Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pet food industry

Mass-produced pet food has had a relatively short history and in that time sales in the U.S. have grown to top $18 billion. Today, no less than 30% of all food cans made in the U.K. and Australia (11% in the U.S.) are for pet food. Most American grocery stores devote more shelf space to canned and kibbled pet food than they do to breakfast cereal or baby food. Vying for their share, producers of canned cat food (1st image) and dog food (2nd image) barrage us with ads that try to convince us that their product best appeals to a pet's delicate palate. I confess that I have, many times, yelled at the commercials on the television screen, "You do know that your dog licks its own butt, right?!?!" Good nutrition is one thing, but I think "gourmet" canned pet food is a bit silly.

Consider the contents of that can. The primary source of meat and fat in pet food is a processed combination of slaughterhouse leftovers, butcher shop trimmings, expired meat from grocery stores, animals that have died on farms and in transit, and the carcasses of euthanized and dead animals of all kinds from animal shelters, zoos, and veterinarians. One source clarifies, "Dog food companies are not using road kill for ingredients (as some hysterics have claimed), but entire train loads of cheap and readily available corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, soy and beef parts, as well as breathtaking amounts of lamb, chicken and "meal" made from ground up beef, chicken, lamb and turkey (including bones)." At rendering plants - known for their offensive odor - this raw material is bulldozed into enormous vats where it is ground, shredded, cooked for an hour, skimmed of grease, and pulverized. The "meat byproducts" mentioned on the can may contain everything from cattle to other cats and dogs to skunks, rats, and snakes, but may be legally labeled as beef, lamb, or chicken as long as that is the most dominant ingredient in the mix. The pet food companies add preservatives, food dye, synthetic vitamins, and other enhancers - and an adorable mascot on the packaging.

Although dry dog food made an earlier debut, canned dog food was not available until the 1920s, when it was first produced by Ken-L-Ration. Gaines Food introduced canned cat food in the 1930s. After World War I, canned horsemeat was cheap as horses and mules were replaced by cars and tractors, but the supply of these animals dwindled and during World War II, tin was rationed and pet food was deemed "non-essential," so the producers and their customers turned to dry food. With the economy booming after the war, people could afford the luxury of pet food, so many brands started lines of wet and (especially after the development of the extrusion process in the 1950s) dry food. In 1964, the Pet Food Institute started a campaign warning consmers about the dangers of feeding table scraps to pets! This was followed more recently (the 1980s) by the marketing of "prescription" foods, sold primarily through veterinarians, and meant to encourage the belief that only the professionals know what a pet should eat. Other innovations have included semi-moist, vacuum-packed, frozen, freeze-dried, and breed-specific pet foods. There is now a movement toward feeding pets more natural food. "Before the advent of pet foods, most dogs and cats lived off of grains, meats, table scraps, and homemade food from their owners....Ironically, as a result of dog health problems we’re now seeing a trend toward natural, holistic, raw, and yes, homemade, human-quality pet foods – not too different from the type of foods folks fed their pets before pet food ever existed." But for their health and our peace of mind, not necessarily for their palate.

1 comment:

  1. This is definitely the closest I have come to barfing on my keyboard while reading one of your posts!


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