TRACIE HOTCHNER: WORRIED ABOUT A RECENT PET FOOD RECALL SCARE?

Instead, be worried about the ingredients in that food on its best day.

There are rumors swirling around on the Internet about the possibility that a heavily advertised popular supermarket brand of dog food might be contaminated and causing illness in dogs. The prospect of more pet food recalls always get people nervous. Note that Halo has never been recalled and I personally think this is attributable to the high quality of their basic ingredients. Their quality ingredients are the fundamental reason why I have chosen it as the only kibble for all my dogs – no chicken meal or by-product meal. Halo only uses a named protein – actual meat or fish – as the first ingredient in their dry food.

A lovely lady just recently wrote to me on behalf of several friends who had reached out to her in alarm to verify whether rumors of complaints to the FDA about this particular supermarket food were true. “Snopes” was actually vague on the subject of whether the complaints were numerous or even legitimate. But all I could think was “You mean you actually feed this food?” They seemed to all be missing the point: the problem was not that the food might be subject to a recall for contamination- the problem was the basic recipe for the food on its best day.

The first thing on my mind was “Why in heaven’s name would you ever feed this food in the first place to a dog you love and care about?” Pet food recalls are alarming, but they are also a “wake up call” because it focuses peoples’ attention on what a pet food is made from. People do not take the time to read the label on the dog food they are feeding and understand what the ingredients mean.

First of all, ingredients on a bag of pet food are listed in a descending order of weight. That is why you always want a named protein (lamb, chicken, salmon) as the first ingredient on the food you choose. When there is “ingredient splitting” on a pet food label –multiple variations of one basic ingredient (usually corn, the cheapest ingredient for pet food) that means the percentage of that ingredient is actually much higher because of its duplication.

Therefore several versions of corn in the top five ingredients indicates that the food is basically a corn-based product – which, in my opinion, would be just dandy if the food were destined for chicken feed. However, a corn-based food is much less compelling when it is intended for dogs, whose weight can predictably increase (as humans’ weight can do) in direct proportion to the amount of high-glycemic corn in their diet. At the other end of the spectrum, protein is the expensive ingredient in any diet. I believe the people buying this food (that is under suspicion of being contaminated) were choosing it based on the colorful enticing packaging, which shows bountiful healthy ingredients with meat being prominent in the packaging while the actual recipe calls for corn and more corn.

When I was a spokesperson for PETCO’s natural food department a couple of years ago, I was struck by the messaging on the wall of that section of the store which said it all: “No Corn, No Wheat, No Soy.” They made it absolutely clear that the way to identify premium, healthy quality foods was the absence of those ingredients.

After these concerns about the possibility of this supermarket brand of dog food being recalled, I checked the ingredient list and was saddened to see what a pitiful line up of ingredients were assembled in this food. The possible recall is actually the least of the problem.

Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat, rice flour, beef, soy flour, meat and bone meal, propylene glycol, sugar, and artificial colors Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2

Two of the top three ingredients were corn, which speaks for itself – especially corn gluten meal, which AAFCO defines as “the dried residue after removal of the larger part of the germ and starch- what’s left after the manufacture of corn syrup or corn starch,” as my book THE DOG BIBLE makes clear in the pet food ingredient list. The second ingredient, chicken by-product meal is defined by AAFCO as “the clean, ground rendered parts of the chicken carcass such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers.” Gee, that’s a relief that it consists of those other marginal body parts but they cannot include the feathers! To learn more about the rendering process and what is allowed as a “by-product,” read my book or Dr. Michael Fox and Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins’ book now out in paperback, NOT FIT FOR A DOG.

There are a handful of words on a pet food label that should sound an alarm bell and that is the case with this food. Whole wheat flour speaks for itself on that PETCO wall and in any book or article you can find with a list of “ingredients to avoid.” Wheat is an allergen that can cause intolerance reactions and is not something you’d want in your dog’s diet. The words “animal fat” are also on the list of “What to Avoid in Foods” in THE DOG BIBLE because if the source of fat in pet food is from an unknown source, that source can technically and legally also include old restaurant grease. Rice flour, another carbohydrate source with little food value, is the next ingredient. Then there’s some beef thrown in there- pretty far down on the list – followed by soy flour, when soy is a one of PETCO‘s 3 big No-No’s. Meat and bone meal is a vague term that can refer to any sort of meat from unspecified sources.

And then we come to propylene glycol, a chemical cousin of anti-freeze that is used to make semi-moist pet foods and whose safety is controversial. Sugar! Wowie – it is known that dogs can have a sweet tooth as we people can and it would never be used in a premium dog food to enhance flavor. When high quality ingredients are used, sugar or other flavor enhancers are just not necessary. And how about all those artificial colors? You will never find that in a pet food that worries about health, because artificial coloring is used to make a food look good to the person purchasing it (it’s meaningless to the dog). Colorings are absent in so many European human foods because the European Food Standards Authority has identified several of them as cancer-causing.

All in all, we can actually be grateful for the bright light that a pet food scare shines on a pet food like this because it is a reminder that the responsibility is entirely on the buyer to read the label and give their informed trust to a pet food company in the first place.

Tracie Hotchner, author of The Dog Bible and The Cat Bible, guest blogs here every Thursday on healthy, natural choices for pets.

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