from our system,” said Paul Henderson, Menu Foods chief executive officer and president. Henderson suggested his company would pursue legal action against the supplier.
New York remained confident in its aminopterin finding, said Patrick Hooker, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Hooker added that neither aminopterin nor melamine should be in pet food, but that it was unclear why the latter substance would be poisonous to the cats in which it was found.
“While we have no doubt that melamine is present in the recalled pet food, there is not enough known data on the mammalian toxicity levels of melamine to conclude it could cause illness and deaths in cats. With little existing data, many questions still remain as to the connection between the illnesses and what has caused them,” Hooker said.
Wheat gluten, a source of vegetable protein, is also used in some human foods, but the FDA emphasized it had found no indication that the contaminated ingredient had been used in food for people. The FDA said it would alert the public quickly if the melamine was found in any foods other than the recalled pet food.
About 70 percent of the wheat gluten used in the United States for human and pet food is imported from the European Union and Asia, according to the Pet Food Institute, an industry group. Menu Foods used wheat gluten to thicken the gravy of its “cuts and gravy” style wet pet foods, FDA officials have said.
March 30th, 2007, 07:13 PM
[B]Q&A: What's in it? What are by-products? Should I feed homemade meals?
• Pet food: What should I buy?
March 30: TODAY's consumer, Janice Lieberman tracks down the best foods to purchase for our pets.
Meat by-products. Wheat meal. Rat poison? Plastic chemicals?
OK, so just what’s in pet food, anyway? Thousands of pet owners have been asking themselves that question — especially after last week’s mysterious revelation by scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory that the Menu Foods pet-food recall was linked to aminopterin, a toxin used as rat poison in some countries. Matters got even more confusing on Friday when the FDA announced that while it didn't detect rat poison, the agency did find melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, in the recalled food.
When even national brands with a reputation for quality are caught up in a recall of this magnitude, it’s hard for a pet owner to know what to do. If you’re among those who have been anxious about where your dog or cat’s next meal is coming from, this Q&A may be helpful for you.
What exactly is in pet food?
Common ingredients in pet foods include grains such as corn, wheat and rice; chicken, beef, seafood, other meats or meat by-products or meals; and grain by-products such as wheat gluten, which is suspected to have been contained by rat poison in the recall.
How high is the quality of those ingredients?
It’s hard to say because labeling requirements don’t have much bite.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pet-food labeling, terms such as “gourmet,” “premium” and “natural” don’t have any official standing. Foods labeled as such aren’t required to contain any different or higher-quality ingredients or to meet any higher nutritional standards than any other complete and balanced pet food. And the famously secretive pet food industry is no different than, say, Coca-Cola when it comes to protecting its recipes, ingredients and manufacturing processes. It is, after all, a multibillion-dollar business.
What should I look for when reading the pet-food label?
Pet-food labels are easily manipulated, but here are some things to watch for:
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According to the FDA, ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. Meat and poultry are heavy ingredients that contain about 60 percent water, so it doesn’t take much to land them at the top of the ingredient list. They might be followed by wheat, wheat middlings and wheat meal run. That sounds like three different ingredients, but it’s all wheat. If you removed the water from the meat and then weighed the meat against the various grain products in the food, surprise! The food contains a lot more grain than it does meat.
Choose a food with meat as the first ingredient. Look for meat with a name — chicken, lamb, turkey — rather than the generic term “meat.” You should also see meat or other high-quality nongrain proteins such as eggs or cottage cheese listed later on the label.
CONTINUED: What are by-products?
How 'bout those by-products?
Of all the ingredients that might go into pet food, by-products tend to have the worst reputation. Is it warranted? That depends on how picky you are about what goes into your pet’s mouth as well as who you talk to.
The term “by-products” can mean the trimmings from chicken breasts destined for grocery stores — or things you wouldn’t feed your worst enemy, let alone your best friend.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials describes meat by-products this way: “The non-rendered clean parts, other than meat … lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.”
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If you visit Nestle Purina’s Web site, you’ll read that poultry and beef by-products are excellent sources of protein, secondary products produced in the same plants as beef or poultry processed for human foods. Poultry by-product meal includes ground, rendered (heat processed), clean parts of poultry such as necks, intestines and undeveloped eggs. Doesn’t sound that much different from what you’d see wolves or lions eating on the Discovery Channel, does it?
It goes on to say that meat by-products are also used in human foods, including specialty items such as liver, kidney, sweetbreads and tongue.
But Jean Hofve, a veterinarian in Jamestown, Colo., who was an official liaison to the Association of American Feed Control Officials for two years, says, “Meat by-products, by-product meal, and meat and bone meal are cheap meat substitutes. They are poorer quality protein sources.”
• Owners turning to homemade pet food
March 30: Pet owners are making their own pet food amid tainted supply scare.
NBC News Channel
Veterinary nutritionists point out, however, that it would be foolish for pet-food companies to produce unhealthy foods.
“Pet-food companies do not formulate and sell diets that are designed to hurt a dog or cat,” says Joe Bartges, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville. “Not only would it be unethical and illegal, but not very smart business.”
What does ‘premium’ mean?
When you shop for pet food, you can find organic foods, raw foods, foods for indoor cats, foods for cats with hairballs, food for high-energy dogs, tiny dogs, obese dogs and all dogs in between. You’ll also see foods marketed as “premium,” “ultra-premium” or “super-premium.” What makes them different from Brand X at the grocery store?
“Premium foods are not always better than grocery store foods, but manufacturers of premium diets may use more expensive ingredients, have better quality control, do more research and analysis of their diets and feed them to animals in a controlled setting to ensure they are nutritionally complete,” says Craig Datz, a clinical assistant professor at University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Mo.
Will a pricey niche pet food protect my dog or cat from the bugs and toxins that can contaminate grains and meats?
Guide Pet nutrition
Like humans, cats and dogs need to eat right to stay healthy. Follow this guide to help keep your pet's weight under control.
Not necessarily. Premium products have pluses, but no pet-food manufacturer is exempt from human error or just plain bad luck.
What kind of testing is done?
Some companies analyze each batch of food before releasing it for sale, while others do so only if a problem is suspected, Datz says.
But testing food prior to sale probably would not have helped in the Menu Foods recall. After the problem was recognized, the food was tested extensively for all known toxins that tend to occur in foods and was negative for all of them, says Richard Goldstein, associate professor of medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y., where pet-food samples were tested by the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center. “This substance was picked up on a very wide screening type of test. It’s not a substance you would have initially thought to look for,” he says.
CONTINUED: Organic and homemade dietsShould I buy organic pet food?
Feeding an organic diet can’t hurt, but it’s no guarantee against contamination. Although organic foods can be expected to be free of pesticides or other chemicals, some toxins occur naturally.
Would a homemade diet be better for my pet?
Some people haven’t bought commercial pet food in years. They prepare their own, using the same meats and other ingredients they’d eat themselves.
“It’s bewildering to me why a fresh, varied, unprocessed diet based on whole foods is understood to be good for humans, but only a processed, packaged, unvarying commercial diet is good for dogs,” says Christie Keith of San Francisco, who breeds and shows Scottish deerhounds and writes frequently about pet nutrition.
A home-prepared diet offers the security of knowing exactly what’s in the food — no by-products or mystery meat. But a potential disadvantage of a homemade diet — besides being labor intensive — is dietary imbalance when recipes aren't complete and balanced. And some vets discourage feeding raw diets because of the risk of contamination when meat isn't handled properly.
For pet owners interested in going this route, commercial raw diets that meet Association of American Feed Control Officials standards can be purchased at pet-supply stores, and plenty of reliable sources offer recipes for balanced diets. The University of California School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis will analyze homemade diets for a fee. But if you don’t aspire to be Julia Chowhound, let common sense rule.
How can I tell if something might be amiss with my pet’s food?
Inspect food after opening a new bag, pouch or can, Datz recommends. “If there is an unusual appearance or odor, it’s best not to feed it. If a pet has any kind of illness after eating a new diet, stop feeding and contact a veterinarian,” he says.
What should I do if I suspect a problem?
Always contact the manufacturer if you suspect something’s wrong. In fact, for concerned consumers these days, the most important information on the label isn’t the ingredient list but the phone number for the manufacturer. Use it to ask exactly what’s meant by the terms “by-products,” “natural,” “human-grade” and “organic”; whether they produce the food themselves or outsource it to another manufacturer; and what kind of testing they do for contaminants.
And if your pet is showing signs of ill health, contact your veterinarian.
March 30th, 2007, 08:41 PM
Threads merged to avoid confusion.