Thursday, March 12, 2009

Natural Ingredients in pet food: Everybody offers them, only a few selected tell the truth

It has become a huge marketing buzz. Everywhere we go and look, every pet food is natural these days. When I read pet magazines and other, even non-pet related publications, everybody recommends their usage. Rachel Ray and Ellen deGeneris say their food is natural and everybody runs and buys it. Industry publications for the pet food retailer alert me that this is something I “must” offer now to my customers, because that is what they are looking for these days and it is a great opportunity for me to finally make money in this business. It reminds me that we describe ourselves as a store offering, among other characteristics, “natural” pet nutrition. Although we did that quite a while before everybody jumped on the band wagon, I believe back than it had a little more meaning to it. Following the marketing experts’ and analysts’ advice, pet food manufacturers are cranking out billions of tons of pet food, all made with nothing but natural ingredients. Yet, when we look closer, we often come to find out that that there seems to be a great deal of differences between what we may believe “natural” means and what others think it is. So I decided to look a little deeper and tried to figure out what “natural” actually means.
I searched
Wikipedia for “natural ingredients” and was told that “Natural Ingredients, released in 1994 (see 1994 in music), was the first full-length album by Luscious Jackson.” Funny, that went the wrong way. I tried again, this time “natural” only: “Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. Manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature unless qualified in ways such as "human nature" or "the whole of nature".” Now does that mean, pet food, since its made by humans interacting never could be natural? I think that is a justifiable question.
But then I decide to go somewhere else and found the “
Natural Ingredient Resource Center – because Natural matters” (NRC). What they have to say is a lot closer to what I was looking for:
“While it is true that there is no official, U.S. government regulated definition for the term natural pertaining to the natural products industry, the FDA refers to natural ingredients as "ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically."”
U. S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer.
I visited the FDA site, and found even more: “What's 'Natural'? Like hypoallergenic, "natural" can mean anything to anybody. "There are no standards for what natural means," says Bailey. "They could wave a tube [of plant extract] over the bottle and declare it natural. Who's to say what they're actually using?" … In addition, natural doesn't mean pure or clean or perfect either. According to the cosmetic trade journal Drug and Cosmetic Industry, "all plants can be heavily contaminated with bacteria, and pesticides and chemical fertilizers are widely used to improve crop yields”
NRC continues: “The key word there is, "extracted directly". In the case of some ingredients, it's easy to see that they fit easily into this definition.
But what about raw materials that need to undergo some processing or chemical reaction in order to extract the ingredient from the natural raw material that is the source?
Even distilling aromatic plants to produce essential oils sometimes results in the creation of chemicals that didn't exist in the raw material, but which are created by the actual distillation process alone!The "Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients" says a natural product is defined as a "product that is derived from plant, animal or microbial sources, primarily through physical processing, sometimes facilitated by simple chemical reactions such as acidification, basification, ion exchange, hydrolysis, and salt formation as well as microbial fermentation."
"In the early '80s the FTC came up with a great definition for Natural - never adopted. They said that an ingredient may be called "natural" only if it contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients and has had no more processing than something which could be made in a household kitchen."
The Green Products Alliance
The USDA has a legal definition for "natural", but it applies only to meat and poultry; "those products carrying the “natural” claim must not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and are only “minimally processed” defined by USDA as a process that does not fundamentally alter the raw product."
The USDA National Organic Program defines non-synthetic as "a substance that is derived from mineral, plant, or animal matter and does not undergo a synthetic process". They define a synthetic as "a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes."
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, which is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving only consumers, states; "Natural is a general claim that implies that the product or packaging is made from or innate to the environment and that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added. There is currently no standard definition for the term except for meat and poultry products. Unless otherwise specified, there is no organization independently certifying this claim. The producer or manufacturer decides whether to use the claim and is not free from its own self-interest."”
After my
recent article about Consumer Magazine, I am skeptical about anything they have to say. But in this case I definitely wish some pet food manufacturers would listen to not just what the magazine, but everybody else named above has to say about “that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added”. Sounds to me like many people, especially the ones who are selling pet food in humongous volume missed that, to me as a concerned pet owner, quite important point.
The NRC’s conclusion on a definition for natural is like this:
Natural Ingredients include plant, animal, mineral or microbial ingredients present in or produced by nature, produced using minimal physical processing*, directly extracted using simple methods and simple chemical reactions or resulting from naturally occurring biological processes.*
Natural ingredients are grown, harvested, raised and processed in an ecological manner.
not produced synthetically, free of all petrochemicals, not extracted or processed using petrochemicals, not extracted or processed using anything other than natural ingredients as solvents, not exposed to irradiation and not genetically engineered & do not contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Natural ingredients do not contain synthetic ingredients**, not contain artificial ingredients including colors or flavoring and not contain synthetic chemical preservatives.
* Minimal Processing means the ingredient has had no more processing than something which could be made in a household kitchen, stillroom, on a farm, or vineyard. It doesn't mean they have to actually be made in those settings, but that they would require no more equipment or technology than that which could be employed in those settings. Simple Extraction Methods/Simple Chemical Reactions include cleaning, cold pressing, dehydration, desiccation, drying, evaporation, filtering, grinding, infusing [water or natural alcohol], & steam or water distilling.** Produced by synthesis, a compound made artificially by chemical reactions, from simpler compounds or elements.

Now that to me sounds like a workable deal. Mr. President, since you are doing a major overhaul already, can we get this signed into a law? For the sake of all of our health, our own as well as the one of our pets?

No comments: