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Why All the Fuss About Cat Food?

An Overview to the Pros and Cons of Commercial Cat Foods

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Warning: This article contains some graphic written description of things that may produce revulsion in some readers. It is my opinion that this information is vital to the understanding of the ongoing crisis in the pet food industry, and to help my readers make educated food choices for their cats. However, if you are squeamish, either hold your cat on your lap and try to remember that you are reading for his sake, skip over the "bad parts," or skip the article entirely.

With an estimated 153,8 million dogs and cats in American households ( 2007 figures), it's no surprise that the pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar "cash cow." Retail pet food sales alone accounted for an estimated 3.1 billion dollars for the 52 weeks ending January 27, 2007. (This figure, for some unknown reason, excludes Wal-Mart sales.) It is therefore unfortunate that some of the top-selling pet foods may be doing cats an injustice, and in some cases, may actually be harming them.

When Ann N. Martin's two dogs became sick in 1990, she found through independent lab tests that the zinc content of the food they had been eating was 20 times higher than the recommended daily dose, and twice the level considered toxic for dogs, according to veterinarians she consulted. Ms. Martin started researching to find out exactly what goes into commercial pet food. Her subsequent book, "Food Pets Die For" rocked the pet food industry, and shocked and dismayed the consumers who support that industry.

Who Regulates Cat Food Standards?

The pet food industry is largely regulated through voluntary compliance with government agencies. Food labels and ingredients fall under the umbrella of the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Its membership is composed of officials from various related state agencies (departments of agriculture, chemistry, universities), and other state and government officials, including the FDA. AAFCO has no enforcement powers, but sets guidelines for standards. Its purpose and function as set forth on the AAFCO Web site is:

    The purpose of the corporation shall be to establish and maintain an Association through which officials of any state, dominion, federal or other governmental agency and employees thereof charged with a responsibility in enforcing the laws regulating the production, labeling, distribution, or sale of animal feeds or livestock remedies may unite to explore the problems encountered in administering such laws, to develop just and equitable standards, definitions and policies to be followed in enforcing such laws, to promote uniformity in such laws, regulations and enforcement policies, and to cooperate with members of the industry producing such products in order to promote the effectiveness and usefulness of such products.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) holds the responsibility for enforcing the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which covers pet food, among a huge number of other products. Within the FDA, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) bears the overall responsibility for animal drugs and pet foods, along with feed ingredients and food additives. "The Act does require that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, contain no harmful or deleterious substances, and be truthfully labeled." Does anyone find it ironic that an act that requires pet foods to be "pure and wholesome" also allows these foods to contain diseased animals, roadkill, euthanized cats and dogs, and even "downer cows," which may have been "downed" by Mad Cow Disease?

It should also be noted that there is no requirement for pre-approval by the FDA of any new pet food. This really shouldn't be of any additional concern, though, since under present regulations almost "anything goes." The "meat" in those "meat by-products" in some cat foods may actually contain tumors, a "protein source" which is forbidden to human consumers.

Next > An Epiphany for Cat Guardians

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