Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pet food going wild: Understanding evolution and ancestral diets unlocks innovation

Petfood, an on-line community for pet food professionals recently took a closer look at the industry’s latest trend towards going “wild” with it’s pet food. These days, every day you open a magazine you are assured to be confronted with an announcement of yet another manufacturer introducing his latest “wild” creation.

The on-line magazine believes that an improved understanding based on unbiased scientific research of evolution and canine and feline ancestral diets will unlock innovations. But why are pet food manufacturers touting "wild" ingredients? One manufacturer in his promotional materials sums it up this way: "Before dogs were domesticated, meat was their key source of nutrition. Inspired by a dog's heritage and nutritional needs, … was developed to nourish every dog as nature intended." Sounds good, but the science is not always clear as to what nature intended.

Unfortunately, an all to familiar problem within the industry, sometimes marketing gets ahead of the science. So it is once again the case on the concept of wild, ancestral pet foods. Let’s keep that in mind while we look at some of the wild pet food diets that are becoming more popular.

Making wild assertions, marketers of wild ingredient based pet food say they provide a diet rich in quality meat with high nutrient bioavailability, the way nature intended. Other claims include:
"We use a savory fresh protein from US Department of Agriculture inspected sources as the number one ingredient, and quality, low-ash chicken meal as the number two ingredient."
"It's a return to your dog's ancestral diet while recognizing its modern day lifestyle. We use only meat protein sources, healthy fruits and vegetables, no grains, fillers, by-products or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives."
In addition, the standard claims and disclaimers tend to apply: No grain, no by-products, roasted meat, fish and poultry, all natural, no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, no corn, no wheat, no soy, no gluten, no fillers, chicory root for digestive support, antioxidants to protect cells, the ideal blend of omega fatty acids and chelated minerals.

For the most part, proponents of wild ingredient products believe the ideal diet is the pre-agricultural diet on which a species evolved. They say such diets contain the foods that best suit the species' digestive and metabolic systems and are least likely of all foods to cause an allergic reaction.

Here are some of a few manufacturer’s statements made in response to the on-line magazine’s inquiry:

An early example of wild petfood marketing is the Evolution Diet Pet Food Corp., which started in 1987. It's not typical of most wild petfoods in that the products are vegetarian. I remain confused, because I believe in the carnivore concept, but the company apparently insisted that it would be included in the magazine's article. Founder and CEO Eric Weisman says he founded the company after examining what went into conventional petfoods and deciding he wanted a "better alternative" for his own pets. His dogs and cats were having health issues he thought were related to the ingredients in conventional petfoods. Weisman worked with Darwin Brightsman, PhD, an animal nutritionist, to formulate Evolution Diet Pet Food products. At the time, Weisman was a physician in private practice using vitamin, botanical, nutraceutical and nutrition therapy for people. Weisman notes he is still using "state-of-the-art combinations" of vitamins, herbs and nutraceuticals developed to treat joint, vascular and other diseases in sick pets at the Evolution Diet Rescue facility, which he has operated in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, since 1987.

Merrick, maker of Before Grain products, asserts that dogs and cats do better when fed grain free diets. This is, they say, what nature intended. The company says a diet based primarily on fresh meat, blue fruit, nutrient-dense vegetables and high-quality meat contributes to better health and longevity. Ingredients used include buffalo, beef, chicken, salmon, turkey and tripe. Merrick points out enthusiastically that Before Grain products contain acai, an Amazon palm berry, and blueberries. Freeze dried acai berries and blueberries are "carefully added to the kibble after the cooking process." Merrick contends these "super blue fruits" are high in antioxidants and anthocyanins.
"Years of domestication have turned pets from fierce predators to best friends," contends Taste of the Wild Pet Foods. "However, modern science proves that dogs and cats still share the DNA of the wolf or wild cat.

Taste of the Wild Brand Dog and Cat Food offers pets a diet dictated by genes. It allows pet owners to provide their pets the kind of natural, balanced diet that they could find in the wild."

Canidae All Natural Pet Foods offers grain-free formulas for dogs and cats. Most contain 80% protein and 20% fruits and vegetables, "designed to increase energy levels." The products contain no corn, wheat, soy, grain fractions, glutens or fillers, says the company.

Those who market wild-ingredient products believe the ideal diet is a pre-agricultural diet. This diet, they say, contains the foods that best suit digestive and metabolic systems and are least likely to cause an allergic reaction. It's an appealing idea, but the jury is still out.

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