A Nation of Animal Lovers?
Katy Brown looks beyond the label to find out what you’re actually feeding your moggie or pooch, and gets to grips with some meaty dilemmas.
It’s 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 you’re 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 don’t know what’s in the pet food you buy?
The use of vague terms doesn’t 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 group’s 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 other animals.
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 Sainsbury’s 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 & Gamble’s 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 Sainsbury’s 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, Sainsbury’s has the most stringent, if inadequate, animal testing policy of the major supermarkets. Wagg, Judge’s 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 doesn’t 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 Standard’s 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 doesn’t cover supplier practices. On PETA’s approved list in this report: Ami, Benevo, OrganiPets, Vitalin, Yarrah and the Co-op.
Good news which is not reflected on either list is that Butcher’s, 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 setting.
All of Suma’s 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 doesn’t 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 SUV’s ‘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 pet’s 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 aren’t 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 butcher’s 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 what’s ‘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 healthy.(8)
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 animal’s health.
L-Carnitine and taurine supplements can be purchased from health food shops.
Katy Brown's cats
"I’ve 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 Gemma’s 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, I’ve 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 PETA’s 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 Uncaged’s 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 rights groups.
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 won’t 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 it’s affecting sales.
The Organic Pet Co and Trophy both produce organic dog biscuits.
www.rawmeatybones.com 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
VeganCats.com – 1701 Pearl St. Unit 8, Waukesha, WI 53186 USA
VegePets.com – 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 you’re looking to home an animal try the RSPCA, Dog’s Trust or Cat’s 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.
Friend Farmed Animal Rescue – Linton View, 89 Bush Rd, East Peckham, Tonbridge, Kent, TN12 5LJ. 01622 871 617.
Freshfield 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, Colombia, 24/07/08
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