9. Incomplete Unbalanced Riot (07/2008)
The recent scare over contaminated pet food has raised concerns about the safety of commercial animal feed. Many pet owners who rely exclusively on commercial food from packets or tins for their pets in the belief that these are ‘perfectly balanced’ are beginning to question the validity of manufacturers claims.
A significant number of dogs have died from renal failure after ingesting contaminated food. The cause has been identified as melamine, a substance normally used in the fertilizer and plastic industries. Melamine has been isolated from gluten (a by product from rice or wheat grain industries) imported from China. Gluten is often added to animal feeds to increase protein levels. Melamine, produced from coal, increases the nitrogen content of gluten without increasing its nutritional value, to make it appear to have more protein. Feed companies striving to keep their costs down seek out the cheapest possible protein sources. In China, adding melamine to gluten is apparently common practice, although banned in many other countries.
The contaminated food has been withdrawn. But the fiasco does highlight a number of issues: The importation and nature of cheap feed additives, the deception by suppliers, and the consequences of feeding animals unnatural food. Also, indirectly the safety of animal flesh for human consumption (melamine has also been identified in the body fluids of pigs where it has also been found in the diet).
These days it is not unusual for basic foods like bread and butter to be imported from around the world. The argument is that it’s cheaper to import. But the consumer ends up paying more. Then there is the cost of transport on the environment, and the negative effect on the local economy also needs to be considered.
Many commercial feed additives are detrimental in more subtle ways. Gluten itself (without the addition of melamine) is often the cause of gastrointestinal intolerance. Some preservatives, colorants, flavourings, and antioxidants have been implicated in causing various types of cancer, blood disorders, birth defects, skin disorders, behavioural disorders. Other ingredients are merely difficult to digest like soya, dairy products and grains. All of which are not part of a natural diet for dogs (or cats), but are added as cheap bulk and protein substitutes.
The attractive packaging, naming, veterinary endorsement and marketing of so many commercial feeds lulls people into believing they are feeding their pets ‘only the best’ dried pellets or mush from a tin.
The real and natural form of protein for dogs and cats is meat. But meat is expensive, and its use in pet food is kept to a minimum. The least desirable off cuts from cheaply produced livestock (factory farmed) are rendered into pet food.
The irony is that safety, quality and nutritional value are all compromised by cost cutting measures and consumer demand for increased shelf life and relative ease of handling, often at exorbitant prices. But what could be easier, or cheaper, than throwing a few humanely produced, free range raw meaty bones down for a complete and balanced meal for your dog or cat? Not only is this better for your pet but it’s also better for the environment, it supports our local economy, and it discourages factory farming.