Saturday, January 17, 2009

Outlook: Pet food prices 2009

Just coming out of a year facing some of the toughest economic times since the Great Depression and having experienced numerous price increases in our pet food during 2008, one question on all our minds is: What is going to happen this year? Just a couple days ago I found that Debbie Phillip Donaldson attempted a close look at the crystal ball in her attempt to provide a forecast for the Pet Food Industry and ultimately explain what the signs mean for us as pet owners
“From the beginning of November 2007 to the beginning of December 2008, the price of a bushel of corn spiked and then plummeted dramatically from US$7.38 at its peak in July to US$3.79 as of December 22. Though businesses usually rely on financial data and expert analysis to predict how their costs might change, pet food professionals in charge of tracking raw material prices could be forgiven for wanting a magical device to help them see into the future. At this point a year ago, signs were starting to point to a rapid rise in the price of commodity ingredients common to pet food. Last summer saw a frightening spike, followed almost as quickly by a deep dive this past fall. For example, the price of a bushel of corn—at about US$4 exactly a year ago—zoomed to a high of US$7.38 in early July 2008, according to the Jacobsen Publishing Co. By October it had fallen to below US$5, then all the way down to US$3.79 at the time of this writing. The fluctuation in prices is no surprise considering the current global economy. And not all commodity prices are declining; for example, poultry ingredient prices are still trending higher due to demand issues and uncertainty with key suppliers. The volatility is enough to keep any purchasing manager—not to mention supplier—guessing. "It reminds me of skiing," says Gregg Griffin, sales manager of American Dehydrated Foods Inc. (ADF). "We're used to skiing on green slopes, and now we've come to a black slope and have no choice but to go down the black."
Besides the overall economy, Griffin and others tie commodity prices directly to energy costs, particularly the oil and natural gas that fuel several key cogs in the food and feed supply chain. Griffin cites examples such as transportation—shipping raw materials and finished products around the world by road, train, air and sea—and plant operations—keeping machines running to produce those materials and products. For instance, Griffin says ADF is a "huge consumer of natural gas to operate our spray dryers."
Graphs and charts showing energy prices over the past year follow similar lines and curves as the ones for corn and other commodities. Case in point: Light crude oil, from which gasoline is made, closed at just over US$42 a barrel at press time—more than US$100 less per barrel than its peak in mid-July 2008.
Some people believe that if you take an even longer view, the link between energy and commodity prices can provide significant clues for the future. "When you chart the prices of grain and oil since 1970, you can clearly see that price spikes for both are aligned," said Giovanni Gasperoni, executive VP of sales and marketing for Novus International Inc., in the July/August issue of Feed International.
Joel Newman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), agrees fuel prices have a definite impact on commodity prices, but he gives other reasons for the dramatic pricing changes over the past few years. "Because of the current global economy, demand has declined," he says. Before the recession, global demand for food and feed ingredients had increased significantly.
Newman also cites financial speculation in crude oil and commodities, particularly the proliferation of speculative index funds. In 2000, regulations were changed to allow exemptions of such index funds, leading to aggressive investment and soaring prices.
"Prior to those changes, the market allowed users to effectively hedge their positions, off-set by speculative positions, and the market converged as contracts moved to termination dates," Newman explains. In other words, prices moved in conjunction with normal supply and demand.
One of AFIA's key activities, he says, is working with the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture to remove those exemptions. "We're also working to have all commodity trades regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission," he adds. Currently that commission, created by Congress in 1974 as an independent agency to regulate commodity futures and option markets in the US, does not have authority for over-the-counter and foreign exchange trades.
No one is comfortable predicting specific commodity price changes this year, but it's a safe bet to watch energy. Currently the US government and most economists are expecting oil prices to stabilize and possibly increase slightly from their low levels at the end of 2008. The annual average price is now projected to be US$51 per barrel in 2009, says the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in charge of energy statistics for the US government. "The condition of the global economy and production decisions by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are expected to remain the crucial factors driving world oil prices," says EIA. Falling demand now may create supply problems later.
Newman agrees we will probably not see the huge spikes of 2008 in oil or grain prices, but grain will likely not drop all the way back down to its previous low, which was US$2 to $2.50 for a bushel of corn. He suggests another factor impacting commodity prices will be planting costs, which include seed, fertilizer, fuel for field work and transportation. "Currently planting costs are estimated to be about 25% more per acre than a year ago, which will require a higher floor level of pricing," he says.
A key indicator to watch is the global stocks-to-use grain ratios: The amount of inventory at the end of the year relative to what is normally used annually. The ratio had dipped precariously in recent years and is still too low, Newman says, which tends to drive prices up. "It will take more than one good harvest year to improve global inventory levels."
The fact that the 2008 US corn harvest ended up being the second highest ever will help, too, at least with that grain, according to the November issue of Feed Management.
While crystal balls may be in short supply, these clues may help you track pricing for key pet food ingredients.”
So much for Debbie’s forecast. What does all of this mean in plain English? What am I going to pay? Let me give you my forecast. I don’t use a crystal ball, I use common sense. We know that most manufacturers increased their prices at least twice last year. Add to this the fact that despite those increases pet food sales have increased as well, I would suggest that pet food manufacturers are feeling very confident right now. Even if some of the increases in sales are due to increased pricing, there was definitely an increase in volume as well. According to the PetFood Industry, Infoscan Reviews Information Resources Inc claims that in the period from June 15 to November 30, 2008 cat and dog food sales (in US$ and volume) in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets (except Wal-Mart) increased overall and in most categories. During this period total dog food sales (in those merchandise outlets were up 11.6% in value (from $250 to $280 Million Dollars) with a volume increase from 283 to 298 Million lbs or 4.5%. Cat food jumped from $170 to 192 Million Dollars or from 126 to 137 Million lbs (9.2%). The largest increase was noticed in the segment of dry food, followed by biscuits & treats, then semi moist and finally canned food.
Then there is finally the long expected change happening starting this coming Tuesday with the presidential inauguration, or shall I say at least we hope so. Let’s assume that there indeed will be a positive change, which will be reflected in a recovering economy (even if it is a slow recovery). Combine all this with the manufacturer’s confidence and I would say let’s get ready to pay around 20% more for pet food by the end of this New Year. We just recovered from the sticker shock that lower priced premium pet food had hit the $50 mark for a 30 lbs bag. I’d say for the same bag we are going to dish out $60 at the end of the year. Happy New Year, I guess the holidays are over and reality kicks back in.

Novel protein kangaroo on eco menu and yet another novel protein source to arrive on the market soon: Camel

In my recent comment “Pets with food allergies? Try another Novel Protein: Kangaroo, also a great source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)” I talked about the possibility, advantages and availability of kangaroo as a novel protein source to help pets with food allergies. Just the other day and related to kangaroo MSN reported on kangaroos in an article by the French press agency Agence France Presse as well, however with a little different twist: “Saving the planet by eating kangaroos and wild camels may seem like pie in the sky, but the offbeat menu comes with a scientific stamp of approval in Australia. The aim in both cases is to reduce damage to the environment, but the reasoning behind the push to put the animals on the menu is sharply different. In the case of kangaroos, environmentalists say the national animal should become a dietary staple in place of cattle and sheep as part of the fight against global warming. The farm animals make a major contribution to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions simply by belching and farting, while kangaroos emit negligible amounts of dangerous methane gas.
In other words, there should be more kangaroos and fewer farm animals. "For most of Australia's human history -- around 60,000 years -- kangaroo was the main source of meat," the government's top climate change adviser Professor Ross Garnaut noted in a major report on global warming recently. "It could again become important."
In the case of camels, scientists say eating the imported animals would be one way of reducing the million-strong feral herd -- one of the largest on earth -- running amok in the fragile ecosystems of the outback. "Eat a camel today, I've done it," says Professor Murray McGregor, co-author of a three-year study on the humpbacked pests presented to the government last month. In each case, the scientists admit they face a struggle to change Australia's eating habits, but believe strongly in the need to somehow cut the numbers of sheep, cattle and camels. Garnaut's study concluded that by 2020, beef cattle and sheep numbers could be reduced by seven million and 36 million respectively, allowing for an increase in kangaroo numbers to 240 million by 2020, from 34 million now. He acknowledged, however, that there were some problems in this plan, including livestock and farm management issues, consumer resistance and the gradual nature of change in food tastes. The idea of farming kangaroos -- which appear on the Australian coat of arms, for human consumption is distasteful to some, but many health-conscious Australians already eat kangaroo meat. "It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels, it's very clean in the sense that basically it's the ultimate free range animal," says Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales's institute of environmental studies. A similar argument was put forward last month in an attempt to whet Australian appetities for camel meat.
A three-year study found that Australia's population of more than a million feral camels is out of control and damaging fragile desert ecosystems, water sources, rare plants and animals. The Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, which produced the report presented to the federal government, said a good way to bring down the number of camels is to eat them. "It's beautiful meat. It's a bit like beef. It's as lean as lean, it's an excellent health food," said McGregor. Unlike the native kangaroo, camels were introduced into Australia as pack animals for the vast outback in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but were released into the wild as rail and road travel became more widespread. With few natural predators and vast sparsely-populated areas in which to roam, the population has soared to around a million and is now doubling about every nine years, the centre's Glenn Edwards told AFP. While putting camels on the menu could help reduce their numbers, and is one of the proposals in the report, Edwards admits it is unlikely that Australia can eat its way out of the problem. Hundreds of thousands of camels will have to be removed to bring the numbers down to a point where they cause minimal damage, he said.
"I think (eating them) is an option that may work in some areas but it won't be the panacea," he said. The local market for camel meat would be limited and even given the fact that there is a large demand from some countries overseas it would be difficult to harvest and process the animals. "To commercially use camels in that way you need to have access to them, so you need roads and, depending on how you are processing them, electricity and water.
"Parts of the range have the infrastructure but other places are simply too remote, nobody lives out there." The only way to deal with the populations in those areas if they did not become commercially viable would be to shoot them from helicopters, he said, and leave them to rot. Switching from cattle and sheep to kangaroos also faces problems, said beef farmer Kelvin Brown. "In theory farming kangaroos is probably good because they are selective grazers, don't tend to overgraze country and have a good conversion rate of feed into meat," he said from his farm Ykicamoocow. But the practicalities would keep farmers on the hop. "You would need ten-feet high fencing similar to the deer industry," Brown said. Transporting kangaroos to the abattoir would also be fraught with difficulties. "You are dealing with an animal that isn't used to being touched or herded and apparently they do have quite high rates of heart attacks from fright and also tend to damage themselves quite easily, break legs, things like that. "So although this idea of farming kangaroos is good, probably the only way you could do it would be to shoot the kangaroos on the farm and have some system of butchering on site."
Given the difficulties, it seems that kangaroos and camels will not become a staple of the Australian diet any time soon and environmentalists will have to look elsewhere for solutions to the planet's problems.”
Quite interesting. My initial reaction is that pets could possibly help the cause quite a bit. During the initial months since we started carrying pet food based on kangaroo as a protein source we have seen a growing following. Comments made by pet owners and now repeat purchases lead us to believe we got something what seems to work well and also is well received by pets. Plus I also see the possibility that there is another novel protein source appearing on the horizon: Camel. And with the rate the number of pets with pet food allergies is increasing, we need all the help we can get. After all camel meat seems to grow in popularity in Australia. As an Australian food publication said: “They say that camel meat actually tastes like beef, so much so that even experienced cattlemen can't tell the difference. Not only that, but the meat is also low in cholesterol.” And if it’s fit for human consumption then I don’t see a reason why it may not work for our cats and dogs. in its e-newsletter last year in June reported: “The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service of Australia is pushing for feral camels to become the new pet meat. Spokesman Glenn Edwards says kangaroos are commonly used for animal food but a recent drought in the country has caused a population decrease and an increase in ingredient prices.
Pastoral farmers are also concerned about the booming camel numbers, as more than a million currently roam across Central Australia. Edwards says there is certainly enough demand for camels to become a viable option. "Processers are looking for cheap protein to go into petfood. Obviously they're looking at camels and there are small operations already happening where camels are used for petfood." “I guess the question is not if it is going to happen but when is it happening. After all, in our store we already have the opportunity to occasionally get and sell Llama, a close relative of the camel family.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The most crucial ingredient to your pet’s health: A high quality diet

In my job, what I talk about the most is the importance of wholesome food being provided to your pet. Don’t worry, I am not going to promote our store here today. What I want to say has a lot to do not just the store but with healthy and the optimal nutrition for your pets. I believe that it is important that pet owners understand the importance of healthy pet food and I want to make sure that the food given to your pet is appropriate.
Our typical prospect or customer usually is seeking powerful but simple suggestions as to how they can enhance their pets’ health. Usually their very own way of living very often already reflects such a desire for their own lives. It is not uncommon that pet owners approach us by telling us that they, just for example, only eat organic food themselves and now are looking to bring the same advantages of such food to their pets. Or that they buy human food at the whole food store. Or that they are extremely knowledgeable about the food they eat and now are looking for the same kind of information about their pet food. There is however, still a great number of pet owners out there who are not looking for such enhancements in their pet foods. They in fact are satisfied with their pets looking just fine and normal on the current commercial, mass produced and marketed food. They make an assumption: Everything is fine with my cat or dog. For those I am here to say that I am not on a mission to tell you otherwise. If you believe that is the best you can and will do for your companion, then that is perfectly ok with me. After all, that is exactly what I am asking fro from everybody, do the best you can. In that case I just keep talking to the pet owners who are interested. I will continue to do my job as I do now by simply providing as much information as I possibly can on the subject of healthy pet nutrition. Just for the case that one day too, members of this second group are going to change their mind. A positive trend I see however tells me that there is a growing sense of and desire for greater wellness in our pets, which is another reason to provide the information I am talking about. I know that a small change like switching your pet to a more natural diet will in fact increase your cat’s or dog’s quality of life, health and happiness. And remember, happy pets live longer too. We have seen this time and time again.
So coming back to commercial mass produced and marketed pet food, what’s my problem here you may ask. Well, if you have been following my blog and site for a while you are familiar with those concerns and for readers and participants just joining our community of health conscious pet owners let me summarize it briefly:
The kind of pet foods I am talking about really have a lot to do with mythology. There is for instance the claim of a 100% and balanced myth. On of the in my opinion greatest experts in this field, Dr. R.L.Wysong, D.V.M, in his book “The Truth about Pet Foods” and many other of his publications opens our eyes: “A 100% complete processed diet requires a 100% complete knowledge of food and a 100% complete knowledge of nutrition. To have a 100% complete knowledge of food and nutrition requires a 100% complete knowledge of every science. Neither one of these 3 factors exist, therefore the “100% complete” processed diet is a myth.” You believe he is wrong? I don’t. Ask any doctor, physicist or professor. Did Einstein, Bohr, Pasteur, Aristotle or Plato make such claims? So how comes such a claim can be made about pet food? And, more astonishing to me, how comes so many pet owners take it and run with it? Did you ever see a wolf in the wild under a tree wondering “Am I going to starve here? There is nothing with a 100% complete label to eat around here.”?
The second myth is about is about approved ingredients. Approved by whom? By AAFCO or the FDA? Hmmm, how about if I tell you that these lists of approved ingredients includes dehydrated garbage, hydrolyzed poultry feathers, leather meal and hair, peanut skins and hulls, poultry, cow and pig feces and litter, countless chemicals? Do I need to go further? But, you may ask, if they are approved, how can such an approval be justified? Simple answer, it all comes down to their believe in percentages of protein, fat and fiber. And formulas to figure out those percentages can be applied to just about everything. But it remains just a simple fact that protein, fat, carbohydrate, and crude fiber are general food categories. These categories have no functional meaning in terms of nutritional source, quality, or digestibility.Already then, but did nobody learn from their mistakes in the past, you may ask. Sure they did, nobody can blame them for not to trying to fix problems. But that brings up another myth. How can something be fixed if the basic requirements are not in place? You see, now we are right back to the first myth.
The bottom line here is, and I agree with Dr. Wysong: “ that regulatory authority and approval do in no way guarantee optimal health. Health is best served by knowledge and self reliance.”
We could go on and on. Talk about digestibility feeding trials, analyses. All just to conclude that the (Dr. Wysong) “modern pet food pyramid is bloated with distracting elements, such as food fractions and additives, marketing and advertising, regulatory authority and approval nonsense, all having very little or nothing to do with health saving or improving optimal nutrition.”
Ok, by now you have probably taken a quick peak at our store and are saying: I see, you’re promoting Dr. Wysong, because you carry his products and are trying to sell them. And I will tell you: Wrong. Go on the Internet. Feel free to do your own research. Yes, every one of the manufacturers represented with their products at our store will make claims similar to the Doctor’s. But there are also plenty of others of them out there whom’s product we do not carry and sell and they will tell you exactly the same. Take for example Sissy McGill, founder, owner and President of Solid Gold Health. She in a product catalog got so frustrated with the regulatory nonsense that she talked about it in a comment titled “Where did the products go” “We are still doing our homework, researching and bringing you the best ingredients available. Unfortunately we cannot longer tell you about it.” This comment came after she apparently was told by the FDA to restrict herself in selling and promoting healthy, natural supplements because she was talking about their nutritional benefits. I commented on this incident back in September 2008, Where did the products go? Don’t get me wrong: I am all for our government to keep a watching eye on the pet food manufacturers. But the way it is currently done is in my opinion not working. Or how would you explain the many recalls going on in the pet food industry all the time? Go on the Internet and Google “Raw Food” or BARF (Biologically Appropriate Real or Raw Food), every company offering such products, every expert in this particular field will tell you the same story. Yes, you may say now, but they have an interest in promoting their product. And my answer is, while this may be true, it is definitely also a fact that there is by far way less mystery about raw or real food than there is about commercially, mass produced and marketed processed food.
Our companion animals’ life expectancies are growing shorter every generation.
Google any specific health condition for a cat or dog. Every article you find out there will not just tell you in a scary manner that extremely high percentages of our pet population in pandemic dimensions is impacted by them, but also that the cause is most often to be found in the food being fed to these animals.
Dr. William Pollak, D.V.M. says in his article “Concerns About Commercial Pet Food”
“Nutritional issues receive little publicity because they are very technical in substance, thereby not just difficult to explain but also to understand. They also are subject to political considerations. Usually such writings lead to the criticizing of a product, brand or manufacturer. On the other hand, pet food advertising revenue is huge. Consequently, the advertisers are very powerful. Common editorial policy must balance news worthiness with business; this usually results in avoiding negative references to advertisers’ products.
This situation is neither political nor, by contemporary standards, even sensational. It is however, something we deal with everyday. It is lack of information. Food manufacturers are silent; they sell pet food in a highly competitive market at prices that haven’t changed in many years. Have you ever asked yourself, why not? The raw materials these food manufacturers mix together to produce typical pet foods you find along the supermarket aisles come from highly questionable, and in some cases, unbelievable sources unfit for either person or beast. Compounding this situation is the fact that pet food labels give only vague ideas of a pet food’s content. The listed items are essentially “catch-all terms” for more specific, and often less desirable, substances. The biggest concerns as consumers of the “bad” pet foods available on the market are that this food contains ingredients, chemicals, toxins, and poisons that should not be consumed. They lack ingredients that should be part of a pet’s daily diet. Package labeling is a necessary obligation the food manufacturers are required to provide by law. These laws however, perpetuate a classification system that has little to do with nutritional value. Manufacturers can and do use obscure and easily misunderstood terms. Why are these labels so obscure? The first and most important question to ask, for a better indication of the nutritional value of food we buy, is what percent of the food is digestible. A substance is a nutrient only when it is digestible, that is, absorbed and assimilated by an animal consuming the food product. Unassimilated food ingredients are at best, non digestible roughage, and, at worst, deadly toxins or poisons. Nowhere on the pet food label does it state how much of the food can be digested. It is a fact that animals on supermarket or convenience diets are usually chronically malnourished due to excessive use of fillers, stale food, and chemicals coming out of a food can or pouch. This empty nutrition, non vital state of health is the fertile ground for sub standard biological activity and receptivity.Pet foods are unlike any other products sold in a supermarket. Both items claim to be a complete, whole nutritional package for the consumer; all other foods in the supermarket are part of an overall, individually tailored diet. Deficiencies in one food product are balanced by another food product if variety and wholesomeness is valued. The possibility of choosing what one wants to eat is available to humans. Our pets however, are denied this choice when given only commercial pet food as the sole source of nutrition. A pet owner must be satisfied in the belief the pet food is all the animal really needs to insure minimum nutritional needs. Rarely can one find a pet diet that provides more than minimum daily nutritional requirements; that seeks to provide, in fact, greater wellness. It would be wise to seek out commercial pet foods that are, at best, acceptable supplements to a more natural, raw meat diet.The average pet owner feels satisfied upon leaving the store with a large bag of pet food purchased at a very affordable price. At home, the pet “attacks” the food in it’s food bowl further confirming its owner’s conviction that a smart purchase in both value and quality has been made. The pet loves the food! It eats it immediately with great vigor. This gusto though is usually a sign of a pet’s lack of proper nutrition. It is the voracious overeating observed everyday at feeding time that indicates a lack in balanced nutrition along with a hyperactivity usually unnoticed until the animal is put on a more nutritious and wholesome diet. Overeating quickly empties a food bag; non nutrient fillers and appetite stimulants like addictive agents such as sucrose, corn syrup, salt, and artificial flavoring exacerbate a pet’s already undernourished state. When a pet over eats a food of low nutritional value, it must digest additional calories, protein, carbohydrates, and waste products to derive a minimal benefit from the diet. Already low vital energy stores are further depleted. This borderline state of starvation, despite regular feedings, produces a responsive, though non alert, living, though non vital, animal. The end result is that you as a pet owner now only can observe an overweight, doughy, dull coated, undernourished pet that is marginally poisoned. This is the main reason life expectancies of our pets are growing shorter every year. Our companion animals just survive on convenience pet foods. From a holistic perspective, mere survival is not enough; organisms need to do more than just survive. By achieving a state of wellness, a transcendent growth is secured.”

Talking Real and Natural

Have you ever tried to float something picked up from the doggie dumpsite (or the kitty litter box) in a pail of water? This question may sound ridiculous, but it's the best way to find out if your pet is getting real digestible food, that's actually good for him or her!
Dr. Richard Patton is a well known animal nutritionist and consultant. He says "The fate of animals the world over, whether wild or captive, is in our hands,. We need to clearly understand our impact on their lives. Wherever possible, we must apply the latest knowledge in the in the care of our companion animals. This means not only providing the best diet for them, but also clearly understanding the effect on their lives of living with us. With the best of intentions, we sometimes unknowingly compromise their innate behavior, and mistakenly blame nutrition for the problems that result.") He also talks about a wondrous find he made, the "Fecal Densitometer", with both humor and pride. He states the best way to check the pet food's digestibility is by this cost free water bucket test. If the discharged fecal matter floats like a boat, your current pet food products are more likely to be made of ingredients that are easy to digest. If it sinks, you can bet it stinks, both in its awful smell and type of ingredients. Animal health is not the pet food manufacturer's greatest concern here.
Have you ever seen a dog or cat, wild or domesticated, run deep into a cornfield to retrieve a cob of corn? I am sure you haven't. What they are after is surely not corn. It is the real meat that darted in front of them and they are going to risk exhausting every ounce of energy they have just to chase it down and sink their teeth into it. Impulsive instincts kick into high gear, regardless of how long the dog or cat has been domesticated, but it's poor health may prevent it from catching the prey; mouth watering real meat and by-products that would have naturally maintained its strength and vitality if it had been a daily diet.
Why all this talk about corn and poor animal health, and what does it have to do with your pet's food? To answer this question, let's take another look at what we find at the doggie dumpsite and/or litter box. If it helps, pretend you are a research scientist specializing in animal health and wellness. What goes in must come out, right? Many commercial pet foods use corn and/or other grains as the primary ingredient, low cost fillers to keep prices down. Additionally, it would be impossible to hold the pellets together without some sort of chemical adhesive because corn and grain just do not naturally stick together.
In the above scientific research project, you may have found cracked corn, and a good amount of it. What if the stool in your first experiment sunk, but you have not found any cracked corn? That's because a multiple number of pet food manufacturers simply adjusted the grinders on the corn and grain machines and ground those grains even finer, so that the primary substance was less identifiable! However, corn and grain are typically not digestible to a dog or cat. This is a scientific fact and if it is not digestible, your pet is not gaining any nutritional value from it either. Filler with no health related function, stuck together with adhesives, and sprayed with animal fat to fool the nose of your pet. with all those valuable nutrients readily absorbed into the body and blood stream. Excess fat is replaced by strong and healthy muscle and a wide array of medical problems disappear. Plus, a well balanced pet food will produce a much smaller amount of stool with very little odor, and be much lighter in weight.
Let's look at this from a different perspective. Dogs are direct descendants of the wolf, a carnivore, thriving in the wild on real meat for eons-and, not as omnivores eating both meat and vegetation. Then came man, who captured, tamed and used them for benefit and companionship. Breeding upon breeding has provided us with a wide array of domesticated versions, however we have not bred them with plant eaters, have we?
In their natural habitat, they thrive on meat (like muscle tissue) and on meat by-products (like organ meats, blood and bones). Both, large and small prey are completely consumed. It is dining on nature's perfectly balanced diet for carnivores. When the pack brings down a large prey, the "Alpha" male and "Beta" female eat first and, almost always begin their feast with the organ meats. When they are done, the rest of the pack, the "Omegas" move in to finish the leftovers. The muscle meat, without the by-products, is just fine for us humans because we are omnivores, gaining our nutrients from a wide variety of consumables that we can easily digest. Sadly, the Omegas will never be as strong and healthy as the Alpha and Beta leaders because they do not get the same powerful nutrients; however, our domesticated carnivores dogs and cats can, if we feed them the food what nature has intended for them.
Our beloved pets, our companions (aren’t they family too?), can be free of needless suffering and so many of those medical problems caused by malnutrition. Knowledge is the key. If we really want to care for our pets as if they truly are part of our families, wouldn't we want them to benefit from our knowledge?
So, where is all this leading to? Right: Raw Food. This is the first of a new series of articles I am planning on writing on the so often talked about, but to so many pet owners mysterious and complicated, yes, even sometimes considered scary subject. So stay tuned for much more in nearest future…

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pet Food Recalls: Does the pet food industry require federal watch dogs?

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation earlier today was conducting a discussion titled Pet food industry in trouble involving a number of pet owners directly impacted by the problems, their vets and pet store owners, all one way or the other related to the current events on the Australian pet food market. The discussion was introduced as follows: “Recent claims by pet owners and vets that dogs and cats have been poisoned by contaminated, imported pet food has thrown the spotlight on the largely unregulated pet food industry. Vets and pet owners are calling for a government watchdog to oversee the pet food industry, claiming that at the moment the industry relies too much on self regulation.” As you may or may not recall, I wrote comments on a related event (FDA cautioning against chicken jerky treats mainly based on events occurring in Australia “FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers” and about the Orijen involvement on 11/27/08 “Recall Update” and also addressed this case in our “Recall Alert” (for informational purposes only since the recall was not issued in the US). While I haven’t done any further investigation on the Australian company since we here in the States are in no shape or form to be concerned about their problem, I keep an open ear and eye on Orijen and how things develop. Orijen to this day insists that the issue was completely related to pet food sold in Australia only and does not affect any of their food sold in the United States. Therefore I kindly ask readers of our alert and this comment to keep that particularly important statement in mind when making pro or contra Orijen purchasing decisions.
Coming back to the broadcast, it was mentioned that “while the company (Orijen) exports its popular cat food to more than a dozen countries it says only Australia has experienced the disease outbreak and blames Australia's irradiation for the problem. Under Australian quarantine laws all imported pet food has to be irradiated or heat treated, to kill off potential diseases. Pet food is required to be irradiated at a rate of 50 times that required on some imported fruits. Unlike food for human consumption there are no laws that require pet food to be labeled as irradiated. Australian quarantine declined to speak to the 7.30 Report but in a statement says Australia's irradiation standards are based on international guidelines and on advice from the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.”
It appears at this point that Orijen is not really directly to blame for the incident since federal import regulations require irradiation for pet food, even though this irradiation is to be done at levels way higher than required for human food imports.
However, while everybody involved seems to understand the “catch 22” situation, they do have a problem with how the company made pet owners aware of the problem, in particular, how long it took for a recall to be issued. Everybody seems to feel that many cats’ lives may have been saved if the issue would have been brought up in a speedier manner. As one pet food store owner put it: “For Champion Pet Foods to be aware that there is a potential problem and say nothing, I think is totally irresponsible.” The reporter running the show adds: “Champion says its products were safe when they left the factory and it took time to understand the effects of irradiation.” In addition, there is another issue being brought up, which is whether or not Orijen threatened anybody directly involved in the incident “with legal action if …(they) spoke out against the Orijen product.” This goes even so far that a pet owner raises the suspicion “Champion had threatened her with legal action if she said anything publicly. So two weeks had gone by where cats are continuing to consume the cat food, no one had any indication that there was a problem, Champion had made quite the opposite of making people aware there's a problem - they blocked the people who knew there was a problem from telling everyone”.
Orijen in a company statements responded: "We have not threatened anyone with legal action. However we have hired legal representation in Australia and we will be active in defending ourselves from slanderous comments."
I would say good points are being made on both sides. There is in my opinion definitely the issue of definitely improvable communication. I have yet to experience an industry where communication is slower or more absent than in the pet food one. I am criticizing this problem since we started our pet food business. It is common on the manufacturer’s side as well as within the distribution and it concerns every aspect of the business, whether it is products with problems, discontinued or new products or any other changes, regardless whether they are good or bad. We typically learn about facts when it is too late. The only things being well communicated are price increases and any incentives to buy more product. Many times in the past I had questions about health issues either factual or only possibly related to products and it is always like pulling teeth, very hard to get response in timely fashion. In the meantime I have concerned pet owners on the other end of the phone who rightfully are entitled to immediate answers and they want them now. Yes, pet owners do understand, they are not the most important item on your agenda and you manufacturers certainly are not sitting on your computer waiting for an e-mail inquiry from a concerned pet owner to come in, but, please keep in mind, pet owners do contribute to your survival by feeding your product to their (how many million?) pets. I always say, if you have a clean conscience then there is absolutely no reason for any delays. Especially after the 2007 recall every manufacturer regardless whether they are high caliper/volume mass producers or small to medium sized and health conscious, should understand how important the pet owners’ confidence in their products is. I am sorry to come across this harsh. I love this business and our dream of a world of healthy and happy pets too much that I would want to upset my business partners. But I will continue my fight to achieve improvements in this matter.
One of my favorite experts in this business, Susan Thixton addressed this topic in her newsletter as well. Follow up Report from Australian News on Orijen Cat Food, Chicken Dog Treats. Susan’s take on this is “While unsubstantiated stories of a bad pet food can spread like wild fire on the Internet, causing pet owners to panic, and more than likely company profits to fall, is it fair for a pet food company or pet product supplier to keep veterinarians or other concerned parties quiet? … Personally I agree with the pet owners in the Australian story; there is NO excuse for a pet food or pet supply company to prevent veterinarians or concerned parties to inform the public of a potential problem. Should the pet food company or pet supply company be found later not to be the cause, they should count their blessings and feel good they did the right thing. The right thing is to inform anyone and everyone the instant there is even the slightest possibility of a problem; the goal would be to prevent more pet illnesses and deaths. Companies that care more about profits than pets, well, be assured – pet owners will NOT forget who you are. Companies that care more about pets – we’ll remember you too.”
My opinion is, being idealistic to the point of “Should the pet food company or pet supply company be found later not to be the cause, they should count their blessings and feel good…” is stretching it pretty far. There has to be fair consideration for facts and unsubstantiated claims. As she states correctly, the damage of unsubstantiated claims can be serious. so serious that it can ruin especially a small business. The business which typically does not have a recall problem and does not import ingredients from China, the business which does very often everything right. So I’d say we should not expect them to capitulate because we as pet owners feel sorry about ourselves based on an unsubstantiated claim. Another good example would be the current stories surrounding DogsWell. (FDA and DogsWell Breathies Chicken Treats for Dogs: More pro’s and con’s of information sharing on the Internet) Now should we expect DogsWell to cave in and just in order to be on the safe side recall or stop selling its products concerned in the case? Because of a mistake made by the FDA? And with regards to whether pet owners will remember who was naughty or nice, it is a fact that mass marketed pet foods still are being sold without too many losses since 2007. Despite the fact that they continue to show up on recall lists. The smaller brands are loosing business because they are more costly. Pet owners, like we all do, unfortunately forget too fast. Like the fact that the smaller brand is the good one. For their very own, possibly economical reasons they revert back to buying the bad guys’ products, the ones who are famous for a lot of reasons, except a good one. Therefore this argument does not count.
Here is an idea: How about sticking to the truth and nothing but the truth? That would really go a long way with and for everybody, regardless whether they make pet food, control pet food, sell pet food, buy pet food or, most important are our pets and eat pet food.
Another subject to the discussion was the question if the Australian government should get more involved by overseeing and stricter regulating the pet food industry which currently is pretty much self regulated. In the broadcast everybody felt more federal involvement is in order. I for my part say let’s look at our situation here in the US. We do have a FDA. We have AAFCO. We also had a disaster in 2007. Despite these organizations. Therefore, if structured in any shape or form like the current ones, I don’t see a lot of benefits coming out of it. The basic idea was a great one. Maybe the Australian government takes a good look as to what needs to be done to make such institutions effective and useful in a more realistic manner. And then our people could get together with their people and figure out how to do it right.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pets with food allergies? Try another Novel Protein: Kangaroo, also a great source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

In my comment Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 3 Treating Food allergies with single or novel protein sources I wrote: When food allergies are suspected, a dog or cat is often put on a diet consisting of either a single protein or a novel protein and carbohydrate. Single protein means for example either turkey or chicken only, not chicken & turkey. A novel protein is simply a brand new one that your dog or cat has never been exposed to. Lamb and rice foods were originally formulated to meet this need. The idea became so popular, however, and so many manufactures jumped on the lamb and rice bandwagon that most dogs and many cats have eaten lamb at some point in their life. The result is that lamb is no longer such a novel protein. Pet food manufacturers seeing the growing market for such novel and unique foods continue to produce allergy formulas or hypoallergenic foods with ever more exotic sources of protein. One of the latest (on the American market) exotic protein sources is kangaroo. This so far here unknown, yet very effective novel protein is in addition also another way to help your pet stay strong and healthy with Conjugated Linoleic Acid. There may be a lot of hype about Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA but what is it really? CLA is a form of omega-6 fatty acid and can be found in kangaroo and dairy products. It is abundant in the meat and bone of ruminant grazing animals, about 3 to 5 times more than animals fattened on grains. Even though it is not a ruminant animal, research has shown that kangaroo has up to 5 times the level of CLA as compared to other meats. Kangaroo meat has always been used in Australia as a form of pet food and is now gaining wider recognition in the global market.
How does CLA benefit my dog, you wonder? CLA supports important body functions for overall health and fitness. Like for instance an improved immune system. CLA can enhance immune response from the body and provide greater overall resistance. CLA may also inhibit the growth of cell related diseases, which involves the mutation of normal living cells. For example, the presence of CLA could slow the growth of cancer cells or help them destroy themselves. Another benefit is the fact that CLA is capable of reducing inflammation. Inflammation occurs because it is the body’s way of responding to an infection or irritation. The presence of CLA in kangaroo may be able to help reduce inflammation by responding quicker to any foreign attack. A reduction in the risk of inflammation means the risk of developing allergies is also lesser, a perfect alternative for allergic dogs. Kangaroo is also less likely to cause a reaction in your pet’s body, as it is a novel protein. Dogs develop allergies to those foods that are most frequently fed. Hence feeding new protein sources lowers the chances of him/her developing any adverse reaction.
CLA enhances the building of lean muscles and more lean muscles result in a lower fat percentage. Lean muscles are known to burn more calories than fat. Hence with CLA, your pet may stay leaner and will be better capable of burning any excess energy. A leaner body mass also means a lower fat percentage and a healthy weight, resulting in lower possibilities of contracting heart-related illness like coronary heart disease.
Coming back to the actual protein source kangaroo: Some benefits of kangaroo meat are: It is a succulent red meat and a form of novel protein, which is ideal for lowering the risk of developing allergies. It has a low fat content (40% of the fat in kangaroo meat consists of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) molecules). When purchasing food or treats with kangaroo as ingredient make sure they are free from by-products, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
We recently added to our on-line store assortment the Australian pet food brand Addiction. This company offers quite a few of novel feeds. They include New Zealand venison, unagi, kangaroo and a protein meat source most of us have not heard of before: The New Zealand Brushtail. With this article it is not my goal to advertise yet another healthy pet food but to introduce and create awareness of a truly novel protein source to pet owners confronted with the problem of food allergies. I call kangaroo a “truly” novel protein source since it is almost guaranteed that neither you nor your pet until now were able to get it. Please e-mail me if you have further questions.
See also:
Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 1 Introduction, Flea, atopic (inhalant) and contact allergiesPet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 2 Food allergies, allergy testing and treatment
Pet itching for relief? Leading cause Allergies Part 3 Treating Food allergies with single or novel protein sources
Tip for Food Allergies: Novel Protein Source New Zealand Brushtail

Sunday, January 11, 2009

FDA and DogsWell Breathies Chicken Treats for Dogs: More pro’s and con’s of information sharing on the Internet

Yesterday I wrote a comment about the pro’s and con’s of pet nutrition related information sharing on the Internet. Coincidentally it just so happened that at the same information on today’s topic came across my desk. On 12/22/08 in my comment FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers I reported that the FDA had e-mailed a “Preliminary Animal Health Notification” issued on 12/19/08. In it the FDA continued to caution consumers of a potential association between the development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats. Apparently and in it’s own words “FDA continues to receive complaints of dogs experiencing illness that their owners or veterinarians associate with consumption of chicken jerky products. The chicken jerky products are imported to the U.S. from China.” Though the incident appeared to be concerning Australian products and products available in Australia on the Australian market, as a precaution addressed the issue of Chinese imports entering the American market. I mainly did so since we carry DogsWell products at our store and wanted to assure everybody that there was no problem with those products, though they are imported from China as well. Back then, at the same time when I published my comment on this blog, the president and CEO of DogsWell had posted an official company statement regarding that exact same issue on his company’s website clearly defending his company and products of such wrongful accusations.
According to the latest news we have now available his letter was not coincidental. As it turns out now, the FDA’s concern about the problems in Australia had triggered an entry refusal for a shipment coming in from China containing a lot of the DogsWell Breathies Chicken Jerky Treats. The FDA in its official refusal report stated “Salmonella contamination” as reason for the entry refusal. According to the FDA violation code, Salmonella is a charge to be applied if “The article appears to contain Salmonella, a poisonous and deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health.” In my, plain English books, salmonella is
Now let’s look at the subsequent events occurring over the past few days:
On 01/06/09 Susan Thixton (of whom I am a great fan and who I consider to be one of the most knowledgeable and unbiased authorities in the field of pets and mainly pet nutrition) reported, appearing very excited and concerned, on the FDA’s entry refusal: “Dogswell/Catswell Breathies Treats stopped at customs for Salmonella”. In her comment she refers to the FDA’s entry refusal report, quotes from the DogsWell FAQ web page some quality control related facts stated by DogsWell and criticizes that to her it does not appear as if DogsWell is telling a true story. To Susan ‘s credit I have to say that it appears to me as if she was forwarded the entire story by a third party, as she thanks that party at the end of her comment.
Since we are entering a great danger zone here I would suggest that, though there is some sort of urgency in order, we first do some due diligence and really start investigating the true facts. And for Susan, please stick to your slogan “Learning the 'truth' can save your pet's life!” In this case not the pet’s life but certainly it would have helped to avoid some damage being done to not just DogsWell as a pet food manufacturer but also DogsWell’s retailers, like for example us. Since the story is being circulated on the Internet, just the past 3 days we must have received about a good 3 dozens of inquiries from concerned pet owners. There is no question that these pet owners have a right to be and should or even must be concerned. But let’s face it, the damage is done (mainly due to the FDA action, but also to some extent by the Internet) and the name DogsWell for a long time will be affected by a negative after taste and sales will certainly be impacted.
But let me finish my story. Guess what? Yesterday my highly admired Susan published this new comment: “FDA’s at it again; Update on Breathies Dog/Cat Treats Salmonella Report”. In this latest update she sets things straight. As the entire story finally unfolds, DogsWell’s CEO has now provided evidence that the treats did NOT test positive for salmonella. Visit the DogsWell website for the complete wording of his official statement as well as for a downloadable copy of the independent lab analysis report. According to him, “DOGSWELL participates in standard FDA evaluations on a regular basis. In August of 2008, a sample was taken from a shipment of 49 cases of BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats and tested by the FDA. During this random sampling there was a documented error in the FDA lab that led to inconclusive test results. In order to protect our customers, and most importantly the dogs and cats that love our products, at that point, we placed all 49 cases of DOGSWELL BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats from this shipment on hold in our warehouse. All cases are accounted for and the treats will continue to be held until the FDA openly declares them fit for consumption. During this time, DOGSWELL reached out to Cornerstone Labs in Tennessee, a lab that uses only FDA and APPA approved methods, for our own private testing of the same sample in question. All tests came back negative for any salmonella, melamine, and other harmful bacteria and pesticides. … In addition, DOGSWELL products have never come back with a positive test for any salmonella, melamine, bacteria or pesticides although we continue to test each and every shipment. We began a lengthy legal process to have the FDA re-test the product under evaluation. In response to our many requests for information or discussion, the FDA has recently posted a refusal of container notice on the FDA Oasis website. This is not a recall notice. This is simply a recommendation that the product under evaluation be destroyed or shipped overseas instead of continuing the evaluation. DOGSWELL has requested several times that the product be re-tested. All 49 cases of BREATHIES Chicken Jerky treats are available to test. Unfortunately, the FDA has failed to respond. We will continue to keep you up to date with our testing, standards and procedures.”
Ooops, bummer! Susan’s reaction: “It appears the FDA is up to manipulative games again.” And she talks about other incidents where the FDA’s very own way of handling matters caused problems, such as for instance last year’s “tomato nightmare” taking place in Florida and costing Florida’s tomato farmers millions of dollars due to a mistake made by the agency. Well, I can see a similar scenario developing here in this case, maybe the damage doesn’t reach the millions mark, but there will be damage. Unjustified and unrecoverable.
If you ask the FDA, here is a taste of what you are probably going to get as a reaction: Lizzy, the owner of our on-line pet food store and my wife needs to take a certain medication. She is always purchasing it through a Canadian on-line drug store simply due to the fact that they are way more affordable. Nothing wrong with that and I even don’t want to know how many Americans are purchasing their medications the same way. The other day, when I got the mail, there was a letter from the FDA. My first worry was that this would be something concerning our pet food business, so contrary to my principles of not opening mail addressed to any other family member but myself, I couldn’t help it but to open the letter. It turned out the FDA had confiscated her latest shipment on the border coming from Canada. When she contacted the FDA’s office she was told: ”We have to do this following our orders. Randomly we pick out packages and confiscate them because we have to. We are not at all concerned about the drugs you are purchasing from abroad, we do not have the time to deal with this since we have way bigger fish to fry.” To me this almost sounds as the same statement may apply to the refused lot of DogsWell products. I guess the agency’s employees felt obligated to confiscate the lot because their employer just more recently had published a warning advisory. But, as Susan rightfully says: “what the FDA did to this company is inexcusable. The FDA has such incredible power to destroy a business, destroy families, destroy lives in the blink of an eye…”.
Well, that’s our government at works. Slow and flexible as a rock. It always has been this way and, though I am always trying to be an optimist, I believe in this case it will never change. Susan hopes with our new Commander in Chief taking office in a few days there will be changes forthcoming. I doubt it.
As to DogsWell importing product from China, a move heavily criticized by not just many pet owners but also by Susan (“Mr. Giannini received an 'ear full' on this topic from me via email. You play with fire long enough, you are going to get burned.”), I tend to somewhat agree with what Mr. Giannini apparently told Susan: "We don't have a position as to where it comes from, as long as it is humanely processed, it is safe and healthy for the dogs and cats that eat the foods." Just F.Y.I., everything goes both ways. Recently there also have been reports of possible problems with American imports in China causing health problems (watch for a separate comment). People, let’s get used to it, there is no more way around any products completely or partially not coming from China. We live in a global environment. Our government owes billions to China, there is your number one reason for this. Number 2 is, make US originated agricultural products more affordable and companies like DogsWell probably will consider them. Have you been at the grocery store lately and checked the prices for American grown sweet potatoes? It’s like you’re buying caviar. It is all a question of the bottom line and in this case it appears to be coming out better with Chinese imports. Otherwise, the already pricey, yet extremely well received and among pets and pet owners very popular dog treats will become no longer affordable.
And finally, I think at this point I can rest my case about the pro’s and con’s of information sharing on the Internet. I believe by now everybody should realize how easy it is to get wrong and misleading information, get information too hasty or too slow. Like I said yesterday, take everything (including what I say) with a grain of salt, investigate and make your own and well educated decisions. But stay tuned anyway, I have yet more to say on this topic. And of course, as always I like to hear how you think about it.