A Nation of Animal Lovers?
Katy Brown looks beyond the label to find out what youre actually
feeding your moggie or pooch, and gets to grips with some meaty dilemmas.
Its more than likely, if you have a pet, that when buying their food
your primary concern will be that you feed them a nutritious diet that promotes
their health and well-being. But according to the Campaign For Real Pet Food
(CFRP), pet food is not covered by the same labelling legislation as food for
human consumption. So it can be hard to know exactly what youre feeding
your pets if you buy the average pet food. EC permitted additives
can include artificial colours such as tartrazine and sunset yellow which have
been shown to cause hyperactivity in children and have been banned by the Food
Standards Agency. Blue 2, in addition, has been linked to tumour growth, as
have antioxidants such as BHA.(1) In all, 4,000 chemicals are covered by the
term EC permitted additives. Many of these are in all likelihood
harmless but how can you know if you simply dont know whats
in the pet food you buy?
The use of vague terms doesnt help. Meat and animal derivates
can cover anything scraped up off the slaughterhouse floor, from any animal,
while derivatives of vegetable origin includes all vegetable by-products,
from processed vegetables to residues such as charcoal, and cereals
covers wheat, barley, oats, maize and more. This can be particularly problematic
if an animal has a dietary allergy. The CPRF is campaigning for change in pet
food labelling to remove such ill-defined terms. Of the brands on the table
OrganiPets and Naturediet are promoted on the campaign groups website.
In addition, Burns, Arden Grange and Pero have been set up specifically to provide
more natural, wholesome alternatives to mainstream pet food brands and have
more transparent ingredient labelling.
Compassion beyond the domestic beast
For many, compassion for animals goes beyond their own cat or dog. It is ironic,
then, that two of the main ethical issues surrounding pet food are treatment
of the animals that usually go into pet food, and the testing of pet foods on
Not all animals get to go walkies
Of the companies on the table, most sell factory farmed meat. Of those that
sell meat-based pet foods, only OrganiPets and Yarrah sell exclusively organic
meat. Pero offers organic dog and cat food. Mars (Whiskas), Morrisons and Sainsburys
all offer organic cat food, however all of these companies also sell factory-farmed
pet food. Burns offers organic dog food and has animal welfare criteria for
the rest of its food it does not use caged chickens, its fish is from
sustainable sources and it specifies to suppliers that all meat must be from
non-intensive sources. This is very positive but is not a guarantee that meat
is free range. The company is about to launch the Penlan Farm range
of foods, produced from its own farm with high standards of animal welfare.
It may come as an unpleasant surprise to pet owners that many pet food companies
have been involved in invasive tests on animals. In 2006 the US Department of
Agriculture investigated a complaint by People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA) regarding invasive testing of Procter & Gambles IAMS
brand following an undercover investigation. The USDA agreed that the laboratory
had failed to provide veterinary care and pain relief to suffering animals,
failed to provide animals with adequate space, and failed to train employees
along with nearly 40 other violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
After intense pressure from PETA, IAMS agreed to make significant changes: to
sever ties to the research centre in question; to end all invasive and terminal
experiments on dogs and cats; and to begin conducting humane in-home tests for
palatability studies. According to the company, approximately 70% of the animals
it now conducts tests on reside at home with their families. However the company
still keeps up to 700 dogs and cats in its laboratory for nutritional studies.(2)
While companies seek to make laboratory conditions sound acceptable, according
to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), in many cases
dogs are kennelled for much or all of their lives without adequate mental, physical
or social stimulation. Housing conditions of animals can have a substantial
effect, not only on their well-being, but also on their physiological functions,
calling into question the validity of the results of such studies.(3) IAMS has
also refused to end invasive experiments on species other than dogs and cats.
In one case IAMS funded a two-year study in which experimenters taped the tails
of mice to the tops of cages to keep their hind legs suspended in the air and
cause the wasting away of muscle tissue. When PETA protested, the experiment
was cut short. PETA is continuing to press IAMS to ban invasive or terminal
experiments on all species and to adopt humane in-home testing,
and is calling for a boycott of IAMS and Eukanuba until they do so.(3)
All four of the larger pet food manufacturing companies Nestlé,
Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Mars have in the past conducted
invasive animal testing of pet foods. Although all now claim not to conduct
invasive tests none of them would be endorsed by any of the campaign groups
that work on these issues all are actively involved in animal testing
of other consumer products. They are all subject to a boycott call by Uncaged.(4)
Captive animals are also used to conduct non-invasive palatability tests of
Sainsburys own-label pet food. No information was found from the other
supermarkets so there is no guarantee this is not the case for them too
particularly as, despite receiving a worst rating for animal testing, Sainsburys
has the most stringent, if inadequate, animal testing policy of the major supermarkets.
Wagg, Judges Choice (V-Dog) and Focus100 (Wafcol) did not respond to our
requests for animal testing policies so they all receive our worst rating, although
this doesnt necessarily mean that they actually conduct animal testing.
When we last covered pet food in 2005 the BUAV was operating its No Animal
Testing Pet Food Standard. Unfortunately the BUAV Standard is no longer
operating. However, anti-vivisection group Uncaged regularly contacts the formerly
approved companies for confirmation that they still adhere to the Standards
requirements: to prove that neither they nor their suppliers engage in invasive
laboratory experiments or keep animals in captive conditions for lengthy periods
of time. Those that adhere to the standards and which are included in this report
are Arden Grange, Burns, NatureDiet, Pero and Trophy.
PETA UK have their own less stringent scheme which requires companies to promise
that they are not directly funding or conducting any cruel and abusive animal
testing for their pet foods, but doesnt cover supplier practices. On PETAs
approved list in this report: Ami, Benevo, OrganiPets, Vitalin, Yarrah and the
Good news which is not reflected on either list is that Butchers, which
received a worst rating for its animal testing policy in our last pet food report
(for having a third party supplier with kennels on-site) now receives a best
rating. The company only conducts palatability tests in the pets home
All of Sumas products, including Wackidog, are BUAV approved.
Meaty dilemmas and carbon pawprints
Buying organic pet food avoids some of the ethical issues around the meat industry,
including the miserable conditions that animals have to endure on factory farms.
But it doesnt avoid the grim reality of the slaughterhouse. Animals from
both free range/organic and factory farms all end up on the same factory line
of death. It can be hard as an animal lover to reconcile feeding your much loved
animal with financing the gruesome meat industry, no matter how high the welfare
standards on the farm.
In addition, buying organic only avoids some of environmental impacts of meat.
A recent article in New Scientist magazine gained a lot of attention after claiming
that owning a dog could have a higher environmental impact than driving an SUV.
The analysis took the average diet of a medium sized dog 164kg of meat
and 95 kg of cereals a year and worked out how much land this would take
to produce, arriving at an environmental footprint of 0.84 hectares.
This was compared to an SUV driven 10,000 km a year, using 55.1 gigajoules of
energy per year. Assuming one hectare produces 135 gigajoules of energy per
year the SUVs footprint was calculated at 0.41 hectares, less
than half that of the dog.(5) This rapidly translated into headlines such as
Study says dogs have larger carbon footprint than SUV. Of course
the study says more about the environmental cost of a meat diet than the ethics
of animal ownership. Critics pointed out that this environmental footprint
does not equate to a carbon footprint, and the vast majority of SUVs do not
run on plant energy, thus the comparison as a climate impact is meaningless.(20)
And 10,000km is about half the mileage of an average UK driver. Moreover, much
meat in pet food is, as we noted above, slaughterhouse by-product, therefore
according it the same eco-footprint as meat for human consumption is questionable.
None of which is to deny the real environmental impact of pet foods. But whatever
the correct figures, that impact suggests one thing to reduce your carbon footprint:
minimising the meat in your pets diet. Buying dry instead of wet pet food
is more ecologically friendly as much of the weight of wet food is actually
water. Earlier reviews of pet food in Ethical Consumer however, have found some
readers opposed to dry foods on health grounds. Feeding your animal leftovers,
or scraps from the fishmonger or butcher that would otherwise be thrown out,
is another good way to reduce their impact on the planet.
Where environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners (of course many consider
themselves to be both) may find common ground is in the notion that we should
stop breeding animals as pets, and instead only give homes to animals in need.
If you provide a home to an unwanted animal it could be argued that you arent
creating any overall additional impact. And given that many cats and dogs are
put down every week in animal rescue centres due to a lack of available homes,
many consider it irresponsible to let your pet breed.
Poor working conditions are also a prevalent problem in the meat industry,
with employers taking advantage of vulnerable, often migrant, workers with few
employment options. Evidence of discrimination is so strong in the sector that
last year the Equality and Human Rights Commission began its first statutory
inquiry into the UK meat industry.(6)
Veggie pets fit as a butchers dog?
For any or all of these reasons you may consider trying your pet on a vegetarian
diet. This is simpler for dogs than for cats, as dogs are naturally omnivores
in the wild whereas cats are carnivores. And anyone who thinks vegetarian pet
diets are unnatural might like to stop and consider whats
natural about the junk pet food churned out by the major
pet food manufacturers. The most important thing is to ensure your animal is
fed a nutritionally complete diet however it is sourced. Cats require specific
nutrients, not specific feedstuffs(7) and a 2006 study undertaken, perhaps bizarrely,
by Nestlé, found that the 34 vegetarian cats it looked at were apparently
One of the biggest concerns raised with vegetarian/vegan cats is the risk of
a taurine deficiency which can lead to blindness and death if not treated. However
most meaty cat foods have taurine added back into it as the processing of meats
removes the natural taurine. Another essential for cats is arachidonic acid.
Both these substances are available in synthetic form. Vegan cats, particularly
males, are more likely to suffer urinary tract problems which is extremely
common in cats anyway. The FAQ section of www.VeganCats.com
is an excellent source of information on mitigating these problems. Even among
animal rights organisations the jury is still out on feeding cats a veggie diet.
A sensible compromise may be to feed your cat a half and half diet of vegetarian
biscuits and organic wet food or, even better, waste meat products. Even dogs
may struggle to get all their necessary nutrients from commercial vegetarian,
or even conventional food, as some dogs require taurine and L-Carnitine, which
are not generally added to commercial dog foods.(10)
Before deciding to feed your cat a vegetarian or vegan diet you should probably
undertake more research than we have room to include here. There is a lot of
information available online, although much is anecdotal. Wikepedia is a good
place to start.(9) Always consult a vet if you have concerns about your animals
Vegepet is a powder supplement for vegetarian/vegan cat diets (see VegePets.com).
L-Carnitine and taurine supplements can be purchased from health food shops.
Katy Brown's cats
"Ive had experience of experimenting with vegan cat food with my
own cats. As a vegan myself it was an ethical dilemma supporting the meat trade
to feed my pets, and I was unhappy with the contents of standard pet food. My
cats enjoyed their dry vegan biscuits and ate them happily but did lose a little
weight, and after a while one of them lost the shine to his coat (though many
report this happening with a change from one meat based food to another). I
supplemented Gemmas diet with fish scraps from the fishmongers which she
enjoyed but these made Pepys sick, so I began supplementing his diet with standard
organic cat food from a supermarket, as it was the easiest way to get hold of
it. They did well on this combination for a while but Pepys developed an allergy
which led to him only being able to eat one kind of veterinary-prescribed food
made by one of the lowest scoring companies in this report! This meant I could
no longer leave biscuits down for Gemma as Pepys would eat them so I began to
just feed her organic meat cat food, as well as some fish scraps; preparing
those for her everyday was just too time consuming. It was all very difficult
ethically but I had to do what was best for my cats. I do however know of people
having great success in feeding their cats on a vegan diet.
Putting together this report, with the issue of feeding veggie/non-veggie diets,
Ive felt a great responsibility towards all animals involved farm
animals, pets, and their human guardians. Please write to us with any comments
or additional information that others may find useful."
Uncaged is calling for a boycott of Colgate-Palmolive for animal testing,
including for pet food.(11, 4) Bertin, a Brazilian beef exporter, described
Colgate-Palmolive as a major client in the hygiene and beauty sector, to which
it sells animal by-products such as tallow (rendered beef fat) for use in personal
care products, such as soap.(12)
Uncaged is calling for a boycott of Mars Inc due to the activities of
its pet food division,(14) while PETAs boycott call is for its funding
deadly animal tests on a number of its chocolate bars see www.marscandykills.com
for more information.(4)
Nestlé is another target of Uncageds campaign against companies
which test their pet foods on animals.(4) Nestlé was one of 43 companies
that the Colombian Permanent Peoples Tribunal ruled to have violated human
rights in Colombia after a three year investigation.(15) An international panel
including judges, university professors, indigenous authorities and a Nobel
Laureate presided over the ruling.
Procter & Gamble is subject to a boycott call by Uncaged over animal
testing, including for its pet food.(11, 4) Uncaged uncovered evidence of an
experiment commissioned by the company where mice were genetically engineered
to be more vulnerable to asthma and lung damage before being injected with an
ingredient, damaging their lungs and causing pneumonia.(11)
Arden Grange, Burns and Vitalin all receive additional criticism in
the animal rights category for selling meat, and for having schemes for pet
breeders.(16, 17, 18) However it was noted that Burns made charitable donations
to a number of animal rescue organisations.
Armitage Pet Care, makers of vegetarian dog food Wafcol, gains its animal
rights mark from selling meat and making dog food specifically for performance
greyhounds.(19) Greyhound racing has been heavily criticised by animal welfare
Do one thing
Pet food is one of those few things, like loo roll, that if you run out
you have to replace pretty fast - meaning you wont always find a Best
Buy. If you only do one thing then avoid the companies which are subject to
a boycott call over animal testing and write to them telling them, so they know
its affecting sales.
The Organic Pet Co and Trophy both produce organic dog biscuits.
advises on how to feed your animal a more natural diet.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals PO Box 36678, London
SE1 1YE.020 7357 9229.
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection 16a Crane Grove,
London N7 8NN, 020 7700 4888.
Uncaged Campaigns 5th Floor, Alliance House, 9 Leopold Street,
Sheffield S1 2GY. 0114 272 2220.
Campaign For Real Pet Food 99 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
OX14 4RY0845 3880935
1701 Pearl St. Unit 8, Waukesha, WI 53186 USA
c/o Vegeco Ltd (Unit 5 Downley Point Downley Road, Havant, Hampshire PO9 2NA.
023 9245 3355.
The Animal Protection Agency committed to ceasing the trade in
wildlife for pets.APA, Brighton Media Centre, 68 Middle Street, Brighton BN1
1AL. 0273 674253.
If youre looking to home an animal try the RSPCA, Dogs Trust
or Cats Protection:
RSPCA Enquiries Service, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham,
West Sussex RH13 9RS. www.rspca.org.uk 0300 1234 555.
Dog's Trust 17 Wakley Street, London EC1V 7RQ. 0207 837 0006.
Cat's Protection National Cat Centre, Chelwood Gate, Haywards
Heath, Sussex RH17 7TT. 03000 12 12 12.
Alternatively look them up in the phone book for your local branch.
Unfortunately the RSPCA put hundreds of animals to sleep every week. That means
if you home an animal from them you will undoubtedly be saving its life. If
you are looking to donate to an animal rescue organisation, however, ones with
a no-kill policy include:
Hillside Animal Sanctuary
Hall Lane, Frettenham, Norwich NR12 7LT. 01603 738520.
Animal Rescue Linton View, 89 Bush Rd, East Peckham, Tonbridge,
Kent, TN12 5LJ. 01622 871 617.
Animal Rescue Centre - East Lodge Farm, East Lane, Ince Blundell, Liverpool
L29 3EA. 0151 931 1604.
1 www.crpf.org.uk FAQs 20/01/10
2 www.iamscruelty.com 29/01/10
3 BUAV Factsheet H1 Pet Food December 2005
4 Uncaged website www.uncaged.co.uk:Petfood 6/01/10
5 How green is your pet? www.newscientist.com 23/10/09
6 www.equalityhumanrights.com 29/01/10
7 Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats, National Research Council (U.S.).
Ad Hoc Committee on Dog and Cat Nutrition, 2001
8 Surprise: Most veggie cats are healthy 1/10/09
9 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_food#Vegetarian_or_vegan_food 29/01/10
10 www.peta.org/factsheet/files/FactsheetDisplay.asp?ID=34 Meatless Meals for
Dogs and Cats viewed 29/01/10
11 Uncaged website www.uncaged.co.uk 8/01/10
12 Slaughtering the Amazon, Greenpeace International 01/06/09
13 ASA Adjudication on Mars UK Ltd, 17/10/07
14 PETA websites:www.marscandykills.com, 6/01/10
15 Business & Human Rights Resource Centre:Permanent Peoples Tribunal,
16 www.ardengrange.com 14/01/10
17 www.burnspet.co.uk 13/01/10
18 www.vitalinpetfood.co.uk 12/01/10
19 www.armitages.co.uk 13/20/10