Archive for July, 2011

26th Jul 2011

What about Those Pledges Some Companies are so Proud of?

There is a new marketing gimmick going around. The vendor pledge. Some health food stores state that they collect vendor pledges to assure high standards and integrity of their ingredients and products. And now, even some pet food companies have announced with great flourish (using paid press releases from PR agencies, friendly or associated blogs, their own websites, etc.) that they now require their vendors to supply them with pledges for each ingredient they use. The ingredients need to be GMO-free, cannot be sourced from China, the animals need to be raised and processed in the best possible ways, etc.

This sounds great. So what’s the problem, and why am I writing about it?
The answer is simple: None of these so-called ‘vendor pledges’ can be verified. Many comforting and reassuring words are flying fast and furious, but there’s no independent party that can verify all these great-sounding words. It’s as if a company released favorable results from a poll they conducted themselves. Now, honestly, how much faith would you place in such results?

Why advertise vendor pledges?
That’s an easy one: profit, pure and simple.

What are meaningful alternatives to such pledges?
Pet Food Vendor Pledge © Onesta Organics The most meaningful alternatives are third party-enforced certificates.
Two examples are:
1) a USDA organic certificate; and
2) a non-GMO statement that’s also legally binding (they are required for any certified organic pet food that contains non-certified organic ingredients such as citric acid).
An additional alternative is a statement from the Humane Society that declares that a particular poultry farmer/processor is far above industry standards in respect to the humane treatment of animals (I might also mention here that, at Onesta Organics, we use such a farmer’s products routinely). As in the case of the first two examples, this declaration can be verified by a third party.

The nice thing about the USDA organic certificate is that any company (including Onesta Organics) that receives such certification is inspected at least once yearly (food factories for human consumption foods are generally inspected less than once per decade), and all ingredient choices must be shared with a USDA-accredited certification agent. This agent knows where the ingredient comes from, if it is human-grade, free of pesticides, antibiotics, and other synthetics, etc.

In the case of a vendor pledge, all you have to go on is the word of a given company and nothing more. The sad truth is that vendor pledges can’t be verified and aren’t based on any enforced standards. With an enforced certificate, at the very least you have the assurance that any false claims have serious legal consequences.

So, when you’re faced with a choice between a vendor pledge and a certificate from the USDA, a statement from the Humane Society, or any other entity requiring third-party oversight, you now know which one of the two is trustworthy!

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Organic Pet Food Standards, Regulations Comments Comments Off

12th Jul 2011

Raw Dog Foods and Cat Foods aren’t Made with Steamed Fish or Meat

This blog title seems too weird to be worth writing about. So why bother?

Because the competition doesn’t sleep. Perhaps they want to make sure they can’t be accused of actually breaking the law. Nevertheless, they may well be violating consumers’ trust. Oh well…why not, if you can make money hand over fist and no one’s the wiser?

For years, a pet food company that I can’t name here has promoted their pet foods (e.g., cat food and dog foods) as ‘raw,’ ‘dehydrated,’ and ‘human grade, among other things. But, they’ve also passed their products off as ‘organic’ even though none of these products have actually been certified as organic. Companies like mine work very hard to meet USDA organic standards, and we pay a heavy premium for our organic ingredients and certification fees to do so–not to mention the additional time we spend to maintain our certification. Anyone who purchases an Onesta Organics product can rest assured that they’re getting truly organic pet foods of the very highest quality. Anyone who purchases from the competitor I mention here can’t be sure what they’re getting; they can’t verify this competitor’s claims, and sadly, they probably don’t know any better.

Raw pet food?

Recently, this company posted updated information on their website about their raw dog and cat foods. They now admit that their “…fresh raw meats and white fish undergo gentle steaming at 140°F to 165°F.” You’ve gotta love the use of the terms, ‘fresh,’ ‘raw,’ and ‘gentle’ in this sentence – could it be that these words are meant to take the ‘heat’ out of the term, ‘steaming,’ which they also use in the same update?

Steaming at 140°F to 165°F may appear to be ‘gentle’ to many folks. But the reality is that steaming any food achieves the same end result as actually cooking that food, i.e., steamed fish and meat are indeed cooked. And curiously, as the company states in one of their own press releases, the products in question are ‘essentially cooked.

The revealing information discussed above isn’t easy to find on this company’s SEO-friendly, but somewhat confusingly organized, website without the use of key words such as ‘gentle,’ ‘steaming,’ ‘fish,’ ‘meat,’ ‘dehydration,’ and ‘pet food’ (as a matter of fact, after reading this, you should go ahead and google these very terms to see what listings come up; it’ll be very educational–I guarantee it!). This company’s site is so chock full of detailed information that one could easily overlook the fact that steamed (read ‘cooked’) ingredients are actually being used in products marketed as ‘raw’ and ‘gently dehydrated.’

No sour grapes here–just an impassioned plea to the consumer to educate themselves…and beware.

It’s sad that dishonesty of a few casts a bad light on all members of an industry.

Anyway. Just another hot topic to share.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Raw Pet Food Comments Comments Off

07th Jul 2011

Not All ‘Whole Foods for Pets’ are Really Whole!

Whole Beef
I can’t believe it, but yet again we were way ahead of the curve when we came up with our tag line, “Whole Foods for the Whole Animal.”

I must admit that it wasn’t very hard to come up with this tag line, given that our pet foods contain nothing but food, i.e., no fragments, such as refined grains, or synthetics like the typical vitamin/mineral premixes found in many other brands of pet food.

Over the past six years, the competition has been concentrating on adjusting their public relation materials, i.e., ads and website ‘information,’ to fit continuously morphing sales-promoting trends like the all too common (and loose) use of the terms, ‘natural,’ ‘holistic,’ ‘raw,’ ‘organic,’ and ‘green.’ *

Now, the competition has hit upon the trendy search engine key phrase, ‘whole food for pets’ and has adopted the ‘whole food’ claim to market their own pet foods, even though many of these products are the furthest thing from ‘whole’ you could imagine.
Personally, I think it’s more than a bit disconcerting to see a ‘whole food’ claim used for any pet food product that lists among its ingredients refined ingredients or isolated, synthetic nutrients such as genetically engineered vitamins.

For example, look out for an ‘organic grain’ claim applied to [non-certified organic] dog foods which now are highly ranked in a ‘whole food for pets’ internet search. If you add the terms ‘organic,’ ‘raw,’ or even ‘human-grade,’ you would almost certainly come across some listings of products for which none of these claims are true.

Dried Beef

In addition to the dishonest embedding of search terms that have little or nothing to do with some pet food products being marketed on the internet, another troubling trend among pet food manufacturers is the prevalent use of grains in the formulation of pet foods. Putting aside the fact that dogs didn’t evolve to eat grains, the term, ‘grains,’ as employed by some manufacturers probably refers to refined flour, an ingredient that isn’t particularly healthy for either humans or their dogs.

Why might a company describe their refined flour ingredient as ‘grains?’ My experience, both as a researcher who follows trends in animal nutrition and a pet food manufacturer who uses organic whole grain flours for pet rodent foods, tells me that this is a simple case of looking after the ‘bottom line.’ Whole grain flours are much more expensive than their refined grain (or ‘white’) versions. And, of course, USDA certified organic grains are even more expensive than their conventional (i.e., non-organic) whole grain versions.

I would simply shrug off these new exploitative—and less than truthful—trends IF these pet food claims were harmless and didn’t have the potential to hurt pets and the guardians who love them. The sad truth is that such deceptions undermine the organic, green, and whole food movements because of their intent to blur the line between the truth and fake, sales-driven claims. Moreover, they make it impossible for many consumers to find and purchase what they’re actually looking for to support the health of their pets.**

It’s unfortunate that such patently false claims can be made with near-total impunity. The only salient consequences seem to be increased sales for the purveyors of these claims and poor nutrition and overall bad health for the pets that are fed falsely represented food products.

Yet again, it seems that it’s up to consumers to educate themselves properly. All available information about a given product should be checked carefully, and information provided by pet food manufacturers should be considered as dubious if there isn’t an independent, unbiased third-party backing it up (and, of course, the positions taken by retailers can’t necessarily be taken at face value because they obviously want to sell the products they carry). I know that the sentiment I express here isn’t one the pet food industry as a whole appreciates. What can I say? Somebody needs to give pet guardians the ‘heads-up.’ So…well…I volunteer!

I’m compelled to repeat an old line of mine: “The most regulated pet foods are certified organic.” Our USDA-accredited organic certifier has access to every single ingredient we buy and every processing step to which we expose all of our ingredients.
Organic certification of pet foods is done voluntarily to the benefit of the consumer, as it assures them that an unbiased third party has verified the claims that the manufacturer makes about their products.

* Don’t forget that only certified organic pet food claims are regulated, none of the other widely used claims (e.g., natural, green, holistic and even non-certified organic ones) are, which allows for and explains their wide-spread abuse.

** Don’t forget that refined grains have been implicated in a number of common chronic pathologies, including obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and cancer. Other non-whole ingredients, such as isolated, synthetic or GMO vitamins and minerals, can accumulate in the body to disease-causing proportions, cause allergies and likely other, as yet unidentified, problems in pets.

It’s certainly true that some pets (particularly older ones) require supplemental nutrients. But nowadays, there are many food-based alternatives available, though these might not be marketed specifically for pets. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian before you choose a natural nutrient over the synthetic supplements your pet may have been taking.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Holistic Pet Food, Organic Pet Food Standards Comments Comments Off

06th Jul 2011

Summer, Heat, Overheating, and Heat Stroke in Pets

Overheating and Heat Stroke

….can kill a dog (and other animals) in a matter of minutes.

A dog’s normal temperature is 100.5-102.5F. When the temperature rises to 105 or 106F, the dog is at risk for developing heat exhaustion. At 107F, the dog is highly susceptible to heat stroke.

The inside of a car can reach 160F within minutes, even if the windows are open.
Dogs can get overheated when exercising on hot, humid days; they can overheat even when they are well hydrated. Keep your dogs safe - Keep them cool

Unlike humans, who can sweat, dogs depend on panting to cool down. They breathe in through their nose and out through the mouth. This way, the air is pushed over the mucous membranes of the trachea, throat and tongue, which facilitates cooling by evaporating fluid. Additionally, dogs’ blood vessels open in the surface of the skin which also dissipates heat.
If these cooling mechanisms are overwhelmed, the dog is in danger of overheating and heat stroke.

Heat-related illnesses affect the following dogs most:
Puppies, old, or ill dogs. Overweight dogs. Overexerted dogs. Flat faced animals such as pugs.

How to recognize overheating:
Overheated dogs often appear sluggish, disoriented, or unresponsive. They may drool excessively, have difficulty breathing, panting may be excessive and gums, tongue and eye lids and membranes may be very red. The dog may collapse, vomit, have bloody diarrhea, suffer from seizures or fall into a coma. If you suspect that your pet suffers from heat stroke, contact your veterinarian immediately and cool your pet with drinking water if she’s alert enough to drink, spray or bathe her with cool water or place wet towels on her.

How to avoid overheating:
Keep your pet away from heat; never leave her in the car or outdoors if the weather is hot and no cool shady areas are available.
Don’t go for extended walks on streets which can heat up fast in hot weather.
Don’t over-exercise your pet in hot weather.
Keep your pet well hydrated; always keep fresh clean water available.
Give her a proper summer haircut (not too short to prevent sunburn). Grooming helps to remove loose hair which can trap heat.
We provide our pets shallow containers with fresh water in which they can step and play with safely. Our birds, rats, and dogs really enjoy this simple comfort.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Home Remedies & News Bits Comments Comments Off