Dr. Tim Phillips, DVM and Editor of The Pet Food Industry Magazine the other day under the headline “Whole Dog Journal wants Transparency” picked up on an issue, which is, as so many others, very controversial when it comes to pet food ingredients: Pet food ingredients and specifically by-products. I am going to address this issue at another time. What I also found interesting in the article were his comments about the Whole Dog Journal’s expectations on dog food and the call for more transparency. Dr. Phillips writes:
“In addition to transparency, Whole Dog Journal examines the ingredients listed on the product labels and looks for, among other things, the absence of by-products, added sweeteners and artificial coloring.
Every February, the Whole Dog Journal reviews dry dog foods. This year, for the first time, the magazine has added pet food company transparency to its list of criteria for approving dry dog foods. Editor Nancy Kerns puts it this way: "All companies, whether they own their plants or hire contract manufacturers, should be equally forthcoming about their manufacturing."
In addition to revealing where its products are made, Kerns believes a company should also be transparent about:
Product formulation: Who developed the formula and what are his/her credentials?
Ingredients: Can the company provide full traceability on each ingredient used in its products?
QA processes: Do its plants follow a HACCP food safety program?
Available support: If I feed my dog your food and he gets sick, what support will your company be able to provide for me?
In addition to transparency, Whole Dog Journal examines the ingredients listed on the product labels and looks for the following:
A lot of high-quality animal proteins, "ideally a food will have one or two animal proteins in the first few ingredients."
The absence of meat or poultry by-products, "there is a much wider range of quality in the by-products available for pet food manufacturing than there is for whole meats."
The absence of fat or protein not identified by species.
Whole grains and vegetables.
The absence of artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, "a healthy product full of top-quality ingredients shouldn't need non-nutritive additives to make it look or taste better."
The absence of added sweeteners.
So what do you think of those criteria? Do they make sense?”
Since he asked what we think about WDJ’s criteria, here is my opinion: With regards to transparency, I think their ideas are great and it certainly would be a start into the right direction. Obviously, the manufacturers of mass marketed pet food are most likely not in agreement with those ideas since it would require transparency, seemingly the last thing they are interested in. (Unless someone can explain to me why there is no ingredient listing available for example for Ol’Roy, see my blog comment “Consumer Reports: The place to look for answers on pet food? “)
Well, I went back to my friend Dr. Wysong to see what he has to say about this topic. In his pamphlet “How to apologize to your pet” he writes under the headline “The most critical ingredient – The company” (meaning “the manufacturer”):
“…So how do you make choices with so many competing products out there? We will give you some fair advice and we hope we have earned your ear since this entire brochure is about how you could feed optimally without using any Wysong products at all. Our purpose is health enhancement, and telling you what you need to know and not just what you may want to hear. Additionally, we are insiders. We know manufacturing, distribution, ingredients, marketing and all the other details – and shenanigans – in the pet food industry. That is what uniquely qualifies us to help you in your evaluation.
Now comes a prefacing apology. Much of what we say in this section may be (mis)understood and (mis)construed to be negative. Unfortunately it is very difficult for the layperson to even discern that there is a problem, much less know how to correct it. Companies and products receive much polish to make things appear as appealing as possible on the surface. You must be skeptical, see through the smoke and mirrors – and you can’t do that without information. Research, learn, and probe to be sure you’re doing the best for your beloved pets.
When you purchase a nondescript packaged product like a nugget or mix, you have really no true idea what is in it. Yes, the ingredient label and analysis may say certain things, but terminology is crafted to put the best face forward to you. For example it is possible to say “natural flavors” and yet the product may contain MSG and a whole range of chemicals you might not desire. “Chicken” could mean heads and feet. “Natural,” “holistic,” “organic,” “human grade,” “balanced,” “veterinary recommended,” “science” and “100% complete and balanced” are powerful marketing terms, but not necessarily a true reflection of what is in the product. There is wide latitude on labels and even wider freedom for what can be said in marketing brochures. In the end, you are left with making a decision based upon trust in the company. That trust should not be blind.
These are considerations when deciding who to grant that trust to:
- Do they promote the misleading “100% complete” claim?
- Nutrition is a serious health matter. Are the leaders of the company scientists and doctors, or marketers and business people?
- Do they control their own manufacturing or are they just having a standard formulation with a few “special ingredients” made by a private label company?
- Do they educate (at no cost) to help you control your own and your pet’s health?
- Do they attempt to convince you to buy based on nonsense that has nothing to do with health, such as movie star endorsements?
- Do they have a long history of success in feeding pets?
- Do they provide products that have not been heat processed and degraded – reflecting knowledge of this critical nutritional issue?
- Do they show concern for animal welfare by not fostering unnecessary lab animal testing?
- Do they pander to misleading marketing approaches such as “four food group” feeding, emphasizing so-called special ingredients or trying to create panic about others? Remember, good nutrition is natural and varied, not about singular special or boogeyman ingredients.)
- Do they truly innovate – lead – with formulations and processing methods that enhance health (not just cosmetics) or do they just follow markets?
These are the considerations that will tell you what’s really in the package.”
In my mind, the bottom line is this: As by now everybody is in agreement, the most simple indicator whether you are dealing with a good, better or not so good pet food is if the manufacturer. My take is, is it a Wall Street traded company or is it a privately, possibly family owned, small to medium sized company with direct owner involvement and participation in daily operations (and creations). Because most of the times it is these small companies, which were brought into life because their owners were at one point just as we are today, fed up and frustrated with what is going on in the pet food industry. Fed up with watchning how their companion animals' health kept deterrerating. Fed up with learning day in and day out that what we are supposed to believe is good for our pets at the end of the day only causes harm. These guys will have no problem to live up to either WDJ’s or Dr. Wysong’s ideas of transparency and using the best possible ingredients, because that is what they live already on a daily basis and their products reflect that thinking and transparency. None of them will ever have a problem talking openly about and explaining their products at any length desired by any pet owner. Quite contrary, they proudly will do so. And as we all know, rightfully so.