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The Bad News and
Good News about Pet Food

by Dr. Heidi Junger

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Proper nutrition is the single most important factor affecting your animal's health. But unfortunately, many low-quality pet foods are successfully marketed through a number of confusing and deceptive advertising and packaging tricks.

Most mass-produced pet foods are formulated to be competitively priced, consistent in formulation, and to meet the minimum appropriate nutritional standards required by law to allow use of the terms "balanced" or "complete" in any description of a diet based on these foods. Unfortunately, the ingredients most commonly used are often the cheapest available in a fluctuating marketplace. For example, to provide an inexpensive source of protein, corn or wheat gluten may be substituted for fish.  To provide carbohydrates, sugar, propylene glycol, high fructose corn syrup, or even waste products from human food manufacturing may be chosen over whole grain ingredients. For required fat content, material rejected for human consumption is often used. This may include so-called "rendered" fats or even rancid fats (and in such a degraded state, fats can become toxic). Finally, for fiber, everything from cellulose to peanut hulls may be used instead of more nutritious--and costlier--sources.

By far, the best pet foods are certified organic. Organic certification ensures that the product contains organic (and GMO-free) ingredients. When pet owners buy organic, they are assured of careful inspection of each new product, as well as annual inspection of all certified organic products and the facility that produces them.  This assures that no toxins--such as pesticides, herbicides, or sanitizers--are used during food production and storage, and that conventional ingredients are not being mixed with organic versions. Each recipe is investigated thoroughly and all records--from ingredient supply and receipt, ingredient batches used, storage, production, packaging, and sales--are carefully scrutinized. Under such stringent conditions, ill-defined ingredients would never be allowed to enter the ingredient chain. Unlike most conventional pet food manufacturing, in organic pet food manufacturing, each certified organic ingredient must be reevaluated annually to determine if it continues to be organically produced. In contrast, non-certified facilities and their products are not inspected, and ingredients are less easily traceable to their origins; likewise, toxic substances may be used in such facilities.

But be careful. Although many pet food companies claim they are producing organic foods, the consumer must still be vigilant. Without USDA organic certification, a number of companies may use smart marketing strategies to make claims of organic ingredients. Moreover, the use of terms like "natural," "no drugs or growth hormones used," "free range," or "sustainably harvested" is not regulated at all; some producers may use such terms honestly and innocently, but many may not.  Claims of organic, sustainability, social responsibility, and even GMO-free are also often cleverly incorporated into corporate advertising campaigns.  But these claims are meaningless if there isn't a USDA organic certification behind them. Companies that produce a handful of products with perhaps one or two organic ingredients often hype this detail, while completely obscuring the fact that the majority of their ingredients are conventionally produced and may actually contain high toxic loads of pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs--everything, in fact, that "USDA certified organic" isn't!

When you see the USDA Organic Seal on the front of a package, it means the product is 95% to 100% Organic. When a product says "Made with Organic Ingredients" on the label, this means the product only contains a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, and the other 30% are not necessarily organic. This is a very important distinction, as products are allowed to have "Organics" as part of their name without qualifying for the organic seal or being completely organic.

As long as consumers remain unclear about what the term "Certified Organic" actually means, manufacturing of inferior foods will continue to be the norm, and unscrupulous and unethical advertising practices will be used ever more effectively to increase pet food sales at the expense of our pets' health. So, pet owner, educate yourself!  There are a variety of federally regulated uses of the term "organic." If you keep this--and what I've mentioned earlier--in mind as you plan and shop for your animal's diet, you'll have a much better idea of what's in the pet food you buy.  Most importantly, you'll feel a greater sense of security about the food that your pet eats and the life you're helping to improve and extend.

Dr. Heidi Junger is the founder of Onesta Organics, specializing in organic pet food for small animals. Call (619) 295-1136 or visit www.onestaorganics.com.

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