In October 1997 Austin, Texas Channel 42 News ran a series of expose´s about the pet food industry. It was quite shocking-- not for primetime-due-to-violent-content--type of newscasting, and the images had the whole town talking: Dead dogs and cats in big barrels were being dumped into vats of foaming food at a feed producing plant.
Radio DJ's were screaming, and talk radio was filled with panicked, irrate, amazed, and incredulous pet owners.
What was it all about? What did they mean "Foods Pets Die For?"
It came as a surprise to most dog and cat owners that those types of products are allowed to be used for animal feeds, but it was confirmed in interviews with officials at AAFCO, the government agency that regulates and controls pet foods.
I visited a rendering plant once. Once is enough for anyone. At the plant, where ingredients are mixed and cooked to produce animal feeds, I saw huge trucks pull up loaded with things as objectionable as maggot-infested carcasses and euthanized cats and dogs as well as city trucks of road kill and dead animals cleaned off of urban streets.
Like the viewers in Austin, I was incredulous. I hadn't stopped to consider what happens to those things. I guess I thought they went to the land fill or to some dead animal place in the sky.
No, folks. They go into dog and cat, cattle and hog food. Now, with 20 years of experience, I know that in the industry the 4 D's: dead, dying, diseased and decayed animals as well as dead dogs and cats are routinely used in many grocery and discount pet foods. But back those many years ago, I was as shocked and outraged as Austin pet owners were last week.
If the network wanted to enhance viewership, they did. The 5-part series had not even aired on Sunday, and I was already fielding questions from anxious clients who had only seen the name and teaser for the program.
I stayed up each night to see the news--something I'd like to do every night, but, sadly I am too weary from my day to stay awake after ten. The show was, indeed, exactly as we had anticipated: a wake-up call to pet owners.
Future Pets had tried to make a cost-conscious public aware of the ugly truth about cheap pet foods for over ten years. But since we don't sell any foods like that, our advice was too often viewed as a marketing tool. Now, at last, the network news had finally done the job, albeit in a highly graphic and grotesque way. But if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes.
Austinites were dismayed that the newsroom never told us just which foods to avoid. That would have been, perhaps, too dangerous in the face of the huge, well-funded, and legally aggressive conglomerates like Quaker Foods and Purina Mills who make and market many grocery dog and cat food varieties such as "Cycle" and "Dog Chow".
They did, however give some guidelines to use when choosing a good product. I reiterate those guidelines here for the world to see and have added a couple of my own.
1. Understand that the ingredients are listed in order that tells you the quantity of each of the ingredients in the bag (by weight before processing). There's more of the first than the second ingredient and more of the second than the third and so on. If you want your pet to have a chicken or lamb based diet, look for it first on the label.
2. Don't buy Meat and Bone Meal diets. How about animal fat? It is precisely the lack of definition of exactly what kind of meat that gets you into trouble.
3. Don't be afraid of by-products They are the non-meat portion of the animal such as the brain, the liver, or the innards, but they are very valuable as a source of nutrition. Chicken and lamb by-product are important pet food ingredients.
4. Don't be afraid of meal. Meal simply means that the meat has been dehydrated. The water is gone but the valuable nutrition stays. In fact, a diet whose first ingredient is chicken meal may very well have more actual chicken than a diet whose first ingredient is chicken or fresh chicken which is heavy with water when it is weighed for the label. Its weight makes it appear as a first ingredient, but it's value is negligible. Meal has more meat and less water.
5. Stay away from preservatives like ETHOXYQUIN. Maybe even BHA and BHT. Look instead for Vitamin E or Mixed Tocophorols (another name for vitamin E). Your pet eats a diet that is completely pre-made, so his every bite may be loaded with chemicals unless you protect him from them. I saw a study that showed that a medium sized dog might be ingesting as much as 10 pounds of preservatives in a year! Think of a bag of chemicals the size of a bowling ball and imagine feeding them to your dog. Not a pretty thought.
6. To make this easy, they came right out and said that the grocery store is NOT the place to shop for a quality diet. It's true. They know not what they sell. Future Pets does NOT carry any diets that contain dead dogs and cats or diseased animals. Be suspicious of the grocery where no one can help you make an informed decision, and be suspicious of the big chains of WalMart-type pet superstores that carry the ugly foods along with the good. Don't give them your money, even if you're buying a good food.
If they really cared, they'd empty their shelves of the bags and the companies that make the bags of "Foods Pets Die For!".