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Lisa Nicolello

Food for Thought By Marina Zacharias

(Reprinted by permission from The Natural Rearing Newsletter, Volume 1 Issue 2/January, 1995. Further reprint permission must be obtained from:
@Ambrican Enterprises 1994, Natural Rearing Newsletter
Marina Zacharias, P.O. Box 1436, Jacksonville, OR  97530
 Phone: (541) 899-2080, 
   FAX: (541) 899-3414
The Home Of Natural Rearing

Whenever a problem is presented to a holistic vet usually one of the first questions asked is "What are you feeding him/her?"

The subject of food, especially of "pet" food, is surrounded with controversy regarding which brand provides what; which is better, brand x or brand xyz; so called "premium" brands and all the magical things they will do for your animal; the "mythical" all the nutrition in one bag your animal will ever need; and on and on and on!

Probably the most expensive single ingredient in the most popular pet foods is the dollars spent on advertising the product.

How then, do we go about choosing what diet will provide the best health -- or at least do the minimum amount of harm -- for our animals?

A truly INFORMED decision can only be made by cutting through all the "hoopla" and red herrings tossed out by the advertising boys and finding out for yourself just what is really going on.

I know I am probably going to step on a lot of peoples' toes on this subject but I'm willing to take the flack if it stimulates you to "think for yourself" about this most basic of issues.

If you don't think the following applies to your pet food -- THINK AGAIN!!

Let's start by considering ingredients, then move on to how they are processed, stored and eventually used.

When I was still using a "commercial" food, I was naive enough to read the label and thought I understood the first few ingredients and a few of the additives, then my eye sort of skipped over the unpronounceable "---ites, ---ates, etc." I thought these were just fancy names for various minerals, vitamins and so on. Boy was I wrong! For those of you with a weak stomach I would suggest you skip the rest of this article.

Most of us are aware (although we choose not to think about it) that the primary source of "meat" in all pet foods, is derived from diseased, dead, or deformed animals. Anything not "fit" for human consumption is considered O.K. for "pet" consumption.

For example, the National Animal Control Association has estimated that animal shelters kill over 13 million household pets a year. Of this total, 30% are buried, 30% are cremated and the remaining 40%, about 5 million pets, are shipped to rendering factories to be recycled and used in pet food. This may make sense as a scientific "protein source", but emotionally I am disgusted to think of Dogs being used as "Dog Food" -- all for the sake of economic raw material.

But what about the injections of sodium pentobarbital used to put pets to sleep you might ask? Or, the cancerous tumors and other organs of diseased animals? No problem, says the FDA, such residue would be too small to cause a problem.

Why then did the University of Nebraska researchers confirm the death of an 11-month-old girl from an adverse reaction to penicillin contained in dry cat food she had eaten? The Nebraska investigators noted in The American Journal of Cardiology that the penicillin level in the cat food was 600 times higher than USDA limit for human food.

If you were to question the manufacturer on any of this you would not doubt get an outright denial BUT consider that for dry foods "meat" must be reduced to a dry powder in order to be processed through the giant machines used in the manufacturing process. This type of material, originates in a "rendering" plant, that converts carcasses to powder by the truckload. (Incidentally, they don't waste much in this process -- I leave it to your imagination to visualize what all is utilized).

The larger the manufacturer, the less chance they have of knowing what the source of their "meat" powder actually was. The truth is, they don't want to know! There is no way they would dare "advertise" the facts behind the label.

Lamb & Rice? Sounds yummy but the same process is being used! Just because it comes from New Zealand does not mean that little elves down there cut up all this meat into fresh little chunks that make up a "Premium" pet food. No dear friends, both Australia and New Zealand had a "glut" of this particular animal and couldn't get rid of it for human consumption on the world markets. Presto Changeo -- "Let's make it into a pet food and charge more for it" (same old song and dance from the back room advertising boys).

I don't really have room here to get into the excessive levels of heavy-metal contaminants (i.e. cadmium, Mercury, etc.) commonly found in pet foods. Suffice to say that they are FAR higher than the maximum that would ever be allowed for humans! Is it any wonder that the incidence of epileptic seizures in dogs has risen to alarming numbers?

Try to remember when you read a label, the mind automatically pictures the meat (be it beef, lamb, chicken or whatever ) in its "raw" form as we normally see it at the grocery store. The advertising boys take this natural tendency and try to enforce it and enhance it with wonderful images of gourmet chefs carefully selecting and preparing your petūs next feast. Nothing could be further from the truth! Make an effort to break this conditioning and picture a powder in its place. Some companies are still truthful enough to label the meat as "desiccated" -- meaning dry, dry, dry.

So let's see ... we start with diseased meat, convert it to a form we can legally use, now what other "goodies" can we get that are cheap, cheap, cheap?

Livestock-grade grain is usually the main ingredient used. This is not because dogs and cats require large amounts of carbohydrates, but because grains are about as cheap a food as can be found. However, a still cheaper ingredient is the "waste" dust, floor sweepings, husks, the rejects from the screening process for flour, etc. Ideal for our favorite yummy pet food. But we can't call it scrap, can we -- nobody would buy it! So lets call it "middlings" -- nobody will catch on then! (While we are at it let's call the ground-up bones, fish heads and other good stuff like feet, feathers -- "poultry meal, fish meal, etc." -- that sounds a lot better than scrap!)

No need to mention that livestock grade really means we don't have to concern ourselves with "allowable" levels of pesticide residue left in the grains.

What else can we get that is "waste," sounds good and of course is cheap, cheap, cheap. I know! Let's throw in some Brewers Yeast -- (see our previous newsletter for this stuff - Ed. Note: This article appeared in the January, 1995 issue of The Mastiff Reporter). Even many of the "upscale" brands have jumped on this bandwagon!

Are you beginning to get the idea yet? So far we have only talked about the main ingredients. What about all those other long names on the label? Most are added in minute quantities in an attempt to formulate the so called "balanced" diet.

What these "balanced diets" choose to ignore is that not all breeds are the same! Take Phosphate balance as an example. Without enough phosphate, there is abnormal gland (parathyroid) function, bone metabolism, intestinal absorption, malnutrition, and kidney malfunction. Too much phosphate can cause kidney damage and may affect the absorption of other minerals, causing imbalances of nutritional elements. Combine this with the fact that toy breeds absorb more calories per pound of body weight than giant breeds and ask yourself -- how do you know if you're getting enough, too much or just the right "balance" for your dog?

In natural foods (raw), Mother Nature does the balancing for us and the body takes what it needs. When artificially added -- who knows what is absorbed?

With very few exceptions, the ...ates, ...ites, ...ides, etc. are synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals (cheap) which may or may not be effectively absorbed by a dog or cat. There are a few ingredients however that are banned by the FDA for human consumption but O.K. for pet foods. An example of this would be any of the cobalt salts used as additives. (Again look at Cobalt Carbonate commonly used in the "upscale" brands).

If you truly are interested in deciphering the ingredient label, a handy reference source is a book titled A Consumers Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter, published by Crown Publishers in New York.

We are all aware of the problems created by BHA, Ethoxyquin, and BHT preservatives but you may want to try and understand the other "goodies" added to your pet food.

O.K. we've gathered all our raw materials, now how do we stick them all together to make a dry food that has nice little shapes and at least looks like it's good to eat? Obviously we need a method that is cheap, cheap, cheap.

Enter the mass-production geniuses and design equipment capable of churning out TONS of finished product every HOUR. Unless you have seen this equipment with your own eyes it is hard to visualize how big these "extruders" are and how fast they work. Imagine if you will, a single machine pushing out enough "food" to fill a 40 lb. bag in about the same time it takes to blink your eyes.

Believe me, people, the only way these monsters can run with such efficiency is to make sure the "form" of raw material suits THE MACHINE. You don't change the machine to suit the material -- you change the material to suit the machine.

Everything must start out dry, dry, dry! Then its "cooked" with live steam, rammed through tiny holes for the fancy "shape" desired (under tons of pressure), hurried through high temperature drying ovens (to get rid of the moisture from the steam), and hustled through the automatic bagging procedure. What chance does a digestive enzyme have of surviving this treatment? None!

Various size runs of various size bags are made and the finished product is palletized for shipment in truckload or railcar quantities to major warehouse distribution centers.

Depending on demand, it may take anywhere from just a few weeks to upwards of several months before the product finally reaches the store shelves.

But that's not the end of it. Every place where this is stored is subject to insect infestations. To prevent the public from ever seeing these creepy little crawlers, sooner or later these warehouses must use a chemical insecticide spray to destroy and further deter these "protein" lovers.

Even major grocery chains are well aware that they must periodically "bomb" these little suckers to get rid of them. They don't talk about it, but it is common knowledge throughout the industry. In warmer regions pesticides are routinely used every week not only on pet "food" but also on biscuits, treats etc.

If you happen to get a bag that somehow has slipped through the spraying and still has live worms crawling in it, consider yourself lucky. This could be the most nutritious protein you will find in the food!

Finally you get your hands on this "fresh" bag of goodies and because it is "convenient" to use and probably well advertised as a "nutritious" food -- you foist it off on your animal.

The fact that he survives on it is no credit to the manufacturer or to you. Rather credit must be given to the magnificent digestive system of your animal to be able to consume this stuff and still get something out of it.

When it comes to choosing the "least worst" its a case of "let the buyer beware." The only ones Holistic Vets are recommending at this time are: Wysong; Precise; Abady; Nature's Recipe; and Sensible Choice. There may be others available on a local basis but they may not have national distribution to make them readily available.

If you insist on retaining the "convenience" over health factor, and want to keep using your dry food, at least add a digestive enzyme to give your pet a break on his already overtaxed system.

Adding some fresh vegetables and fruits would also help a lot. Even if these too have been subjected to pesticides, at least they are still raw and have more to contribute to nourishment than the highly processed contents in commercial pet foods! (More on natural diets in future issues.)

At the beginning of this century, pets were fed on "scraps" from our own food. Around the middle of this century, the fast-food lifestyle started to make its appearance. As we approach the end of this century "scraps" have taken on a whole new meaning.

I would challenge every national breed club to do a simple survey of the average life span of their breed in 1900, 1950, and now! Has it decreased? Does this correlate with the food we are feeding to our animals? Have health problems in general increased?

As we move into the 21st century, maybe its time we turned the clock back a hundred years and got back to some basic nutrition!

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