Can ethics exist in the Pet Food Industry?

Dog-food-cans

Another salute to Mary Boland for her excellent column on the “health industries” in this week’s PI. In the plundering of the planet by gigantic, global industries, subverting science and crushing opposing enterprises for short-term profits, an equally hideous example is Big Pet Food.

Pet food is enormously profitable – for the four or five gigantic global corporations that manufacture between 90 and 98 percent of the brands of pet food sold in the world. Their formula for success?

First, rely on the waste products of other industries for ingredients. You do this by taking these residues off the hands of industrialists who would otherwise have to pay to dispose of them – especially the toxic ones. Then, make sure the laws and rules that would cost you money are not enforced. You do this by lobbying law makers and playing golf with regulators.

Third, sterilize the resulting gunk through high-heat processing, chemicals and/or radiation. Be sure to make a strong selling point out of the lack of pathogenic bacteria in the products, which you have thus eliminated, along with most of their nutritional value. If you keep focused on the bacteria, you can avoid questions about the more immediate threats, like endotoxins, which result from proteins processed at high temperatures, and the molds and mycotoxins in grains.

Greenwash the industry’s unwholesome ingredients by showing how huge quantities are thus kept out of landfills. Stonewall consumer advocates, and make adverse event reports extremely difficult to access. Most importantly, master marketing techniques that give customers the impression you care about their pet’s well being and are devoted to producing a high-quality product. Donate what seem like impressive amounts to animal charities, sponsor dog shows and other events.

Voila!

In the last few years, “consolidation” via mergers and acquisitions in the pet food industry has been happening so fast it makes my head spin. Since the Great Recession of 2008, pet food has been discovered to be “recession-proof,” and attracted the attention of major venture capitalists, who approach smaller companies with a reputation for quality.

What they mean to do is profit hugely from their investment by cutting costs (there goes quality) and increasing market share by heavy advertising and marketing. Or giant multinational corporations buy independent, quality-focused pet food companies, and do the same thing in the interest of short-term profit.

It’s shareholder value, instead of product integrity and real value, all the way.

Take Natura (Innova, California Natural and Evo), which was our anchor at High Tails from 2004 until 2010. An independent, family-owned company, it actually spent its research and development money on R&D (imagine). They were proud of their product, transparent about their sourcing and provided great customer service.

In 2010 they sold to Procter & Gamble, which was soon forced to destroy thousands of tons of food in three separate recalls for bacterial contamination. In 2014, P&G sold all of its pet food brands to Mars. Do you really think a behemoth like Mars has your pet’s interests at heart? Or Colgate Palmolive (Hills and Science Diet)?

There are a few good guys, but it’s hard to discern solid commitment to value from the hype. And it can be hard for knowledgeable retailers who have done this to make the differences clear to customers who see their competitors’ deceptive ads everywhere.

But there are holdouts with integrity. Support them. But keep vigilant, not because they are untrustworthy, but because the current state of markets puts immense pressure on companies to keep getting bigger, use ever-cheaper ingredients and labor, and drive profits by marketing and advertising rather than by product improvement.

They say we have abundant choices as consumers in this country. But I fear they are increasingly meaningless, as shelves are crowded with hundreds of brands of competing junk and value is redefined as brand loyalty, earned by clever deceptions and rigging of the system from the top in each productive industry.

Can love for our animal companions inspire us to support ethics and honesty? It can. But as one who is part of an industry rapidly becoming evil, I wish I felt certain we will.

Laurie Raymond

Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs. Sextiped Valley 

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Animal are Earthlings too, let us all do out best to help those in need and believe we are smart enough to make a better life for all.

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