The Pet Food Industry

Now before I start, I think it is important to tell you one of my favorite books is Thinking Slow and Fast. I highly recommend everyone read it.

The Main thesis is that there are two systems of thinking. System 1 is fast instinctive and emotional. System 2 is slow deliberate and more logical. They both have their own positives and negatives. They both have their own times and place where they should be used. I personally prefer system 2.

Emotions are one of our greatest strengths, but it is also one of our biggest weaknesses. For all the Star Wars fans out there, Yoda talks about emotions clouding our judgement several times. This is very true.

This is partially why we never publicly addressed the controversy from a couple months ago. I felt that emotions were charged and justifiably so. I felt like it would be better to address it after people have time for the emotions to cool off.  I also felt that everyone else was already discussing the main issues, problems, and concerns. I feel like if you don’t have anything specifically to add to the conversation, you shouldn’t join the chorus. Many people have already pointed out most of the points I would be making in this post.

Now that the dust has settled and emotions have cooled I will address the issue. Now many people have directly messaged us regarding the issue, and we have responded to those people.

We do not air dry any bones. All of our Chews are Freeze Dried.  We did previously offer them; however that was always temporary until we received our freeze dryer. I was never really a big fan of them, mainly because of how long it takes. The only bones we offered were Duck and Chicken feet.

There is one experiment/video I am planning on conducting regarding drying temperature, time, and how different times and temperatures affect how the bone breaks.

That being said as a pet parent you need to always supervise your dog whenever giving them something to chew on. You need to observe them so they don’t try to swallow the thing whole. Toys and chews, while they are partially meant to entertain or engage your pet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supervise them as they are playing.

There are a lot of issues in the pet industry. We pride ourselves on educating not just our consumers, but all pet parents. We pride ourselves on transparency. Everyone who knows me knows I am not afraid to speak my mind. However, I’m not really a fan of attacking other companies especially when they are down. Which is why this post is going to address the pet industry as a whole rather than a specific company.

That being said there are major issues in the pet industry, and it’s not just limited to this situation.

Part of the reason why we started the company is that we have received moldy treats or treats that were obviously not dried all of the way from a couple of different companies. I’ve heard from different people that they have received treats that were obviously not properly dried from several companies.

I can forgive it it’s a one time thing, but when it happens several times there is obviously an issue.

Part of the reason this happens is because things get pulled too early and aren’t properly dried. This is entirely on the individual companies. Part of this issue may be a result of a business expanding.

Which brings me to my next point.

As Pet Parents we owe our companions a duty to not allow emotions, marketing, or even our beliefs to dictate our actions. I.e. fooling ourselves into believing a vegan diet is suitable for our companions. Now if research demonstrates that they are adequate over long periods of time, I will change my opinion.

Sometimes we develop emotional attachments to companies. We take criticism of a company personally. When this happens, we must take a step back and evaluate the criticism or complaint on its merits.

We are all for supporting small businesses. We are all for supporting companies owned by Minorities, Women, LGBTQ, and Veterans.

We could advertise that one of the owners is a female, and the other owner was in the Army. However we have decided against this type of advertising because at the end of the day it shouldn’t truly matter. Now if all things are equal then okay.

The issue that comes up too often when using these labels is that companies and people use them as a way to deflect criticism and avoid accountability.  The label is used as a defense.

Think of a company co-opting the phrase of a social cause. Think of a politician who says how dare you question the integrity of a Marine.

If you think there aren’t companies that are lying about who really owns and operates the company to take advantage of these labels, then you are fooling yourself.

We also need to start reexamining what acgually constitutes a small business.

However, all of these labels should never be used as a defense to criticism, especially when it bares absolutely no relationship to the criticism.

As pet parents, we need to be principled. Our criticisms should be slow, and deliberate. We should not let emotions cloud our judgement. When they are we need to recognize it and take a step back and not allow our emotions to dictate the conversation.

When we allow our emotions to interfere this leads to us having a double standard.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”

Groucho Marx

If the issue is something that you would loudly criticize a company you don’t like for, then the criticism needs to hold against the companies you like as well.

After a study came out about one company, several influencers jumped to the defense of one of the companies implicated. They defended the company they liked and said nothing about the other companies implicated in the same study. However, if the study had been about a company, they disliked they would have blasted it everywhere. This is a problem.

One of my key beliefs about raw feeding is if we want to claim to be better, than we need to actually be better. The Hypocrisy illustrated above is an example of us not being better.

AAFCO, FDA, State Feed Organizations

“Corruption’s such an old song that we can sing along in harmony and nowhere is it stronger than in Albany.”

The Pet industry is the only industry that I know of where a consumer has to pay in order to see most of the rules and regulations. Many states simply just reference the model laws written by AAFCO because they are copyrighted by AAFCO. If you want to see the regulations, you will have to pay $120.00 to AAFCO. While you might be able to find bits and pieces here and there spread out across the internet, it is not publicly available.

I did recently receive a survey from AAFCO on whether they should make the ingredient definitions public.

AAFCO, however, is really just a set of model laws. The pet industry is regulated for the most part by state feed organizations. This means it is incredibly disjointed, but this does open up another avenue of getting individual states such as California, Texas or New York to implement changes. Most states, however, have adopted the model laws.

The states need to do a better job, or the federal government needs to step in and reassert its authority. The states and/or the federal government need to take back the authority that they have for all intents and purposes granted to AAFCO, which is not accountable to pet parents.

AAFCO is made up of state feed officials, a couple of people from the FDA, many however, are employees of the pet food industry.

Seeing as most states just adopt the model laws as written, this means that the large companies are for all intents and purposes, writing their own rules and regulations.

We all know that industries hire lobbyists to influence legislation. This however, takes that to a whole other level. This is like asking a wolf to guard the hen house.

With that being said, as everyone has seen from the DCM debacle, the FDA itself needs significant improvements.

Another issue is that AAFCO, the FDA, and State Feed Organizations are all ultimately far more concerned with animals raised for meat than they are for our dogs and cats. We need to be pushing for a department that is dedicated specifically to our companions. We need to be pushing them to fund research for our animals so we don’t have to rely on the large companies such as Nestle or Mars to decide to fund research.

As of right now the regulatory bodies work for large multinational companies instead of working to protect our pets.

The Regulators are supposed to work to protect our pets, not protect companies.

Now there is one good thing about AAFCO, and that is the nutritional profiles for complete and balanced pet foods.

The profiles are by no means perfect, but they are to an extent better than the NRC guidelines, but that is entirely because they are updated more frequently than the NRC guidelines which were last updated in 2006.

Now the make up of the pet food committee that oversees the profiles leaves significant room for improvement as it is made up almost entirely of people who’s only experience is in regulation. There are only two veterinarians on the commitee. Only one of which is actually board certified in Veterinary Nutrition. This is still better than waiting who knows how long for the next NRC update. As of this writing there are no plans to update the NRC guidelines. The last update also took 3 years.

Rules and Regulations Lack of Enforcement

In order to receive a Pet Food Producer License in the State of California, you must submit and receive approval for your product labels.

One thing of note is that many companies are not legally selling Pet food or Treats. If they were, they would not be missing things that are legally required to be on the label. There would not be ingredients that are not approved for pet food.

However, this continues unabated, and the agencies are fully aware, yet they do nothing.  There are ultimately no consequences for not following the rules.

This really just shows that the regulatory authorities that are paid with our tax dollars don’t truly care about the health and well-being of our pets.

If they wanted to they could have small pet food and treats fall under cottage food laws. Thereby allowing more small businesses.

Ultimately the Rules and Regulations surrounding pet food are as effective (probably less so) as cops are at enforcing the speed limit.

Now one thing of note is California’s ability to prevent the sale of dog foods made with kangaroo meat, but at the end of the day that probably has more to do with companies, whether it is the manufacture distributor or amazon and chewy’s willingness to comply than with Californias enforcement of said food

As a producer or manufacturer, you have to essentially decide whether or not to follow the rules. 

I will say that it can take some time for newer companies to learn all of the rules, regulations, and labeling requirements, but that is part of the process of starting a company.

Some of the companies are more than a year old; some are several years old. I have even seen a direct-to-consumer raw food company with labeling errors. They had been distributing food to consumers for over a year at that point.

I don’t entirely blame companies for not getting approval. It is a lengthy process as government agencies aren’t exactly known for being efficient, but more than likely, they aren’t aware of the requirements; The rules aren’t readily accessible, and some are complex. Others may have decided to just ignore the rules, As the only consequence is a slap on the wrist.

Many of those who decide to not follow the rules and regulations probably have been critical of the lack of transparency and accountability in the pet food industry, which is probably part of why they started their company.

Health Claims and Unapproved Ingredients

Unfortunately, it is extremely easy to make various Marketing “health” claims because of the inaction, and incompetence of the FDA and State agencies.

There have been CBD products on the market for several years now, even though it is not actually approved for use in pet foods.

Now there are some potential benefits of CBD, and it probably should be approved, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not approved. 

In 2020 the FDA finally sent a couple “sternly worded” warning letters to several CBD companies. However, it was about them making health claims. Not about the fact that CBD isn’t approved.  The FDA has allowed the CBD pet industry to grow to 37 million dollars a year industry and projected to be around 400 million a year in 2024.

Crickets are another ingredient that is not approved, yet cricket foods and treats are sold across the country.

CBD, and crickets are but two examples. There are many other ingredients in pet food and treats which are not approved. This also isn’t anything new. Companies we’re putting pea protein in dog foods well before it was actually approved.

               As an aside

Is it really the best idea for an industry still reeling from the DCM fallout to introduce to the market several completely novel foods. I.e. lab grown meat, insect based pet foods, foods made from yeast etc.

This is not even about CBD, Crickets or other unapproved ingredients. It is about the failure of agencies tasked with protecting our pets.

For agencies (FDA, and State Feed Organizations that are supposed to be protecting our pets, they have a funny way of showing it. 

This ultimately shows that these agencies either don’t truly care, or they are completely and utterly inadequate at their jobs. Jobs that are funded by our tax dollars.

Our pets deserve better, they deserve answers and accountability from the agencies.

Now I am sure they will blame their inaction on lack of funding, and that may be a contributing factor, but have the heads of the agencies even requested more funding?

Recalls

It seems like every month there is a new pet food recall. The reasons for the recalls vary. Some companies have never had a recall while others have had several recalls. It’s important to note that many foods are made by co-packers; meaning different brands are being manufactured in the same facility this goes for raw food, treats, and supplements as well.

If a recall happens once, okay to a certain extent, but recalls at this point are treated as just the cost of doing business. There are no actual consequences for the recall. Sure they take a small financial hit, but this is akin to giving Bill Gates or even someone worth several million dollars a 500 dollar speeding ticket. They have no real incentive to not continue to speed.

If there were recalls almost every month of frozen pizzas even if they were different brands there would be a congressional investigation. 

All that really happens with pet foods is the company gets a “sternly worded” letter, and they conduct an internal investigation, and pinky promise it won’t happen again.

Here are excerpts from the letter the FDA sent Hill after their food was recalled because it had 33 times the safe limit of Vitamin D.

“We are unable to assess the adequacy of your corrective actions because many are preexisting procedures that were not followed consistently prior to the recall event.

The violations cited in this letter are not intended to be an all-inclusive list of violations that exist at your facility.  You are responsible for investigating and determining the causes of the violations identified above and for preventing their recurrence or the occurrence of other violations.  It is your responsibility to ensure your firm complies with all requirements of federal law, including FDA regulations.  You should take prompt action to correct the violation cited in this letter. Failure to promptly correct this violation may result in legal action without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

It is entirely possible that when the investigation into the recent recall from Midwestern pet will reveal a very similar set of circumstances.

Here is a link to the FDA’s Website with information about recalls. Note some of the recalls on the list will be foods for chicken or cattle.

Changing the Industry

Our Pets are not property; They are members of the Family.

We are unlikely to see any improvements until our pets are no longer just considered property. Our dogs are not property they are members of our families and the laws need to reflect that.  

What happens when your pet dies because of a food or treat?

What happens when a neighbor’s negligence results in the death of your pet?

What happens if your veterinarian was negligent and your pet dies?

What happens if a police officer negligently kills your pet?

All that happens is they might cover the cost of a replacement; they might cover some of the medical expense. This is by no means adequate. Our dogs and cats are not property to be replaced.

Now this would most likely result in increased costs towards consumers as the price of insurance for companies would rise.

However, this could be mitigated by removing the sales taxes we all pay on veterinary services and food.

Why nothing changes?

In Federalist Paper Number 10 James Madison warned about factions, or for the fans of Hamilton

"Thanks to Hamilton, our cabinet's fractured into factions
Try not to crack under the stress, we're breaking down like fractions
We smack each other in the press, and we don't print retractions"

67% of households own a pet. That makes pet parents one of the largest demographics. However, we as pet parents are not united. Pet parents are broken down into several factions. There are those that like the big pet food companies. There are those that still want to feed kibble, but not from the big companies.  Raw feeding is broken into several of its own factions. There are the different ratio diets, there are those that want to balance according to AAFCO NRC or FEDIAF guidelines. There are those who want gently cooked diets and not raw diets. There are those who only want to use conventional veterinary medicine. There are those who want a holistic only approach, and then there are those who want a mixture.

Each faction attacks and criticize the other factions. This is a problem even within factions where you must toe the party line. We all ultimately want what is best for our pets, and we will get nowhere as long as we keep attacking each other instead of concentrating on our common goals.

If anything is going to change, we need to set aside our differences and work together toward the common goal. After that the factions can continue to attack each other, but in order to make any change we need to present a united front.

Change within the System

Now there are people like Susan Thixton, and Kohl Harrington who have been making a valiant effort to shed light on the matter. Susan Thixton runs Truthaboutpetfood.com. She has been writing about many of the issues surrounding the pet industry and attending AAFCO Meetings going back to 2006. Kohl Harrington who directed Petfooled has filed Freedom of Information Requests with not just the FDA, but also many state feed organizations. Many of the emails uncovered show a very cozy relationship between companies and both the state feed organizations, and the FDA.  

While I applaud them for the work they have done,

At the end of the day it is clear that the federal and state officials who are paid with our tax dollars do not work for our pets. They work for the industry.

So no matter how many FOIA requests are submitted no matter how many calls and emails are made or signatures collected the status quo is not going to change. Nothing is going to change so long as we try to work within the system. Its not going to change while we play their game.

Nothing is going to change until different people are put in charge of the state feed organizations. It is not going to change until changes are made at the FDA. It is not going to change until our pets have a status beyond just property. It is not going to change while our pets dogs and cats are lumped into the same category as animals raised for human consumption, but without receiving any funding. It is not going to change when we try to work within the bureaucracy. It is not going to change through the legal system.  It is not going to change unless we pressure our representatives to pressure the agencies.

Courts often decide that certain things are political questions and not legal questions for the court to resolve.

The current situation is a political question, not a question for the courts or agencies to resolve.

The changes we all want, the changes our pets deserve, require a political answer. They will not happen without politicians.

This is why pet parents everywhere need to lobby their representatives. We need to make it clear to both our state and federal representatives that the current status quo isn’t working. We need to flood them with calls, emails, and letters. At the end of the day, politicians are fickle in nature, they go where the wind blows. We need to make it clear that the wind is blowing, and not in the favor of the status quo.

Lobbying our Politicians

This is why as pet parents we need to be lobbying our politicians.  The companies all have lobbyist.

The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Many of the companies distribute products across the world so any change we can make has ramifications for all pets.

This means we all need to be lobbying both our state and federal representative. This means opposing the appointment of individuals to regulatory bodies. While consumers have no voice at AAFCO, we can influence AAFCO by lobbying our representatives on who gets appointed to state feed organizations, on who gets appointed to important posts in the FDA. At the same time, we need lobby our representative and senators to pass a law giving our pets a status beyond just property.  We need to lobby them to not just accept the model laws made by AAFCO. We need to lobby them to fix the FDA, and state organizations. We need to lobby them to take back the authority they have for all intents and purposes delegated to AAFCO. We need to lobby them to have a department dedicated specifically to our companion animals instead of lumping them in with animals raised for meat.

This is also a rare opportunity for true bipartisanship as this is something that we can all agree on whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party etc. We all want what is best for our pets, and the status quo is not working. The industry regulating itself is not working.

Send an email and call your governor and your state and federal Representatives and ask why the FDA and state officials have done nothing about foods not actually allowed in pet food. Ask them why they have allowed CBD to grow to a 30+ million dollar a year industry when its not even approved. Ask them what they are doing to address the fact that recalls in pet food occur on an almost monthly basis.  Ask them why agencies are doing nothing about companies producing and selling illegally. Ask them why consumer have to pay to actually see the rules that have been adopted by the states. (which is almost a word for word copy of AAFCO’s model laws which are copyrighted. The fact that the rules and regulations are copyrighted is anathema to the principles of our legal system. Copyright or no copyright no one should have to pay to see the laws.

This is particular important if your senator sits on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

  • Tammy Baldwin, Michigan, Chair
  • Jeff Merkley, Oregon
  • Dianne Feinstein, California
  • Jon Tester, Montana
  • Patrick Leahy, Vermont
  • Brian Schatz, Hawaii
  • Martin Heinrich, New Mexico
  • John Hoeven, North Dakota, Ranking Member
  • Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
  • Susan Collins, Maine
  • Roy Blunt, Missouri
  • Jerry Moran, Kansas
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi
  • Mike Braun, Indiana

Conclusion

Thousands if not millions of pets have died and suffered as a result of the status quo. This has gone on long enough. If we do nothing we aid and abet the status quo.

The point is the pet industry is a complete and utter mess and it needs to be fixed. The “regulators” have shown time and time again that they don’t truly care. It is not going to change until we force the issue. It is not going to change until we start lobbying our politicians whether they are Democrats or Republicans. It will not change as long as we don’t try. We will fail if we can’t move past our differences and put forth a united front. Any progress we can make is a step in the right direction. It is not us that suffers if we do not do anything, it is our pets. Our pets lose as long as we do nothing.

The hardest step is the first step, after that its about just taking one more step, and one more step until the changes are accomplished.

Any changes that we can accomplish are better than the current status quo. Given the nature of the modern marketplace any changes we can make has ramifications for pets not just in the United States, but pets across the world.

Share this post with your friends

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter today to be notified of any new posts and exclusive product discounts.

1 2

Leave a Reply