Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vegetarian carnivores?

I find it interesting how many pet owners transfer the same nutritional habits they impose, at free choice or unwillingly on themselves onto their pets. What do I mean by that? If pet owners decide to live and eat healthy, they usually switch their dietary habits to wholesome food. Very often they then realize the benefits and make the entire family follow suit. And since pets are family too, they as well going forward now will enjoy the benefits of being fed healthy food. Or people go organic. In most of the cases their pets will be fed organic as well. And that is all great. After all it takes away the mass produced and marketed commercial pet food consisting of mostly not so beneficial ingredients causing illness and disease. So far I am not complaining. But where I do sometimes have a problem is when I talk to vegetarians and if they want to make their pets now vegetarians as well. Somehow that goes against my thought process. After all, as far as I know our domesticated cats and dogs are carnivores, i.e. meat eaters. So how does a vegetarian dietary regiment impact a carnivore? To me that just doesn’t make any sense. Am I wrong or right? While looking for the answer I came across an article written by my one of my favorite, healthy pet (and people) food advocates, Dr. Randy Wysong D.V.M.. In his comment he writes:
“Wysong’s commitment is to the truth. The truth is, with regard to food for carnivores, is that their health is best served by the abundant incorporation of meat based products in the diet. This absolute dependency has been made clear in numerous scientific studies. A case in point is the thousands of deaths and untold suffering of cats from taurine (an amino acid) deficiency in commercial cat foods. These pet foods were not even vegan foods, but were deficient because the meats used were processed, which resulted in the loss of taurine. A vegan diet is essentially totally devoid of taurine. Is it ethically correct to doom captive animals to suffering and death by feeding them a diet they would never naturally eat in the wild, and for which they are not genetically adapted? The choice is to inflict suffering and death if we do not feed our pets or ourselves as genetically programmed, or inflict death on the food required for health.If we were to advocate our vegetarian pet diet as the exclusive food for pets without the caveats, we would face the ethical dilemma of knowing we would be the direct cause of disease and suffering. Dogs and cats are carnivores. That is what they are genetically programmed to be. If you veer too much from that, there will be health consequences - unavoidably.
All life requires the diminishment of other life for survival. A cow kills grass, a cat kills a mouse, a whale eats a fish, an elephant mutilates a tree, an immune cell destroys a bacterial invader, and so forth throughout all of nature. This is truth, real and unavoidable. We may not like the fact that sustenance of life requires the taking of life (we at Wysong certainly don’t), but that does not change the fact. We can try to avoid this by creating arbitrary definitions, for example, eschewing the killing of non-“sentient” creatures and those without a “brain and nervous system.” But, who gets to decide what “brain,” “nervous system,” or “sentient” is and who gets to be lucky and fall under the rubric? Who decides how to draw lines when in reality there are no clear demarcations among life forms? True, a blade of grass appears clearly different from a cow, but the spectrum of life must be looked at in its entirety. It is one thing to say we “feel” that this or that food is ethically wrong, a purely subjective decision. It is quite another to attempt to justify that choice by creating objective physical distinctions which do not exist. There are no clear separations except those we artificially impose. The more we learn, the more it becomes impossible to unequivocally classify. Without classification, it is impossible to assign right versus wrong in order to eat based upon physical criteria. All living creatures have the ability to react to stimuli. And, whatever criteria we decide upon to establish what is ethical or unethical to eat breaks down on its edges since life is a continuum. All life, all matter – the entire universe – is inextricably interrelated. There are no clear lines other than those we artificially and arbitrarily create.
It is a difficult ethical question that Dr. Wysong has wrestled with for decades – and still does. He has properly focused the issue on pet health. Our heart tells us to spare lives of food animals, but our heart also tells us to properly care for our pets and protect them from disease. Strict vegetarianism (veganism) risks the health and life of our pet who is specifically designed to eat meat. There are nutritional elements in meat products not found in plant materials. You can try to get around it with synthetic additives and the like, but that forces pets to eat synthetic, primarily cooked concoctions they would never find, nor eat in the wild. Once again, health consequences will follow.
Our hearts are with those who seek to listen to their inner voices and treat all of nature with love and respect. Our mind, on the other hand, forces us to face the reality that feeding improperly is a clear and unavoidable cruelty. Is it any less cruel to make an obligate carnivore such as the cat “go meatless” than to keep a fish, but not in water? The consequence may be delayed for the cat, but is just as sure.
There is no physical or biological certainty as to what is or is not ethical to eat. There is only certainty about what is or is not healthy to eat. The food a creature is genetically adapted to is the healthy food. If we violate this law, cruelty in the form of disease, suffering and death will result. It is, therefore, a choice of whether to, as humanely as possible, take the life of others for the sustenance of our nutritional health, or arbitrarily make choices that will cause disease, suffering, and death of ourselves and the pets in our care.”
I guess that clearly answers my question and provides me with a response in future if I am again will be confronted with the issue. But, so may some of you say now: If that what was said above is indeed Dr. Wysong’s believe, why is he marketing a vegetarian formula? In a pamphlet written just for this formula, the company provides the answer as follows:
“Wysong Vegan has been specifically formulated to achieve the best possible nutritional value for dogs and cats. The purpose of this diet is three fold:
1) It can be used as an elimination diet to determine which meat products can be tolerated by allergic or food sensitive animals. By combining Vegan with different singular meats, one at a time, and then feeding, the determination can be made as to which meat products an animal may be sensitve or allergic to. This is far superior to any laboratory test and feeding protocol.
2) Vegan can be used as the vegetable base for home-prepared diets. In this case, Vegan provides properly processed and digestible grains, legumes, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotics, then the owner feeds fresh meats and organs combined with this diet. This is arguably the best conceivable way pets should be fed, i.e. only those food ingredients that need to be cooked (grains and legumes) are, whereas those food ingredients that have nutritional value diminished by cooking (such as fresh meats), are not.
3) Vegan provides the best possible processed diet for people who desire to feed their animals veganstyle (no animal products whatsoever).
Although we have formulated this diet to the best of our ability to meet current NRC nutrient minimums for both dogs and cats, we do not subscribe to the belief that the optimal diet can be achieved by simply meeting arbitrary nutrient minimums for basic nutrient categories such as protein, fat, ash, vitamins, and minerals. (It is important to note that the Vegan diet does not meet NRC minimums for protein for the feline.)
As Dr. Wysong discusses thoroughly in the CD, “The Thinking Person’s Master Key to Health,” and in the book “The Truth About Pet Foods,” the pet food industry and the majority of the public proceed under the mistaken belief that so-called “100% complete and balanced” diets can be fabricated in pet food manufacturing plants. Unfortunately, 100% is not known about nutrition, and therefore the “100% complete and balanced” claim is a myth. Owners who subscribe to this belief and feed foods based on the claim do so at extreme risk to the health of their animal.
As described thoroughly in Wysong literature, humans and the companion animals in our care are removed from our proper genetic context. Part of that context was fresh raw foods. Such foods have bounties of nutritional value not even imagined by modern nutritionists, much less analyzed for, or with “minimums” established.
We therefore advise all pet owners to supplement any processed diet (including Wysong) with fresh whole natural foods (which includes…(e-mail me for more info)) as much as possible to augment nutritional value.
For animal owners who wish to feed a purely vegetation-based diet to pets which are by their nature carnivores (dogs and cats), it must be understood that they do this with inherent risk. Carnivores through millennia have adapted to meat eating. It is an experiment for us here, in this latest moment of time, to attempt to switch them to an entirely vegetation-based diet.
If it were our choice, given an ideal world, no life would be destroyed in order to sustain another. Unfortunately, this ideal is difficult for most humans to implement, much less impose upon pets which are genetically tuned carnivores.
There are some logical difficulties with imposing ethics on food. First of all, it is not logically possible to differentiate in a physical or purely biological sense, between the life of a cow, chicken, or mouse, and that of plants growing in the field. Therefore, just sparing animal life is arbitrary. In the so-called “lower” life forms, it is, in fact, difficult to differentiate between plant and animal. One could reason, therefore, that eating either animals or plants is the unethical destruction of life.
To carry the logic of food ethics further, we could reason that fruit is the ideal food. We wouldn’t be killing plants that way. Also, fruit eating helps disseminate the seeds so new plants can grow (in the natural setting anyway, a toilet, however negates this justification.) But fruit cells are alive and we kill them when we eat them. Another ethical dilemma.
We could try Breathairianism: Eat nothing and live off the air only. But even if this were possible, it could be reasoned that our use of oxygen might deny it for another. Again, an ethical dilemma.
Even if we were to choose to die to spare all other life, resources would be used for our funeral and burial, compromising the environment, and oxygen would be consumed in our decomposition.
There is no escape. Our existence lessens the existence of other life. The very act of living, therefore, means we must compromise an idealistic spare-all-life ethic.
Compromises must be made if we choose to live. At Wysong we believe the best choice is to choose those foods which most enhance health, thus averting the cruelty of disease and suffering. Such foods are natural, organic, humanely raised, environmentally sensitive, and species specific. Choices will not always be black or white, right or wrong, but on a scale from worse to better.
What to eat and what to feed companion animals is perhaps a personal choice, but one that certainly comes with responsibility. No net good is accomplished in the world if the life of a “food” creature is saved, but the life of a companion animal is lost as a result of nutritional imbalance from an artificially imposed, imbalanced, or deficient diet.
Please consider this brief discussion as a preliminary to informed pet feeding. Space does not permit a thorough discussion of these issues. Please refer to the many Wysong publications and our website for more complete information on health-nutrition-environmental-animal welfare issues.”
I have nothing left to say but that I agree with the Doctor’s closing, where he says: “We wish you the best of luck as you wrestle with these important ethical questions, and welcome your comments and questions.”

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