Archive for the 'Regulations' Category

11th Oct 2011

The “Natural” Scam – Same for Human Foods and Pet Foods

Watch this short video about the ‘natural’ claim scam in the cereal business. The same ‘natural’ scam is going on in the pet food industry. Don’t forget that only certified organic pet food claims are regulated and enforced.

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

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

24th Jun 2011

Is Your Dog or Cat Food Really Raw?

Not all raw pet foods are created raw.

Some dehydrated pet foods contain cooked meats, eggs, and fish but are marketed as ‘raw.’

It is unbelievable to me that such deceptive marketing is allowed. But then, one of these ‘dehydrated raw’ pet food manufacturers also markets their conventional (non-organic) pet foods very successfully as organic although their products aren’t organic at all.

It is sad but true that customers have to do a lot of leg work (or, nowadays, reading work) to find out the truth. Honesty isn’t everybody’s strength even if a suggestive name would leave you with this impression.

What makes it harder to find out the truth about one particular raw pet food scam is that a prominent raw feeder group (based in San Francisco) is selling such ‘dehydrated raw’ pet foods knowing that the company uses cooked animal-derived ingredients. Other retailers may either simply not know this little secret, or, for the sake of sales, they decide just as the raw feeder group, to keep these products on the shelf without explaining to customers that the main ingredients aren’t raw but cooked.

As always, buyer beware. Not every marketing claim can be believed, and in the case of the largely unregulated pet food industry, such intentional deceptions are more frequent than one would expect from the beautiful ads companies share with the world.

This is a good time to remind everybody that organic certification is the best assurance that marketing claims are really true. So far, certified organic pet foods are the most regulated ones,* which means that an unbiased party can verify a company’s claims. Until other regulations catch up with deceptive marketing, your best bet is to choose USDA organic pet foods to get what you are paying for

* Certified organic pet food companies are also expected at least once a year, while even human food processing plants are often inspected less than once in a decade (!)

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

31st Mar 2011

Is This ‘Dehydrated Raw’ Pet Food Really Raw?

Consumer be ware of companies that claim their pet foods are dehydrated raw if their claims aren’t verified by an unbiased 3rd party! So far only organic certification assures you that pet food manufacturers have to declare in a legal document if the ingredients they use are heat treated (e.g., cooked or boiled) and how they are processed.

For the past several years we have observed that one particular pet food manufacturer has made its reputation offering so called “raw dehydrated pet foods” for cats and dogs. However, lately we have seen that they (have had to?) publicly admit in some places (e.g., pet food industry magazines, own press releases, and a few words hidden in a somewhat confusing temperature statement on their web site) that the animal-derived ingredients they use are “essentially cooked” before they are mixed with the other dried ingredients which they have dehydrated later in a contract (but “human grade”) food processing plant.

It has not been easy to make sure we didn’t misread this the first few times we came across this ‘secret’ heat processing information. But lately the company seems to have become more transparent to admit that the animal ingredients used in their dehydrated products are indeed cooked. Maybe this openness is based on a legal issue the company may have encountered? For sure, they meanwhile have succeeded to fool many of their customers (retail stores and consumers alike) to believe their statements about raw dehydrated are true!

Anyway; this is what you should learn: Even if a company repeats over and over again that their foods are raw, you better check to see if this is true. (Interestingly, the same company keeps repeating their pet foods are organic, while they may or may not use a cheap organic ingredient to 2 or maybe 3 in some of their cooked/baked ‘raw’ pet food products).

Unfortunately, only certified organic pet food products are tightly regulated. Only manufacturers of certified organic pet food products have to disclose all their processing and ingredient sources to an independent agency. But at least this can give consumers and retailers alike the confidence that they aren’t outright (repeatedly and successfully) lied to by a manufacturer.

If you think ‘made in a human grade facility’ claims warrant anything in respect to pet food manufacturers’ truthfulness and disclosure, listen up. While certified organic pet food manufacturing sites are inspected at least once a year, a human food manufacturing site may be inspected once in 10 years or so. Great, ha?

It’s sad to say, but trust isn’t what a consumer can build on when choosing a dehydrated ‘raw’ pet food. The only way to assure truthfulness of ‘raw dehydrated’ (and most other!) pet food claims is to check for the proof that an unbiased third party has access to all of a manufacturer’s records, and at this point this restricts it to certified organic pet food products. – Just look for the USDA organic seal on the packaging or website. The abuse of this seal is punished heavily and therefore abuse of this seal happens very rarely [Can you see what regulations can achieve, if they just exist :-) ]

The even worse news is that apparently raw pet food retailers who KNOW about a (this particular) manufacturer’s deceptive use of cooked ingredients in their dehydrated raw pet foods, keep selling those foods as ‘raw’ to their customers who expect pet foods that are indeed raw. I have had several customers approach me about this lately and I couldn’t agree more with their disapproval of such deceptive practices.

Well, that’s what consumers fall prey to if you leave it up to some industry members……..

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

12th Mar 2009

Complete or Balanced Pet Foods – Does Supplementation Make Them Nutritionally Adequate?

Almost all of the so-called ‘balanced’ or ‘complete’ pet foods are supplemented with isolated nutrients (particularly vitamins, amino acids, and minerals) to achieve measured levels of nutrients mandated for particular species by the National Research Council (NRC). These levels are required if a given manufacturer wishes to display the coveted “Meets AAFCO”s standards” (Association of American Feed Control Officials) claim on marketing materials and product labels.

No one doubts the need to provide pets with ample nutrients to keep them healthy. There is also no doubt that supplementation of pet foods with nutrients is necessary if the natural nutrients in the ingredients are devitalized during the manufacturing process by high heat (e.g., extrusion, canning, cooking) or if the used ingredients are of low nutritional value to begin with. But several problems are associated with the current practice of adding isolated nutrients rather than nutrients that occur naturally in whole foods. Below is a list of some of these problems.

1. Most of the nutrient supplements used by the pet food industry are of questionable quality.
Since most of these supplements are synthesized in chemistry labs, contamination during manufacture can be a problem, and actual potency may be questionable.

2. Isolated nutrients often work differently than their natural food-borne counterparts.
Isolated nutrients may be more or less potent—or bioavailable—or they may simply work differently than nutrients in their natural context. For example, isolated calcium supplements may actually cause health problems if given in excess or in the absence of nutrients that are required for proper calcium absorption or excretion; whereas calcium occurring naturally in food is easily absorbed and can be excreted if consumed in excess.

3. Feeding a ‘balanced’ or ‘complete’ diet that is supplemented with isolated nutrients gives pet owners a false sense of security and comfort—largely unsubstantiated—that this food offers everything that an animal needs to thrive.
Instead of feeding a variety of high quality foods with a wide spectrum of natural nutrients, offering so-called ‘complete’ or ‘balanced’ foods exclusively often leads to nutritional deficiencies or even chronic diseases. As a result, health problems can often appear as early as young [just post-puppy] adulthood.

4. Supplementing low quality ingredients (e.g., ingredients that are potentially allergenic, unhealthy, or devitalized by heat) with isolated nutrients cannot prevent the onset of diseases associated with poor quality and insufficient levels of appropriate basic food ingredients.

5. Despite the fact that most pets in industrialized countries are fed heavily supplemented ‘balanced’ or ‘complete’ diets, the frequency of diet-related disorders has increased considerably among these pet populations.
If the promise of these supplemented ‘complete’ or ‘balanced’ diets were actually being fulfilled, wouldn’t most animals fed these foods be dying of old age, rather than succumbing to one or more of now all-too-common chronic disorders such as arthritis, allergies, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease, to name just a few?

So what’s a good alternative to the ubiquitous artificially supplemented ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ diets?
Well, quite simply, the best diet you can offer your animal companion would include a variety of real whole foods that are known to be compatible with the needs of his or her particular species. Using high quality real whole food ingredients that contain nutrients in their natural context should do the trick.

So, why isn’t this common practice? The answer is obvious; it’s much more costly and time- and labor-intensive to formulate and produce foods from expensive, high-quality, ingredients in a manner that ensures nutrient levels that meet NRC standards.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Regulations Comments 1 Comment »

05th Feb 2009

Caution with Sweeteners – Mercury in High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Did you ever check if your pet food contains any sweeteners? Aside form the fact that added sweeteners (including honey!) have no place in your pet’s regular food, these additives can be contaminated as the following summary by Lyn Henshew, MD demonstrates:

Jan. 29, 2009 — Some foods and drinks rich in high-fructose corn syrup contain detectable levels of mercury, a new report shows. The report, published on the web site of the Minneapolis-based
nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), shows detectable levels of mercury in 17 out of 55 tested products rich in high-fructose corn syrup. The new report comes from researchers including David Wallinga, MD, director of the IATP’s food and health program. They bought 55
products that list high-fructose corn syrup first or second on their list of ingredients, which means high-fructose corn syrup was a leading ingredient in those products. Wallinga’s team sent samples of those products to a commercial lab, which checked the levels of total mercury in each sample.

“Overall, we found detectable mercury in 17 of 55 samples, or around 31%,” write Wallinga and colleagues.

Here is the list of those products:

Quaker Oatmeal to Go bars
Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
Manwich Gold Sloppy Joe
Market Pantry Grape Jelly
Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry
Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
Wish-Bone Western Sweet & Smooth Dressing
Coca-Cola Classic: no mercury found on a second test
Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
Minute Maid Berry Punch
Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink
Nesquik Chocolate Milk
Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Regulations Comments Comments Off

02nd Oct 2008

Pet Food Marketing Tricks

1. Exaggeration of the overall quality of product:
Terms such as ‘premium,’ ‘natural,’ ‘holistic,’ ‘healthy,’ and ‘natural’ are sometimes used to describe pet foods of extremely poor quality. So, why do some manufacturers use these terms misleadingly. Well, first and foremost, because they can. But more commonly, these terms may be employed simply because they might omit the most toxic chemical preservatives. They still may use low quality (e.g., ‘feed-grade,’ ‘meat meals’) or unhealthy ingredients (e.g., refined, overly processed ingredients or processing methods) and synthetic additives which are associated with several health risks and nutrient depletion. Due to the lack of regulation and legal definition of these terms, many pet food companies use these terms freely and without constraint to increase their profits. Don”t feed any Frankenfoods to your pet.
(I apologize to McCoy, who is featured here in his Frankenstein Monster costume, but this one was just too tempting!)

2. Abuse of the term ‘organic’:
The only organic claim in the pet food industry that must, by law, be valid and verified by an unbiased third party is ‘USDA certified organic.’ Claims of ‘organic’ alone are not currently regulated or subject to oversight, and this fact makes it perfectly legal for pet food companies to market their conventional products as ‘organic.’ Many pet food manufacturers abuse the general lack of oversight, regulation, and enforcement, as well as the all-too-common confusion over precisely what the various claims of organic being made actually mean. Unfortunately, this situation has important implications not only for your pet’s health and your pocket book, but also the honest companies that go the extra distance to create food products that are healthier for your pet and better for the environment.

If you don’t see the USDA organic seal and the name of an organic certifying agency on a product’s label, quite often you’ll be buying something that isn’t really organic, i.e., there isn’t a USDA certification to verify its legitimacy. A little known fact that’s important for careful consumers to know: one can also request an organic certificate from the particular company in question. Genuine USDA-certified organic producers must have such certificates on hand and available for every product that is marketed as ‘certified organic.’ Even if a company states that they use 100% organic grains, for example, without an organic certificate to back up this claim, it simply comes down to trusting the word of that manufacturer alone. And, believe me, trust alone isn’t good enough in a rabidly competitive marketplace.

Something else that you should be aware of: most organic consumer associations do not discriminate, in their buying guides, websites, or elsewhere, between companies with USDA organic certification and those that merely proclaim organic status on their labels and in their promotional materials (including websites. So, it is critically important that consumers take a big drink from the educational ‘firehose.’ The easiest way to obtain clear and unbiased information is to check out the USDA website or to simply call or write to one of the USDA-accredited organic certifying agencies (e.g., Oregon Tilth, Quality Assurance International or QAI for short).

Unlike certified organic pet food products, pet foods that carry stand-alone organic claims (i.e., no USDA certification) may contain perhaps a small number (perhaps just one) of organic ingredients and, say, a dozen or more conventional ingredients. Why would a professed organic pet food manufacturer use some high quality organic ingredients mixed in with conventional ingredients? Well, quite simply, this is a half-baked way to legitimize a claim of organic status, and, at the same time, save a lot of money! You should be aware that legitimate, USDA certified organic pet foods cannot use conventional ingredients when organic versions are available, and for the most part, they are. There are a few conventional-grade (i.e., non-certified organic) ingredients that, by necessity, are allowed because organic varieties are simply not available yet. These include fish and certain additives with preservative properties, such as calcium carbonate.

If a pet food company tells you there is such a thing as a certified organic ‘byproduct,’ quite simply they’re selling you a line. Organic certification simply does not allow the use of ingredients which cannot be sourced to their origins. Period. End of story. If a manufacturer declares their byproducts are healthful parts such as liver, heart, gizzards, etc. why wouldn”t these manufacturers name these organ meats openly instead of using this strange, indefinable word ”byproduct”?

3. Use of the terms ‘USDA-approved facility’ or ‘USDA meat’:
These terms are applied in cases where human foods are manufactured in a food processing plant used expressly for production of human foods and that the meat referred to is fit for human consumption, respectively. Since the terms ‘USDA-approved facility’ and ‘USDA meat’ are reminiscent of ‘USDA organic,’ some companies may use these terms intentionally to elicit the association with USDA certified organic products. Some manufacturers may also deploy the terms ‘organic ingredients,’ ‘hormone-free,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ and ‘GMO-free’ to strengthen this association. But take note that USDA certified organic products are by law—and through strict verification—free of antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

4. Use of the OTA seal:
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is not a USDA-accredited organic certification agency. Like other trade associations, membership is based on the payment of a membership fee. Presentation of OTA membership, whether on a product label or website, does not mean that a given member uses organic ingredients in their pet foods. Since few consumers are aware of this, the OTA seal is often used to elicit the impression of a certification entity for unverified (i.e., non-certified) organic claims. With all due respect to the OTA, third parties may often carry their seal to legitimize a claim of true organic status. On the face of it, this does not reflect poorly on the OTA—they’re a legitimate trade association and don’t represent themselves as a certifier. Rather, it suggests that a number of companies out there may be using the OTA seal as a marketing tool, a tactic that is perfectly legal, but not necessarily demonstrative of a high ethical standard.

5. Claims of sustainability or of being ‘green’:
Some companies may purchase packaging that is made from recycled paper and market themselves as green on this basis alone. What they don’t explain, of course, is that the packaging was imported from far-flung countries such as China, and the energy and resources used to transport it were prodigious—and anything but green! Many companies proudly display a ‘Coop America-approved’ seal, implying a green ethos. Now, unquestionably, Coop America is an organization that attempts to promote green values. But some of the companies that carry this insignia are not necessarily truly green. The Coop America application process is done via paper application or by phone; no substantiating documentation for green claims concerning, for example, sourcing of materials, fair wages, or organic ingredient claims is required. Certainly, the examination of application materials involves nowhere near the scrutiny of the process for certifying organic products such as pet foods. As is the case with the Organic Trade Association, ‘Coop America’ members pay an annual fee.

6. Claims of USA-sourced ingredients:
Such claims are often soft, but obviously quite useful, in these times of widespread and disastrous pet food recalls. Be aware that only USDA certified organic ingredients can be sourced to specific farms, whether in Montana or China. The USDA-accredited certifying agency has access to the names and locations of all ingredient suppliers and therefore can trace the source of any organic ingredient. The records that certified organic manufacturers must make available to these certifying agencies necessarily demonstrate that any organic, fair trade, or human-grade claims can be substantiated. Here’s a counter-example: if a US company states that it uses organic kelp that is harvested in the US, just walk away: currently, there is no source for certified organic US-grown kelp. If a company makes this claim, you can be pretty sure that their other claims are similarly exaggerated or just plain bogus.

7. Claims that the conventional ingredients used are as good as organic:
Hmmm . . . an interesting claim, but how could any company possibly substantiate it? If a company can demonstrate that the ingredients in its products have not been treated with toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and that they are not genetically engineered, well they might have a case. But any or all of these treatments and conditions might render the ingredients in question inferior in quality compared with certified organic varieties. So, if a company cannot provide any evidence to back up a claim of equivalence in quality of conventional ingredients and organic counterparts—and right now, without USDA organic certification, no company can—then that claim is simply worthless.

8. Claims that pet foods would be raw or raw dehydrated:
Sometimes apparently well-respected pet food manufacturers “forget” to mention to their customers that they dehydrate ingredients that have been previously cooked. If there is no explicit statement about how each ingredient was processed before dehydration, ask the manufacturer. Although the manufacturer can theoretically still serve you an outright lie as an answer, this at least alerts them to the fact that pet guardians are more attentive than they’ve hoped! Unfortunately, these ‘minor’ processing details and claims are also not enforced by any government or unbiased third party agency – EXCEPT if you are dealing with a certified organic pet food where an organic certifying agency inspects each processing detail for each ingredient used. In brief, organic certification assures that ‘raw’ or ‘dehydrated raw’ claims and promises made on the pet food package are true. Without organic certification these claims are unsubstantiated.

Unfortunately, in our modern, highly competitive world, compacts based solely on trust do not mean much any more.
Naked greed and legal loopholes encourage very bad behavior. So, don’t fall prey to empty claims. Inform yourself before buying that pet food in the pretty packaging with high-flying claims. Where claims that sound great can’t be verified, at best, you’re not getting what you think you’re paying for, and at worst, your pet is being short-changed nutritionally and otherwise. Be a careful, educated, and vigilant shopper: your pet will thank you. And, not to be forgotten, the ethical manufacturers out there that try to do the right thing will survive another day to create products that are good for your pet and the planet we all share!

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Regulations Comments Comments Off