Saturday, August 30, 2008

Upside down: Do right - pay up front. Do wrong - don't pay at all

Do you feel sometimes like as more you follow the rules and regulations as more you get penalized? I had a moment like this today again. Yesterday in the mail I found my latest copy of the XYZ (I insist: No bashing), one of the various publications, which are a must read in my job. An usual, quick immediate glance revealed an interview with Marion Nestle, PHD, a well recognized nutrition and food industry expert. The interview deals with her just recently released book “Pet Food Politics”. In it she reveals a most complete account about the 2007 recall. She provides critical background information about all parties involved in and official institutions handling the actual event. Her curiosity led her to come up with a detailed analysis not just of the event itself but also of the pet food industry in general and the politics, potential disadvantages and dangers of a globalized pet food supply. About the book is said that it is a fascinating pet owner’s must read that cannot be missed and is supposed to be the most riveting book of the year. Well, they convinced me, I am going to get it and as we go along may share some thoughts with you.
But that’s not really what bothered me today. When I saw the interview, I thought it maybe a good idea to get some copies and distribute them for free to some of my health conscious pet owning customers, like a customer service kind of deal. Being a (though unknown) writer myself, a website creator and having written software in my past, I am familiar with and the purpose of copyrights. They are there to protect the author from unauthorized use of his materials and people simply copying someone else’s intellectual property and profiting by doing so. So here I go, calling up the number listed in the publication’s section “Did you know that unauthorized copying or distribution of XYZ is not permitted?” The first news given by the lady on the phone, was, “yes, reprints of the article are available.” Then she asked how many do I need? “Well, what’s the minimum?” “The minimum is 500 copies.” “Hmm, I was more thinking along the lines of 100 copies, I mean, we are a really small business.” She responded: “Well, did you think about buying copies of the actual magazine?” My answer: “Yes, but the magazine is $5.95/copy, so that’s 600 bucks, a little steep, don’t you think?” Her response to that: “Not really, it would cost you quite a bit more to get the reprints.” At this point I had lost my interest, I told her so and the conversation was ended with a warning during which I was advised that it is a crime to copy or distribute copy righted XYZ materials. All I had to say was: “Listen Sherlock, that’s why I called you in the first place.” I was so frustrated, I even forgot to wish her a nice weekend. After all, she’s just an employee doing her job.
My point is: I could (and probably should) have just made some copies myself, distribute them, shut up and probably nobody ever would have taken notice. But no, my conscience told me, that’s wrong. Now I get penalized with a drained wallet. It’s like: “Well, you want to do the right thing? We show you how it’s done. And while we are at it, we take you to the cleaner.”
I was thinking about cancelling my subscription, which is very pricey to begin with. But it is one of the most important tools I need to do my job. So I will continue to subscribe. For the publisher himself I would like to ask: You seem to be on the right track. You don’t do any advertising in your publication (which justifies your price, I guess), so you can be free in your speech and objectively say what you have to say about any pet food out there in the market. It is a fact that it is not the big guns making the highest ranked products in your reviews. Quite contrary, it is the smaller players, the privately owned and independently, owner operated manufacturers who provide the best food for our companion animals. And these companies sell their products through businesses like our, the very small retailer. We “smaller” guys want to do the right thing. We know better than anybody that there is no free lunches, that is why we don’t want anything for free. So, why, if we, as great believers in and supporters of your publication ask you for a favor, why on earth do you think you have to take us to the cleaner? It just blows my mind. It was a win-win situation for everybody: XYZ would have benefitted by selling a few more subscriptions to my customers, they also would have gotten rid of 100 copies they have laying around anyway and would have gotten a “reasonable” price paid. Marion Nestle would have enjoyed selling a few more copies of her great book. My customers would have learned something on a topic important to them. And finally, our store would have improved customer relationships.
As to providing my customers with the info like I had intended initially: I am still thinking about running over to Kinko’s tomorrow… Or better yet, I have my wife type the whole thing into my computer, then I change a couple words here and there and distribute it as then “My” intellectual property. Sorry, XYZ, looks like you shot yourself in your own leg on this one. You could have made a buck and a half. Hopefully you learned a lesson about being greedy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pet food incomplete and out of balance

I cannot believe this: In my full time job running the on-line store we recently finalized our negotiations with one of the pet food manufacturers with the result that the store is going to sell their product. Don’t worry, I remember promising to keep advertising on this blog to a minimum, so I’m not even going to mention any name. And since the product details haven’t been published on the store’s website yet probably nobody will ever notice about which manufacturer I am talking here. Now comes the tedious part, putting everything together on the website, write detailed descriptions and market the product. While I started this task I noticed something very strange. Unfortunately a little late, but it is just one of these things we are taking for granted these days. It is the statement confirming that the food is “100% complete and balanced.” I looked at all the brochures, nothing. Neither on the packaging. Nor on their website. Even their training materials for our sales staff doesn’t mention it. I called them up, talked to their executive management and was told that they simply don’t make that claim. And pretty selfconfident they told me that they don't need to. From a quality standpoint and looking at the ingredients and their compositions I judged there is no doubt that they provide a superior food.
But now I’m worried. Did I jump to the wrong conclusion? Is this product going to sell or are pet owners just going to say “we are not going to buy a product which is not declared 100% balanced and complete”? How would you decide if you’d come across a pet food missing this declaration? What is important to you when buying pet food? I am all worried that I am going to loose my full time job over this since I may end up with a quite sizeable portion of slow or not at all moving inventory. How am I ever going to explain this to my management? Sure, to err is human, but this one is sort of just not excusable.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pet diets - Variety unacceptable?

The other day I read on my favorite topic “How to keep my pet healthy” in one of the news feeds again: Feeding your pet a variety of foods can minimize the development of food allergies. By providing pets with different proteins and forms, like kibble, canned and raw frozen, a rotation diet offers the full spectrum of nutrients cats and dogs need to avoid food-related health problems.” It seems as if rotation diets are becoming more and more substantial part of “health diet” advice. When I read and hear about it a little 2 picture graphic, which I saw in one of the publications I was reading comes to my mind. The story is about Mrs. Jones. In the first picture, Mrs. Jones is shown with her puppy in her arms and her veterinarian handing her a bag of dog food saying: “Be sure to only feed your dog this 100% complete, scientifically balanced food every meal for the rest of his life” To which Mrs. Jones responds: ”Isn’t science wonderful? It’s such a relief to know that I can feed just this one food and my pet will have the very best health.”
The next scenario shows Mrs. Jones, with her baby in her arm visiting her pediatrician who gives her word for word exactly the same advice she was given by her vet for her puppy earlier in the day. The only difference is that the pediatrician uses the word “child” instead of “dog” as her veterinarian did. And her response is now: “Is he nuts? No way! I am going to give my child variety and fresh foods.”
The author’s comments on the bottom were something like: “The same common sense people apply to themselves must be applied to our pets. Pet nutrition is not a special case situation requiring the intervention of food processors or nutritionists.” And later on he asks: “Are our pets, mammals like us, so physically different from us that they don’t have the same need for freshness and variety in their diets?”
But enough of the preaching already, everybody hopefully understood by now that I am pro rotation diet. What gets me concerned every day over and over again is the vast amount of my customers coming to me, telling me that they are feeding their pets the same food for years. That they tried a different food sample once and the pet got diarrhea. Well, as I always say: Let me feed you every day steak only and nothing else for let’s say a year. Then, all the sudden a new day comes around and I feed you veggies instead. You come up with your own conclusion. Just let me say this much: When making diet changes, make them gradually and slowly, give the pet’s systems time to adjust.
Then, by the above described customers I am quite often also told that they feed their pets like this because their vet told them. Well, my first suspicion is, which food is the vet recommending and maybe there are business incentives for him behind his advice. But that is stretching my fantasy and I don’t even want to go there. It certainly would explain a lot, however, just a couple days ago I had a woman, who just adopted 2 puppies and buys her food at a regular retail store was approached by store personnel to feed something different. She, worried as she is about her babies talked to her vet about it and he clearly told her: “Don’t do that, you are upsetting the dogs’ health.” Go figure…
What I would like to know is, what do you think about this issue and are you practicing varied feeding? Have you ever tried it, what were and are the results? And everything else you want to share with us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Effect of the state of the economy on our pets

The current state of the economy is hitting everyone hard. All of us are having to make sacrifices one way or the other. Like skipping an evening out to just fill up your automobile’s gas tank. Choosing a burger over a steak at the grocery store, less weekend trips out of town, even a vacation stay at home are just a few examples being more common these days due to budgetary restraints.
Needless to say, it comes to my mind that of course our pets are being impacted by this situation as well. What I am worried about is the quality of the nutrition provided to our companion animals. With the memories of the recall pretty much faded away in many heads, some pet owners may consider to switch from a premium food back to a low quality food from the grocery or discount store. Even if that switch may end up costing more in the long run as they will see their veterinary bills rising due to issues stemming from low quality ingredients.
I believe that every pet deserves the highest quality pet food available no matter the state of the economy and was hoping to get support from many pet owners thinking along those same lines. Maybe together we can benefit from alternatives other community members have come up with without sacrificing the health of our pets. How do you deal with the task on hand?

Pet Food Recall settled, move on and don’t change

Latest news on a settlement agreed upon in a class action lawsuit involving the pet food industry following the history’s last year’s largest recall ever one more final time bring some impressive numbers to light: 12 pet food makers including the nation’s largest ones with 180 brands were involved. The recall followed 17,000 filed complaints, so far 6,000 claims on the settlement have been filed. Claimants are entitled to reimbursement of up to 100% of their documented and up to $900 in undocumented expenses. 31% of the total $24 Million settlement are set aside for legal and attorney fees. One pet food maker spent a whopping $55 Million as a result of its involvement (Commercial mass market pet food seems to be a real money maker, the company doesn’t seem to be hurt).
While we all feel with the pet owners who suffered losses of their beloved pets, and those damages cannot be made good upon with any amount of money, let’s put the whole thing in perspective. Sure, these numbers are impressive, the recall itself, the damages caused and the restitution now ordered to be paid for by the defendants. The defendents rightfully have been proven guilty and justice has been done. Case closed.
But there is another way of looking at it: What really has changed? Basically nothing. Everybody wiggled himself out of the mass by renaming and repackaging their same or most minimally changed products. And on top of it is complaining that they had tremendous losses because of the incident. If you compare the ingredient listings, they haven’t changed a whole lot. Recalls still keep happening at increasing frequency. Sure, smaller manufacturers, usually privately owned and supplying “really healthy & natural” food got a revenue boost as a consequence. Some pet owners are more carefully selecting the food they are giving their pets. I am even convinced that our business was favorably impacted and harvested some benefits. But let me ask you, is that enough? How much larger does a recall have to be to finally initiate some real changes benefitting all of us including our pets? I don’t know and I am skeptical as long as I observe the market and notice that regardless of how many animals died or suffered, as long as the vet recommends a food, pet owners don’t seem to care too much about the fact that this food is made by one of the largest defendants in this now closed case. Life goes on. It is amazing how fast homo sapiens, nature’s most evolved and intelligent creatures forget and forgive. I read on
Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that “Humans are notable for their desire to explain phenomena, manipulate and develop technologies to change and pass on their knowledge to each other…” I guess this must have been an oversight: They forgot to mention “Does not apply to all 100% of the special breed “Pet owners” when it comes to feeding their companion animals.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cat with Obsessive Licking Disorder

We are having a problem with our 3 year old cat Tiger and am wondering if anybody has had a similar issue and possibly is willing to share the experience with us.. The symptoms of Tiger’s “problem” are that he is licking obsessively. It began about a year ago when he started licking himself all over his body, sometimes so bad that he got rid of all his fur and down to the raw skin. Back then we took him to the vet to have him checked out. He looked at him and concluded it is an allergic reaction. Just what we had thought too. So his cure was to give him some shot and that should take care of it. It did, for an entire day. Then he started licking himself again. We waited a little, then back to the vet, same thing, another shot, it is apparently some food allergy or it also could be an allergic reaction to something in his environment. Again, the shot helped for a few days. A second opinion from another vet basically confirmed what we were told by ours.
Well, I don’t like to keep going medication route for two reasons: I don’t like the idea that our pet is getting pumped up with medication without really knowing what the problem is and if the medication is correct, as it is sort of obvious to me that this is not the case. Second, this is also becomes a budgetary burden without any end in sight.
Being in the healthy pet food business, having to figure out for most of our customers what they should feed to their allergic pets and doing that quite successfully, I started experimenting with various foods. Exactly the way as it is supposed to be done, take everything else away from him, feed him a novel protein source, etc.. Well, so far I haven’t found the right food. We tried nutritional supplements, like for example fish oils, etc. all without any success.
Another important part of the mystery is the reason why I don’t think it is an allergy. It has to be something else, which is why I call it OLD or Obsessive Licking Disorder. I observed that he is just licking like crazy, and I mean everything. Not just himself, everything he gets a hold off: I take him on my lap or we take our nap together, he will start licking my arm and if I wouldn’t stop him, he’d lick it down through the skin to the raw meat. I constantly catch him obsessively licking stuff. This may be his empty food bowl (which actually would be understandable to me, maybe he’s hungry?), I saw him licking the hood and roof of my car, the pillows of the lawn furniture, the pavement of the drive way, the wooden shelves in our cattery, you name it, anything.
Does anybody have a similar experience and maybe some good advise for us on this?

Information provided with good intention, but...

The news feed on this blog on Saturday featured an article written for the Rocky Mount Telegram by Susan Baker, owner of a pet sitting & grooming business. In it she talks about “Natural” foods not being equal and, among other advise states: “The first five ingredients listed on the label are the major products in the food. These should include meat, vegetables and whole grains to ensure excellent natural nutrition. Meats should be antibiotic free. Corn and soy are not good choices. Be leery if the first few ingredients include meals and byproducts.”
Her statement is factually incorrect and I have to set the record straight. That's just the way I am. I think, the entire topic of pet nutrition is confusing enough as it is. If that confusion gets an infusion of wrong facts, then it is just so much more difficult for a pet owner to decide what is the right thing to do. As long as contributions are made to our blog, including the news published by the Google feed, I would like to take the liberty to make our community members and readers aware of such erroneous statements. It is only in the best interest of our community.
Particularly I cannot agree with that she says to stay away from food with “meals” as one of their main ingredients and look for foods with actual “meat”. I believe she got words a little mixed up and confused.
Meal, whether it is chicken, turkey, beef, lamb or any other animal meal is a good ingredient to have in your food. Meal is essentially whole meat which has been ground and dried.
Instead of “meal” it should correctly say “meat meal”. With less moisture content meals are a concentrated protein source which translates into more and better nutrition. Meat on the other side has a very high moisture content since it includes water. The weight of the water makes the meat heavier thus placing it on the top of the ingredient listing (By AAFCO regulations ingredients have to be listed by their weight, the heaviest first). As a result, the actual percentage of meat contained in the food is less than a dehydrated meal ingredient would provide.
Example: Let’s assume a chicken dry food. If the first ingredient is chicken and we would dehydrate the chicken it probably would move down to the fourth, fifth or even a lower ranking in the ingredient listing. If the first ingredient is chicken meal you can be assured that you have a highly concentrated, more dense protein source on hand and I would prefer and recommend the second one as the better food.
I believe what Susan meant to say was stay away from literally spoken and declared “meat meal” (notice the difference to chicken meal, turkey meal, lamb meal, etc.). The key and problem with meat meal is that you never know what you get, it may be meal from any animal, i.e. beef, or chicken or pork, or you name it or even a combination of all of those and maybe even then some who knows what. Meat meals make foods way less desirable since we actually don’t know what we are getting.
How do you memorize all this when you go shopping or ordering pet food: Try this: The ingredients which sounds better (Meat) is less desirable than the ingredient which was made out of it (which is the “named” meal). Meals must be named, i.e. chicken, lamb, etc.., don’t go generalized (meat meals).
As a side note and in the interest of completeness, I do have no problem at all with what Susan states about veggies, whole grains, corn, soy and byproducts.
I feel so much better now after having cleared up things and put the healthy pet nutrition world back in order. What is your take on all this confusing stuff, especially how do you think information and education should be presented so that it is easier to understand for all us non-scientists?