This Story appeared in the St. John's Newfoundland Evening Telegram

Saturday, November 08, 1997

The problem with pet food


The Evening Telegram

A St. John’s veterinarian says he’s very disturbed by recent revelations about the pet food industry.

An article in last Saturday’s Lifestyles section unveiled allegations by author Ann Martin of Ontario that ingredients in pet food can include condemned and contaminated material from slaughterhouse facilities, roadkill, dead, diseased, disabled and dying animals — as well as dead cats and dogs.

Dr. Hendrik Dezeeuw says if what he read is true, he feels “betrayed” by the pet food industry.

“For us,” he said, speaking on behalf of the staff at his clinic, “this news is coming at the same time as to pet owners. Everyone is caught in the same boat. We feel confused and don’t know what to think. If it’s true, we feel betrayed by the pet food industry.”

Ann Martin, a London, Ont. pet lover, has just published Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food (NewSage Press, $18.98 Cdn). It’s a stinging indictment of the multi-billion-dollar pet food industry.

Last week’s Lifestyles feature revealed some of the shocking secrets Martin claims to have discovered about the industry. The story generated so much concern from readers that a followup article — including the addition of some of Martin’s recipes for homemade pet food — seemed to be in order.

Martin says the pet food industry is virtually self-regulated and just about everything and anything is fair game for use in pet food.

She says in both Canada and the U.S. there are companies which pick up dead animals, take them to receiving plants where they are skinned and deboned and where salable meat for animals or pet food is removed. A broker sells the material. Rendering plants cook the material which is then sold to feed mills and pet food companies.

In the course of her seven-year investigation into the pet food industry, Martin learned that euthanized cats and dogs were rendered with their fur on, that collars, tags, flea collars and even the plastic wrap in which pets are wrapped are not removed before they are shoved into the rendering pit.

“Pets are mixed with other material from slaughterhouse facilities that have been condemned for human consumption, such as rotten meat from supermarket shelves, restaurant grease and garbage,” she says.

Martin says the grease or tallow which rises to the top and is removed during the cooking process is the source of animal fat in most pet food. The remaining material with moisture squeezed out constitutes meat and bone meal.

Dezeeuw’s had his own advice for concerned consumers: “If you’re worried about your pet’s food call the company and ask what’s in their pet food. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, change companies. If you’re not comfortable with any pet foods, go to homemade.”

If Martin’s allegations about rendered material are true, Dezeeuw said, it affects humans as well as pets. Rendered material is used to feed the livestock we eat. It’s also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Pet food manufacturers weren’t quick to respond to inquiries from the Telegram about their products, and those that did seemed to choose their words carefully.

Speaking from Los Angeles, Effem Foods spokeswoman Alice Nathanson said the company doesn’t use euthanized pets. She said animals that are rendered are “species consumed by humans.”

Effem makes Waltham Ph Control and Whiskas cat food, as well as Kal Kan and Pedigree dog food.

Ralston Purina, which makes several brands including Dog Chow, Puppy Chow and Meow Mix, referred all inquiries to the Pet Food Institute in Washington.

The Pet Food Institute bills itself as the voice of the pet food industry in the United States. Spokeswoman Nancy Cook says the organization is a trade association which represents 95 per cent of pet food production in the U.S.

Cook admits the pet food industry is essentially self-regulated with guidelines set by the companies themselves.

She wasn’t very pleased with Martin’s book.

“We’re very disappointed it was written,” she said. She questioned several technical points in the book, but would not elaborate further, saying she was reluctant to “spread negative comments.”

Ann Martin’s opinion is that just about all commercial pet food is “garbage.”

“Unequivocally I cannot state that all pet food falls into this category, but I have yet to find one that I could, in all good conscience, feed my dog or cat,” she says. She adds that no animals should be fed food made from rendered material.

Martin’s condemnation of commercial pet food includes that sold by veterinarians. When her cat was diagnosed with feline urological syndrome (FUS) — a disease, which, if left untreated, can kill a cat in a very short time — her vet catheterized the cat, prescribed antibiotics and a specific cat food which he sold. Martin used the recommended cat food for the next four years but her cat’s urinary problem kept recurring. Finally, when the vet said the only recourse was a bypass operation, Martin decided she had nothing to lose by taking the cat off the prescribed food and putting him on a diet of homemade cat food. That was eight years ago and Ben the cat today is 16, fit as a fiddle, and has never had a recurrence of FUS.

Martin says FUS has been blamed on high ash, high phosphorous and, according to some veterinarians, high magnesium levels in commercial cat food.

No one knows for sure exactly what causes FUS, says Dr. Dezeeuw. He says the introduction of special cat diets has caused cases of FUS to decrease dramatically. But he notes that the simple act of doubling a cat’s water intake — something that can happen if you feed your cat homemade food — will also have a dramatic effect on the adverse symptoms of FUS.

The big problem with pet food is the lack of regulation in the industry, says Martin, something industry representatives admit.

In Canada and the U.S. there is no one to say what can and can’t be used. Pet food manufacturers are not required to list ingredients or sources of ingredients, and very little testing is done to determine if products contain drugs, pathogens, heavy metals or pesticides.

Martin says in the U.S. — where 95 per cent of Canada’s pet food comes from — animal feed falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA/CVM). She says that organization focuses on health claims made by pet food companies.

There’s also the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which sets guidelines with regard to the labelling of pet food. The AAFCO regulates label text, ingredient definitions and product names. It has no enforcement authority and does not determine the sources of protein, fibre or fats used in the product. And it’s up to each state to adopt its guidelines.

In Canada, the only government regulation of pet food falls under the Labelling Act. Pet food labels must include the product name, the net weight and the manufacturer/distributor’s place of business. All other information is voluntary.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) are voluntary organizations that set voluntary guidelines for pet food made in Canada. The CVMA seal of certification currently appears on more than 240 pet food products. What that means is that the CVMA has tested products submitted by participating manufacturers for composition, digestibility and taste. Spokeswoman Suzanne Lavictoire says the CVMA currently tests for heavy metals, E-coli and salmonella as well. The CVMA also requires participating manufacturers to sign an affidavit affirming, among other things, that they haven’t used products containing rendered dogs or cats.

Ann Martin says no multinational companies are involved with Canada’s voluntary programs.

Alice Nathanson of Effem Foods said the company is not certified by the CVMA. However she says the company does adhere to U.S. labelling regulations, and adds that “there are standards which have been defined by the industry.”

Ann Martin is very concerned about what’s in pet food and worried about the lack of regulation in the industry. In the month since her book came out, she’s been inundated with calls and letters from other concerned consumers all over the world.

She says the problem of unsavory ingredients used for pet food is worldwide and the only way to combat the problem is for the consumer to demand change.

“It’s the consumer who will have to make a difference. Government won’t.”

Martin, author of Food Pets Die For, says homemade pet food is more nutritious and, in many cases, cheaper than commercial pet food. Best of all, you will know exactly what’s in it. Here are some recipes she prescribes.

Recipes for dogs

Rise and Shine

3 cups cooked oatmeal

2 cups cooked ground beef

2 tbsp plain yogurt

1 small apple cut in small pieces

Mix together and serve at breakfast, lunch or dinner

Macaroni, Liver and Veggie Dinner

2 cups cooked elbow macaroni

2 pieces of beef liver cooked in butter or oil

1 can of mixed vegetables, drained

Chop liver slices in pieces. Add macaroni and vegetables. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Serve.

Meat, Potatoes and Vegetables

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 lb ground chicken, fried

1 cup grated carrots

3 tbsp cottage cheese

Mix first three ingredients. Heat in individual muffin pans (microwave 3 minutes, oven 10 minutes). Cool and top with 1-3 tbsp cottage cheese.

Yummy Dessert

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 tbsp honey

Combine ingredients in blender. Whip and refrigerate until ready to feed. Makes an enjoyable treat and provides a good source of calcium and potassium.

Vegetarian Dry Mix for Dogs

4 cups oats

2 cups wheat flakes or rye flakes

1 cup cracked wheat

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup sorghum

1/3 cup oil

1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 275 F. In large bowl combine all the dry ingredients. In separate bowl combine all the liquid ingredients. Add the dry mix to the liquid and mix thoroughly. Bake for one hour, stirring every 20 minutes to keep in small bits. Serve in combination with other dinner suggestions

Food for cats

Martin says cats need more protein than dogs. She says cats also choose one or two diets they like and tend to ignore other foods when offered)

Up and At It

2 medium eggs

1 tbsp milk

3 tbsp cottage cheese

2 tbsp finely chopped alfalfa sprouts

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a hot pan with a tbsp of vegetable oil or butter. When brown on the bottom, turn and brown the other side. Chop into pieces and serve.

Chicken, Rice and Vegetables

2 cups ground or chopped chicken, cooked

1 cup cooked brown rice

1/4 cup grated carrots

Mix ingredients in blender. If there is any fat from chicken, pour it over the mix. Serve at room temperature.

Salmon Feast

1 15-oz can salmon (You can get two 7.5-oz tins for under $3).

1 cup cooked brown rice

1/4 cup chopped parsley or celery

3 tbsp plain yogurt

Drain salmon. Mix in brown rice, vegetables and yogurt. Serve at room temperature.


(Good for cats and dogs)

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cups rye flour

1-1/2 cups brown rice flour

1 cup wheat germ

1 tsp dried kelp or alfalfa

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp garlic powder

1-1/4 cups beef or chicken broth or stock

dried catnip or brewer’s yeast

Mix dry ingredients. Slowly add broth and vegetable oil. Roll out into a thin sheet. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350 F until golden brown. Cool and break into bite-sized pieces. Toss lightly in catnip or brewer’s yeast. Store in air-tight container in refrigerator.

Start Slow

Anyone starting their pet on a natural diet should do it gradually. Begin by mixing a small amount of the new food into the food they have been eating. increase the amount of the new diet until they are completely switched over.

Martin says a dog’s diet should be 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrate and 1/3 vegetables or fruits and, depending on the size of the dog, one tsp to one tbsp per day of vegetable oil. Because cats need more protein, their diet should be comprised of 2/3 meat and 1/3 grains and vegetables or fruit. Give your cat fish once a week.

Adding up

Tins of commercial cat food (350 to 374 grams) average from about 50 cents to $1 each. A one kg pack of dry cat food runs from under $2 up to $3.50. Tins of dog food — 624 to 630 grams— average from 85 cents up to $1.20 each. Some brands cost $1 for 374 grams. A two kg pack of dry dog food averages $3 to $5. Treats for dogs run from $1 up to $2.70 per pack.

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Last updated: March 24, 2004