Perhaps there aren't any problems in the dog food industry where you live like there are in Canada. Then again maybe there are.


May 2/98

The Globe and Mail 
The Globe and Mail

Deborah Sheppard, according to this story, vows she will never again give commercial dog food to her purebred whippets. Her determination stems from a nasty experience three years ago with a premium brand that had been contaminated.

The culprit was vomitoxin, a poisonous fungus that grows in mouldy grain. The bills piled up and, finally, one whippet had to be put down. Only then did the St. John's resident discover the cause of the problem. Having made scores of pets sick, the product she'd been giving her dogs was recalled. Sheppard was quoted as saying, "I was shocked. I was shocked. I was so upset. Our dogs are so much a part of our family, and the guilt that I went through - that I had poisoned my two dogs - it was just unbelievable."

She went after compensation and got it - a $27,000 insurance settlement. The story says that Ms. Sheppard isn't the only one with doubts about the quality of the $750-million worth of food that Canadians serve to their 4.5 million cats and 3.5 million dogs every year. Producers have been accused of supplying goods that do everything from causing severe skin problems and diarrhea to shortening a pet's life, and manufacturers are under scrutiny by the federal Competition Bureau. Last month, at the bureau's request, representatives of the producers and three independent bodies began work on an official code of conduct to govern how products are labelled. However, what's inside a package or can remains beyond the realm of regulation.

The story says that unlike livestock feed, which is closely controlled, the contents of pet food are subject to no specific rules. This situation has produced a small but vocal band of industry critics typified by self-styled pet-food investigator Ann Martin, who argues that animals are being fed "total garbage."

Martin, the author of Food Pets Die For (NewSage Press), was cited as saying that the bodies of cats and dogs that have been put down, along with road kill and slaughterhouse waste deemed unfit for human consumption, end up in the mix, adding, "The stuff they're using should be sent to landfill. The labels on these foods should contain a skull and crossbones." The story adds that going public with the claim that pets are being recycled in their own food has made Ms. Martin a radio talk-show regular in the United States and something of a cult figure among pet owners all over.

Marty Smart-Wilder, executive director of the Pet Food Association of Canada, whose members make about 85 per cent of the food sold in Canada, was quoted as saying, "I just think she's right out to lunch on that. It's just not happening." The story notes that almost all major players in a market dominated by such companies as Nestle, H. J. Heinz, Ralston-Purina and Colgate-Palmolive require their suppliers to sign statements pledging not to use pets, or "companion animals" in feed ingredients. But there is no independent policing of these agreements and some industry officials have complained privately to the federal Competition Bureau that their rivals engage in some questionable practices. Under the law, explained bureau official Jim Walker, companies don't have to list their ingredients. Labels need only specify (in both official languages) the quantity of food and a corporate contact. However, when they do list their ingredients, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Competition Act require that companies not mislead the public.

But some do just that, if the insiders' complaints are true. In a letter last month to another pet owner in Newfoundland (who had complained to federal industry minister John Manley), Konrad von Finckenstein, the Competition Bureau's director of investigation and research, revealed that packages allegedly carry bogus health claims, errant ingredient lists and false countries of origin. The complainants, he noted, "showed general concern about their own industry, citing examples of incomplete and misleading ingredient listings, false country-of-origin claims, animal meals and meal byproducts being represented as fresh meat, and misleading health and therapeutic claims." The bureau refuses to identify either the alleged transgressors or their accusers, but it has asked the pet-food association, along with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Canadian Animal Health Institute and the Canadian Kennel Club, to hammer out a voluntary conduct code for advertising and labelling. Mr. Walker was cited as saying that if the group can't reach an agreement, the bureau may have to act. However, its primary concern is that food be labelled accurately. According to Mr. von Finckenstein's letter, "issues pertaining to health and safety standards of pet foods will not be addressed by the group, as this responsibility falls within the purview of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada."

About half of all pet food sold in Canada is imported. Allegations that it can contain dead cats and dogs have arisen because some major U.S. cities ship the remains of pets euthanized at animal shelters to rendering plants. Rod Noel, head of the pet-food committee of the American Association of Feed Control Officials was cited as saying that due to adverse public reaction, this practice is becoming less common. How common is difficult to judge because genetic testing cannot yet determine the precise source of the fat or animal meals used in a food.

Do Canadian pets wind up in rendering plants? Judy Thompson, a feed evaluation officer with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa was quoted as saying, "There is no regulation that prohibits it." But Ms. Smart-Wilder contended that companies don't want to risk alienating consumers. Some have their products independently certified - often by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, which tests nutrition levels and requires a signed affidavit that companion animals have not been used. At the same time, industry officials freely admit that, as well as corn, wheat and soybeans, they use ingredients that would never pass muster for humans - including rendered products, such as poultry meal.

In rendering, slaughterhouse waste and the so-called "4-D" (diseased, dead, dying or disabled) animals are ground up and stewed at high temperatures. The resulting fat is removed for use in cosmetics and industrial products, leaving a highly concentrated protein said to be ideal for pet and animal feed. Industry officials praise rendering as an environmentally suitable way of recycling millions of tonnes of material that would otherwise go to waste. The story adds that many veterinary officials agree that, in general, pet foods have improved greatly in recent years, if only because manufacturers make certain their products contain essential vitamins and dietary supplements. For instance, lack of the amino acid taurine can cause feline blindness. Suzanne Lavictoire, manager of the CVMA's food-certification program, was quoted as saying, "How will a cat owner who prepares their own homemade food ensure that that is available to the cat?"

BUT Ms. Martin insists that too many pets are in poor health because of what they're fed. She says she receives up to 200 E-mail messages a day from unhappy owners, most often with dogs suffering from diarrhea. A related sidebar tells how the industry defines common pet-food ingredients. Meat: clean flesh of slaughtered mammals, including skeletal muscles, tongues, diaphragms, heart and esophagus, with or without the fat and skin, sinews, nerves, and blood vessels normally accompanying the flesh. Meat byproducts: clean, non-rendered parts of slaughtered mammals, including lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, partly defatted low-temperature fatty tissues, and stomachs and intestines freed of contents. Poultry byproduct meal: the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, excluding feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing. Animal fat: material from tissues of mammals or poultry gathered through rendering or extracting. If a preservative is used, it must be named. Ground corn: entire kernel, ground or chopped, containing no more than 4 per cent foreign matter. Dried beet pulp: dried residue from sugar beets. Caramel: general-purpose food additive. Egg product: material obtained from egg graders, egg breakers or hatchery operations that is dehydrated, handled as a liquid, or frozen. The product must be free of shell. Source: Association of American Feed Control Officials Inc.

Another sidebar says the widespread use of commercial pet foods is a very recent development. Dogs and cats have subsisted for much longer on table scraps or whatever else they could scrounge around the places people lived. According to the Pet Food Institute, the first commercially prepared dog food, a biscuit, appeared in England in about 1860. After the First World War, canned horse meat for dogs was introduced in the United States, followed by canned cat food and dry meat-meal dog foods in the 1930s.

Most people rely on commercial products, but some now cook for their animals. Recipes can be found in books and on the Internet. Dogs are somewhat easier than cats to please because they have a more varied diet. For breakfast, Deborah Sheppard of St. John's typically feeds her whippets, CoCo and Truffles, cereal bars made of rolled oats, barley flakes, eggs, honey, molasses and safflower oil. The ingredients are mixed in a food processor and then baked. The dogs also get fresh raw vegetables ground up in a food processor, and either yogurt or goat's milk, along with vitamins once a week. Evening meals typically consist of human-grade beef or liver five days a week, cottage cheese on one day and a weekly half-day fast. She says the dogs are thriving. "I've gone from having $10,000 a year" in veterinarian bills "to basically nothing."

Preparation takes time, of course, but Ann Martin, the author of Food Pets Die For (NewSage Press), says people can always make extra for themselves and feed it to their animals. Dogs, she says, should have about two-thirds of their diet based on vegetables, fruits, and grains, and about a third from meat. They're considered carnivores, but in the wild developed a hankering for plant matter after eating the stomach contents of large herbivores they had killed. Cats tend to be picky eaters, and should be fed two-thirds meat and one-third grains, vegetables or fruit. The recipes in Ms. Martin's book include omelets with cheese and bean sprouts, combinations of macaroni, liver and vegetables, and spaghetti with meat sauce.

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August 22/98

The Globe and Mail 

Allegations of misleading practices in the pet-food business are, according to this story, outlined in documents compiled by Industry Canada and obtained by The Globe and Mail under the Access to Information Act. The documents allege unethical and possibly illegal practices in an industry that is unregulated and largely governed by voluntary conduct codes. Officials of one company that complained of such practices were told that Industry Canada lacked resources even to investigate their complaints.

The pet-food business is worth $750-million a year in this country: Canada has an estimated 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats.

The documents include accusations that some manufacturers use the unqualified word "chicken" on their labels, but the main poultry ingredient in their products is chicken-by product meal. The use of the word "chicken" might give consumers more confidence about the nutritional value of pet food, although byproduct meal is a stomach-churning mix of ground-up slaughtered poultry carcasses, including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and even feathers. According to the documents, some pet-food packages indicate they contain beef chunks, but the lumps may actually be made of grain, which is cheaper. "There are very few 'chunks' present, and those that do exist consist of cereal, not meat," one of the documents says.

The 94 pages of Industry Canada records were heavily censored. Names of companies and individuals that made specific allegations were deleted, as was all identification of those accused of deceptive practices. The Access to Information Act allows, according to this story, the government to withhold records used to investigate illegal activity, and the documents that were not issued came under that restriction. Nonetheless, the records include a frank admission by Zane Brown, former director-general of consumer products for Industry Canada, that the country has no regulations specifically governing pet food. "In Canada, there are no federal regulations dictating the manner in which pet-food nutritional claims, ingredients, and appropriate nomenclature must be declared on a label," says a letter he wrote two years ago. He said the only restriction on pet-food companies is the general legal prohibition of false and misleading labelling. The records make no reference to any prosecution or investigation by the government.

However, Industry Canada did send a letter to all major Canadian pet-food manufacturers and their associations in December, 1996, to advise them of the allegations and seek their input and advice. "The letter will also serve as a warning to those who are not following ethical labelling standards, that we will be monitoring the industry much closer in the near future," says a document written by Steve Clarkson, listed as a senior official in the consumer-products directorate. Mr. Clarkson was cited as saying that pet-food standards are much tighter in the United States. "In juxtaposition to Canadian regulatory and voluntary programs, the U.S. systems appear to be quite advanced."

Although Industry Canada says it has received complaints from both consumers and pet-food companies about industry practices, the records appear to show that most of its concern was based on the allegations of an executive from a pet-food company who first approached the government in November, 1995. The executive wrote, according to this story, many letters to government officials about practices in the pet-food business, but got no results until a complaint was made directly to Industry Minister John Manley the following year. Senior officials from the company that made the allegations then met with government staff in November, 1996, when "they expressed frustration and concern at the lack of action on the part of government and consumer-products directorate to their complaints," according to an internal Industry Canada memo. The officials were told that government budget cuts had made it difficult to investigate their allegations.

As part of its response to the complaints, Industry Canada mailed a questionnaire to industry and veterinary officials, asking for comment on pet-food practices. Officials from the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association wrote that food labelling is misleading and confusing. "Manufacturers can say pretty much whatever they want," the association noted. It also said that "self-regulation is economically driven and may not always be in the consumers' best interest."

AnimalNet Summary