In its March issue, Consumer Reports makes an attempt to advise consumers on what to look for on pet food labels and discusses some fancy claims they say pet owners can ignore. Here is what came across my desk on the PR Newswire:
“YONKERS, N.Y., Feb. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- When it comes to buying pet food, higher cost doesn't always mean higher quality, according to the March issue of Consumer Reports. A higher price could indicate better ingredients and better quality control during and after manufacturing, but it could also just mean prettier packaging, more marketing, or a fancy name. And despite food safety concerns that resulted from a recall of pet food tainted with melamine in 2007, Consumer Reports urges caution for consumers who are considering making their own pet food, a growing trend.
The full report is available in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.
Consumer Reports asked eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven top veterinary schools what consumers get by spending more for pet food. They were also asked what they served their own pets: Most of the experts said they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets.
A recent survey by the Associated Press found that although Americans may be spending less on themselves, they're not scrimping on their pets. According to the survey, just one in seven pet owners said they had curtailed spending on their pet during the past year, even as they cut back on other expenses.
Thirty-seven percent of U.S. households have dogs, and 32 percent have cats. But because of multi-cat households, felines outnumber canines: As of 2007, there were almost 82 million cats and 72 million dogs.
The bottom line, says Consumer Reports: It's more important to look for the overall nutrient profile of a particular pet food brand than it is to shop by price or even individual ingredients. "As a pet owner, your main goal is to ensure that your animal is active and healthy," says Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports. "That suggests that the food you're buying is doing its job. But it's also important to know that you don't have to choose the most expensive food to get what's best for your pet. Look for food labeled 'complete and balanced,' which indicates it can be the pet's sole nourishment."
Hirsh advises pet owners to look for labels stating that the food's nutritional adequacy was validated by animal-feeding tests based on protocols from the American Association of Feed Control Officials, a regulatory group. That statement is a step above the other one that AAFCO allows -- that a food was formulated to meet the group's nutrient profiles. "In addition, make sure the package has contact information for the food's manufacturer, in case you have questions," Hirsh says.
Consumers should also take into consideration the age of their pet and whether he or she has special needs. For example, cats with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food, while animals with dental issues might do better with dry food.”
Then following here is a basic brief 101 on pet food labels and common terms used with their actual meanings. I decided not to bring those up here since our readers have learned about them on this blog earlier and are constantly reminded. What I found important is the report’s continuation:
“What Consumers Can Do
Consumer Reports offers the following advice to pet owners:
Be careful when making your own pet food. Most experts said they hadn't seen a pet get sick from inexpensive food; however, half said they had seen pets become ill from eating homemade pet food, a growing trend since the 2007 recall of some commercial pet food contaminated by melamine. Dogs and cats each require about 40 different nutrients in very specific proportions, …
The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.”
In addition, Consumer Reports publishes the following postings on its website:
“Q&A: Vets weigh in on Fido's food
Americans might be spending less on themselves, but not on their furry friends. In a survey conducted by the Associated Press in December 2008, just one in seven pet owners said they had curtailed spending on their pet during the past year, even as they cut other expenses.
Prices range as widely as the foods—everything from low-glycemic and grain-free meals to human-food mimics such as chicken pot pie. At stores near our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., per-day costs for dry foods for a 35-pound dog ranged from about 38 cents (Walmart's Ol' Roy Krunchy Bites & Bones) to about $2.88 (Karma Organic). Prices for canned foods ranged from $1.38 per day (Ol' Roy Hearty Cuts in Gravy) to $4.78 (Merrick Turducken Entreé).
We asked eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven top veterinary schools what you get by spending more for pet food. (Note: All but one have received some funding from the pet-food industry.) They also shared advice on pet feeding. Answers represent their consensus.
Should you pay a lot for pet food?
"There's no scientific evidence that any food is better than the next," says Joseph Wakshlag, D.V.M., Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Pets can thrive on inexpensive food or become ill from pricey food. If your animal is active and healthy, the food is doing its job. A higher price could mean better ingredients and better quality control during and after manufacturing. But you might also be paying for pretty packaging, marketing, or a fancy name.
Can inexpensive food make a pet sick?
Most experts said they haven't seen that happen, with the exception of a zinc deficiency in the 1980s that was traced to a generic dog food. But half had seen pets become ill from eating homemade pet food, a growing trend since the 2007 recall of some commercial pet foods contaminated by melamine. Dogs and cats each require about 40 different nutrients in very specific proportions. If you insist on making your own pet food, consider enlisting an animal nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (www.acvn.org) or get help from www.balanceit.com or www.petdiets.com, which the ACVN lists as resources on its site.
What ingredients should you look for?
Most experts said individual ingredients are much less important than overall nutrient profile. Check the label for two statements. Look for food labeled "complete and balanced," which indicates it can be the pet's sole nourishment (unlike a treat). Also look for food labels stating that nutritional adequacy was validated by animal-feeding tests based on protocols from the American Association of Feed Control Officials, a regulatory group. That statement is a step above the other one AAFCO allows—that a food was formulated to meet the group's nutrient profiles. Make sure you can find the manufacturer's contact information, in case you have questions. For more on labels, see What pet-food labels really mean.
Do you need to buy food with claims?
For pet food, there's no official definition of organic, human-grade, premium, no fillers, or gourmet. Gluten-free foods are generally necessary only for the tiny percentage of pets that are intolerant of that protein. There's some evidence that antioxidants—such as vitamin E—and some omega-3 fatty acids might enhance pets' immunity or help protect against certain diseases, but the experts were split on whether you need to look for them.
How important is age-specific food?
It's very important for puppies, kittens, and pregnant pets, which have especially stringent nutritional needs. Foods "for growth" or "for all life stages" meet those needs. Foods "for maintenance" are for healthy adults only. "Senior" is "a marketing term, not a nutritional term," says Sarah K. Abood, D.V.M., Ph.D., an assistant professor of small-animal clinical sciences at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Do wet and dry differ nutritionally?
No, but there's a cost difference: Wet foods contain about 75 percent water, so you need more to get the same calories. The experts we spoke to said that the decision usually comes down to price, convenience, the pet's preference, and any health issues. Cats with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food, for example, and animals with dental issues might benefit from dry food.
What do vets feed their pets?
Among them, our experts have 11 dogs and at least six cats. Most told us they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets. They use both wet and dry and often combine the types.
Posted: February 2009 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: March 2009
So much for what Consumer Reports has to say. Here is my take on this story:
I never understood nor will I understand how a publication like Consumer Reports can make the claim that they are experts on everything, a valuable resource for the consumer, which is in many cases very often considered to be “the bible”, the law of which products are good and which ones bad. How can someone be expert on everything from used to new cars over, to kitchen appliances, lawn mowers, food, housing, furniture, insurance and you just name it, they know it all? Including pet food? I have some serious doubts here and would say rightfully so.
Let’s face it, how much credibility do I place in a report which places on the same level and compares Ol’ Roy with Karma Organics, or Ol’Roy with Merrick?Just to make Karma and Merrick look bad to begin with because they are sooo expensive? Regardless, this is all neither here nor there, the bottom line is one does not compare the brands as they did, that is an insult to Karma and Merrick. So I was hoping that they would talk about the actual food some more, provide more detail and so on. Well, they didn’t. And to make intelligent statements here and backup my claim of them comparing apples with oranges I went to visit the Ol’Roy website in the hopes I would find the detail I was looking for. To my surprise, when I visited the Walmart site looking up the product I found Ol'roy: Dog Food Krunchy Bites & Bones and under “Nutritional facts” the statement: “Nutrition Facts are not available for this item.” Wow, I thought we are way beyond that and something like no ingredient listing is a story of the past. Is it that bad that it cannot be posted on a public website? So bad that even the prospective buyer is not told what he is going to buy? What do you guys have to hide here? In disbelieve I kept looking and found under : “Nutritional Info” another site visitor’s inquiry: “Hi- just wondering what the nutritional breakdown is for this food?” The answer posted was just the next surprise: “Product Details: Formulated to Help Promote A Healthy Immune System, Omega-6 Fatty Acid For Shiny Coat & Healthy Skin, Protein, Calcium & Phosphorus For Strong Muscles, Bones & Teeth, 100% Complete & Balanced Nutrition For All Breeds, Give Your Dog Wholesome, Quality Ingredients, Plus A Taste He Will Savor. You Can Feed Ol'roy Krunchy Bites & Bones With Confidence. The Confidence of Knowing That Your Dog Is Receiving All The Essential Nutrients He Needs to Help Promote A Shiny Coat and Strong muscles…” Well, now here I have it: Omega-6 Fatty acid, I guess some protein, calcium and phosphorus, wholesome quality ingredients and essential nutrients. Just what I have been looking for (NOT). Consumer Reports, I thought you would do better than what you did here, I sincerely hope none of your pet owning readers consider your comparison as a recommendation, but I am just afraid many will. Because if people would listen to what knowledgeable sources have to say, nobody would buy this product. But that is obviously not the case. I guess the 38 cents per day do work wonders.
Then the next problem I am having with the report is that the reader for advice is being sent to sites which sell their nutritional consulting services, like the sites of Balanceit.com and Petdiets.com. Is the fact that the ACVN is recommending these sites a justification that Consumer Reports should recommend them? I wonder about how much independence this is supposed to show? I am seriously considering to inquire with Consumer Reports if they can publish my name next time around. After all, I am providing advice. Granted, I am not being endorsed by the ACVN. But at least I never claimed I would be independent and I never made a secret out of the fact that my main job is selling healthy pet nutrition. I wonder what it takes to get such a favor and privilege. Come on guys, with a little more intense research you could have found way better resources for the consumer group you are addressing here. Like the totally unbiased, honest and straight forward opinions of Susan Thixton on her TruthAboutPetFood.com site or Sabine Contreras’ DogFoodProject.com. Best of all, it is free. Though you would have had to find a different comparison of foods to begin with, because both of these very knowledgeable ladies will agree with me.
And while I am talking about independence: I researched the Consumer Reports website a little more and found what I was looking for:
“Our Mission Why did Consumer Reports create a Web site about health decisions?
For more than 70 years, Consumers Union, the nation's expert, independent, nonprofit consumer organization, has been working for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and empowering consumers to protect themselves. We're a leading advocate for patient safety, health-care quality and effectiveness, and affordable health coverage for all.
Our trusted research, testing, and reporting on health topics–always free of advertising and commercial or government influence–appears regularly in Consumer Reports magazine, ConsumerReports.org, and our other media products. …..
As consumers become increasingly involved in their own health decisions and turn to the Web for answers to their questions, they need unbiased, accurate, evidence-based information to compare their options and to make appropriate choices for themselves and their families. Informed choices lead to better health outcomes, lower costs, and improved value.
In response to this need, Consumer Reports launched ConsumerReportsHealth.org. ConsumerReportsHealth.org offers Consumers Union's rich array of research and recommendations about health care and healthy living on one continuously updated Web site. Our goal is to answer your pressing questions–from which diet plan is rated the best to cost-effective alternatives to your prescription drugs–and to help you make better health-care decisions.”
“Help you make better health care decisions” Pointing out the food I discussed above is a “Good health care decision”?
“Independent… consumer organization” Recommending sites charging the consumer for their services is independent? “Trusted research free of advertising” would fall in that same category, right?
“…evidence based information to compare their options” does include comparing apples with oranges or Ol’ Roy with Karma and Merrick?
One more on “independence”: In your Q&A subchapter you say yourself about the vets you had questioned: “Note: All but one have received some funding from the pet-food industry.” How independent is that?
“Can inexpensive food make a pet sick?” The answers provided here to me are just ridiculous. Was anybody reading up on the subject matter? Almost pandemic proportions of pets showing diseases because of what they are being fed, i.e. in most cases mass marketed low cost pet foods are not enough of a fact that inexpensive foods make our pets sick? I have stats on my opinion, do you have any on yours? What world are these vets questioned living in?
And finally to round it up, what also made me wonder was when the vets in the Q&A session were asked about what they feed their own pets. They buy food for their own pets at the super market? I have two questions: They don’t trust the food what they sell at their offices or clinics? And if they feed their pets the super market brands, I hope they don’t recommend that to their patients. Because in that case I only can say “May God be with us, or better, with our pets.”
In conclusion: I hope this all is sort of an attempt which didn’t quite work out as well as it was supposed to. The pet owning consumer really didn’t learn a lot here and I sure hope he or she realizes that and seeks more and better advice when making decisions about pet food. Because this one in my opinion went totally the wrong way. To answer the initial question "Is Consumer Report the place to look for answers on pet food", I would say "Think again."
Resources and references:
PR Newswire: “Consumer Reports: Pricey Pet Food Not Necessarily Better”
Consumer Reports “Q&A Vets weigh in on Fido’s Food”
Consumer Reports “Pet Food Labels, what they really mean”
Walmart: “Ol'roy: Dog Food Krunchy Bites & Bones”