With all of the recent recalls and revelations regarding what we feed our pets, the dog food industry has lost a lot trust with pet owners who believed that they were feeding their pets healthy, quality meals – not just fillers. And definitely not harmful bacteria, or pentobarbital, also known as the euthanasia drug, which was recently found in several products distributed by a major brand. Reports of pets getting sick and worse because of a brand you have in your own pantry is distressing and terrifying.
iHeartDogs recently got in touch with Jackie Bowen, Executive Director at Clean Label Project with questions regarding the recent rash of recalls. Clean Label Project is a nonprofit that reveals what’s really in the products consumers use daily. Their goal is to reduce the amount of contamination in the products we buy and educate consumers about the brands they use, helping them to make better decisions when they shop and put their trust in the products that deserve it. Jackie’s dedication to public safety and quality control, and her love of dogs made hers the perfect brain to pick regarding our concerns about what we feed our dogs.
iHeartDogs: How can a dog owner make sense of all that’s happening regarding the shocking euthanasia dog food recalls that came out in 2017? How do things like this even happen?
Jaclyn Bowen, Clean Label Project: Time will tell based on the FDA investigation so right now, we dont know for sure. One possible way is through the use of contaminated ingredients. Rendering plants take slaughterhouse animal tissues and converts them into stable, usable materials like purified fats such as lard or tallow. This rendered material is then sourced by some pet food manufacturers and sold to consumers as wet and dry pet foods. It is possible that animals exposed to pentobarbital were included in the rendering process.
In addition to being potentially unethical and objectively gross, it is almost important to note that the use of animals euthanized with a chemical substance is illegal. During the Evanger’s pet food recall, the FDA stated…
“The detection of pentobarbital in pet food renders the product adulterated in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Therefore, it is not acceptable to use animals euthanized with a chemical substance in pet or animal foods. It is the responsibility of the animal protein ingredient suppliers to implement practices at their facilities to ensure that euthanized animals are either not accepted at the facility, or to determine how they died and ensure euthanized animals are segregated from animal protein going for animal food use. Further, it is the responsibility of the pet food manufacturer to ensure that the food they produce is safe for consumption and properly labeled. One way that a manufacturer can do this is by taking steps to verify the identity and safety of the ingredients they receive from their suppliers.”
IHD: Out of the 99 foods tested, how many do you feel are “safe” enough that you’d feed them to your own dog?
Bowen: Let’s be honest here, most pet food consumers are not pet food manufacturers at all, rather they are marketing companies that use co-packers to actually manufacture their products. That said, the actual manufacturer of the Gravy Train pet food may manufacturer many other products. The ingredients that that manufacturer uses are likely shared across numerous other brands and products. As such, unless a company has tested their product for the presence of pentobarbital, I would not trust them. I would be especially concerned about other brands within the umbrella of Big Heart Pet and Smuckers because what that could ultimately point to is a systemic lack of robust quality control and quality assurance. Brands either care and test for this stuff and mandate the testing within their supplier contracts or they don’t. Gravy Train does not appear to be testing.
IHD: How can owners make educated decisions about what to buy when it comes to food for their dog?
Bowen: Information is power. The more you know about what’s actually in your pet’s food, the better. Call your brand and demand to know the truth– are they testing? What are they testing for? How often? Here at Clean Label Project, we believe that data wins out over marketing puffery, and we try to provide pet owners with useful quantitative information as to the contaminants in their pet’s foods.
IHD: Where do you see brands going now that this information has been uncovered? (We know many pet foods are manufactured at the same facility.)
Bowen: The loss of consumer trust is very expensive for a brand. The increase in the humanization of pet food over the past few years with marketing words like “human-grade”, “holistic”, and “natural” only fuels the consumer expectation of quality, safety, and purity. Some marketing departments do an effective job at selling a false sense of comfort and security to consumers. Some brands will rise to the occasion and deliver on the legitimate quality and purity that pet parents are looking for and others will fall to the wayside as the market continues to trend towards actual quantifiable quality and safety.
IHD: What direction do you see the pet food industry moving after this?
Bowen: What’s so surprising is that this is the second time we heard this story- the pet food industry clearly didn’t get the message with the Evanger’s recall. I ultimately see retailers having to serve as the intermediary to strengthen their purchasing standards to ensure that the foods they put on their store shelves are truthful and protective of public health and safety for consumers and their pets. Clean Label Project believes that the very best products deserve to win in the marketplace so I also expect to continue seeing consumers voting with their dollars as a means to communicate what they truly value in the marketplace.
Learn more about the brands you buy for yourself and the ones you love, and learn to make safe decisions for your family at CleanLabelProject.org.