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Cat food and corporations

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

Pet owners are experiencing an unfortunate education about the downside of blind faith in large multinational companies, the global market and sales hype. Thanks to a shipment of wheat gluten from China contaminated with rat poison, and some missed testing by a manufacturer, it’s been a nerve-wracking month.

Wheat gluten is used to create thicker looking gravy so it looks good to the owners as they spoon it out. I doubt the dogs or cats really care that much. Food presentation doesn’t seem high on my dog’s list.

Apparently one manufacturer makes many different brands of pet food, from the cheap grocery store ones to the so-called high-end marquis brands, and they all use the same basic building blocks. Luxury doesn’t make much difference when it’s got rat poison in it. Your pet may still die of acute kidney failure and thousands probably had before the mistake was discovered. Tough to say exactly how many because pets don’t talk, few do post mortems on a cat and people are only beginning to realize that “Fluffy’s” sudden demise may have been caused by that special can you bought for her as a treat at X-mas.

A difficult pill to swallow ” the thought that you unknowingly killed your beloved pet with a treat. Complaints of kidney failure after eating one of a huge list of brands started to surface on Feb. 20. After taste tests by Menu Foods on 40 or 50 laboratory pets ” some of which died ” the company recalled all the cans and foil-pouched wet food from two manufacturing plants on March 16.

It’s sad and interesting to read the comments on pet orientated Web sites. Along with questions for help about what to do with a suddenly lethargic cat and angry rants, there are basically calls for two types of action: 1) Better regulation of what is practically a self-regulated industry because the Food and Drug Administration understandably focuses on human products; 2) Lawsuits; and 3) Better consumer information on safer/better foods.

Being an informed consumer is the safest choice but it’s not that easy these days with large and larger companies. How do you check out the reputation of the Chinese gluten suppliers or even where the gluten comes from that goes into your pets’ food? In the global economy you have to trust to some extent what the company says. Labels are key, but there’s resistance to better labeling and with good reasoning. It’s probably difficult and onerous. Also, if you knew what was in some sausages you might not buy them so quickly.

There are loopholes and lies, too. Another recent scandal ” again from China ” involved labeling fur trim from dogs and coyotes on those hooded jackets (fashion trumps ethics again!) as faux so consumers could feel better.

Country-of-origin labels for food are still being delayed and there’s been attempts to dilute the “organic” label. If you can buy local stuff it’s a huge plus. That way you can speak to the guy who makes it and make an informed decision to buy the product.

I’m guessing there’s going to be a surge in organic pet food sales for those who can afford the extra cost.

There’s not only an ingredient issue here but a cruelty one, too. I never really thought how pet food manufacturers tested their product until reading of the taste tests that killed a few dogs and cats.

That would be one downside of more regulation, there would be more testing. Regulation and lawsuits seem to be the yin and yang of each other. You either regulate and pronounce something safe (and add in those costs) up front or you maybe make a mistake producing a dangerous product, get sued and then make it safer ” if the cost and bad publicity of the lawsuits outweighs the cost of improving the product. When countries have weak governments and limited access to a decent legal system you’ll see a much greater occurrence of buyer and citizen beware.

Mr. Ekedahl the spokesman of the Pet Food Institute didn’t do his clients any favors with his suggestions that we “not to blow it out of proportion” and “only 2 percent of market recalled.” Pet owners don’t like to have their grief dismissed or described as out of proportion.

Imagine taking back 2 percent of what you bought from the grocery store this month because it may kill you.

Statements like that bring up the question of integrity versus profit, with profit winning. I tend to favor regulation. Lawsuits won’t bring Fluffy back.

And who would you rather trust: officials you can elect or executives you have no control over?

Throw in some fair election reforms so elected officials aren’t dependant on soliciting corporate or interest group money for their election campaigns and it’s a slam dunk.

Amazing what a pet can teach you, even if it’s sick.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily. E-mail comments to editor@vaildaily.com.


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