Evangers Joins the Party – On the “Do Not Buy” List

Hey Evangers - this is NOT a duck. Are we clear?

May 5, 2011, the FDA sent a letter to the Evangers company of Illinois outlining a few problems with their canned products.

Sadly, this is not the first time.  Not even close.

After reports of manufacturing practices that could potentially lead to botulism contamination, the FDA revoked Evanger’s ability to sell their canned products over state lines in April of 2008.

You can click here for a good example of how that situation played out.  In general, the FDA is difficult to glean information from, and with Evanger’s at the front of a media tsunami trying to play down the situation, many people came to the company’s defense.  Most consumers seemed unwilling to consider that their favourite brand was involved in unsafe practices, and others simply viewed this as an attack on a small private pet food label (at the time there was a flood of complaints regarding Nutro products and outrage at the fact that it appeared the FDA was mishandling the situation – some people even believed that the attention paid to Evangers was an attempt to distract consumers from the Nutro situation).

Also - NOT a duck.

As a pet store employee during this time (at a store that not only carried but supported Evangers) I can tell you that for the year leading up to this we were seeing significant signs of problems.  Foreign matter was found in the cans, cans frequently arrived with broken seals, and at least two moldy cans were reported.

Since then, however, it appears that things have taken a turn for the worse.  (*** edited to add: the FDA required Evangers to apply for an emergency operating permit in 2008 before they could resume interstate transport.  They revoked this permit in June of 2009 because an inspection conducted between March and April of that year revealed continued unsafe practices.  No other pet food company that I’m aware of has such a tangled history with the FDA, and I believe that this most recent incident proves just how totally ineffective the current system is at even enforcing the rules already in existence. ***)

This year we learned of three varieties of Venison dog food that contained foreign material – poultry, beef and soy (Eukanuba, Natural Balance and our old friend Nature’s Variety).  It appears that the FDA may have taken notice, since the latest complaint leveled at Evangers involves protein substitution.

Note that I said “substitution.”  It seems that the FDA tested two varieties of Evangers, “Lamb and Rice Dog Food” and “Grain Free Duck Pet Food.”  Their findings were very upsetting, although perhaps not surprising.

The “Lamb and Rice Dog Food” was tested for lamb – and was negative.  It was, however, positive for Bovine protein or Beef.  Considering that lamb and rice formulations are almost always used for allergies and/or stomach upset, and the fact that beef is often listed as one of the worst allergens for dogs, could Evangers have made a worse choice?  It’s important to pay special attention to the complete lack of lamb protein.  This wasn’t a matter of trying to reduce the overall cost of a product by substituting some cheaper ingredients – this is a blatant case of fraud.

I suppose the issue should have been apparent, you can see on their website that under canned dog food their “Lamb and Rice” product is actually the cheapest one they offer.  Less than beef, chicken, turkey, duck or vegetarian.  Could this have been the first hint?  The Lamb Dinner in their “Classic” line is also the same price as the chicken, which of course leaves me to wonder just how many products were actually tested.  There’s a big difference between only finding two substitutions after testing the entire product line and only finding two substitutions after testing a portion of the product line, and considering the pricing I can’t believe that they would substitute lamb in one and not the other.

Still... NOT a duck!!

But it doesn’t end there.  The “Grain Free Duck Pet Food” was found to contain NO DUCK.  The protein source is not specified (which leads to even more questions, as far as I’m concerned) but they are quite positive that the product does not contain duck.  Considering the price of duck and the reasons that consumers would choose this product over other alternatives (allergies, food sensitivities, etc) this situation is beyond despicable.  I should note that again, this product is SERIOUSLY underpriced if it were to contain what was on the label.  This is not a new issue – these cans used to retail in our area for under $2 a can.  Is it any surprise that for $1.69 you’re not actually getting a balanced grain free duck product?  (Not that cheap products should be held to a lower standard when it comes to labeling and safety!)

Because of these and past events, we have added ALL Evanger’s products to our “Do Not Buy” list.  This company has proven themselves time and time again to be far more concerned with the bottom line than with safety or quality.  Need more proof?  You’ll notice that there is not a WORD of this issue on the company’s website.  You’ll notice they have NOT issued a recall for these products.

Once again, I ask you to vote with your wallet.  And once again I have to ask why we don’t have a certification program in place?

*** No, I am not suggesting that Evangers was using zucchini, dogs or cats in their canned duck product.  The fact is, we don’t know WHAT is in that can.  The use of zucchini, dogs and cats dressed as ducks is an exercise in sarcasm, nothing more.


What’s In Your Dog Food? (Maybe) Not What You Think!

Oh Pooch, if only we knew!

This past December we had some issues with Nature’s Variety and their Instinct line of dried kibble products for dogs.  Which led us to discover additional issues with their cat line as well as reported problems with their dehydrated raw, frozen raw AND canned food products.

Just when we thought they couldn’t surprise us any more, this little gem came knocking through my email.

Now normally I take pet food studies with a pretty big grain of salt – they are, after all, sponsored and often conducted by the companies themselves, similar to the current issues surrounding prescription drug trials.  They’re often carefully worded and phrased, and angled just so – to support whatever product the company pushing.

This study, however, is an entirely different story.

Some of you will remember back in 1999 the CVMA did a study testing pet foods for sodium pentobarbital residue and canine/feline DNA in an effort to determine a) whether pentobarbital was present in significant amounts, and b) whether there was any truth to the rumour that dogs and cats were being recycled back into pet food.  It took years for them to publish the results, and I understand they did so begrudgingly.  You see, despite the companies’ screams to the contrary, many of their products DO contain pentobarbital.  Neither canine nor feline DNA was ever found, although even the president of AAFCO is on camera admitting that it’s absolutely 100% possible.

After this shocker, few independent studies have come across my desk that have actually named the brands used in testing.  This is due to many reasons, including legal issues and of course the ability to make the data look better – after all, if your food tests superior to 10 other brands, that looks good.  It doesn’t look quite as good when it comes to light that you’ve been comparing your “superpremium” brand to grocery store fare and not to comparable products.

In this latest blow to what little trust pet owners may have had left in pet food companies, we discover that allergy diets are not always what they seem.  In fact, it appears they rarely are.

Venison is an extremely popular alternative protein at the moment, right up there with Rabbit and Duck.  All three are being used as “hypoallergenic” diets (which they are not, they are merely novel proteins the body has not yet developed allergies to) in various forms.  But what if that bag doesn’t just contain Venison – or what’s listed on the ingredients list?

Ok, ok – we already know this occurs.  Chemicals like preservatives and artificial colours are frequently added to raw materials before being purchased by the manufacturer.  This means that if the manufacturer purchases say, chicken meal that has been preserved with ethoxyquin and coloured with FD&C Red #40, all they have to put on their label is “chicken meal.”  Not only that, but they can add phrases like “no artifical colours or preservatives.”  Why?  Because they didn’t use ethoxyquin as an ingredient – they simply bought chicken meal.

This is a royal pain in the a$$ for those of us feeding dogs with sensitivities, as they could be reacting to an ingredient in the food that’s not even on the label.  Which leads us to these limited or novel protein diets, like Venison.

This most recent study took a look at four “OTC” (over the counter, or “non-prescription”) foods that were Venison based and recommended for allergies.  They were:

  1. Eukanuba Naturally Wild New Zealand Venison & Potato
  2. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, Limit Ingredient Diet Sweet Potato & Venison
  3. Nature’s Variety Prairie New Zealand Venison Meal & Millet Medley
  4. Wellness Simple Food Solutions Rice & Venison, Old Mother Hubbard

Each product was tested for the presence of soy, poultry and beef.  The only product which tested identical to its label was Wellness Simple Food Solutions.

"Limited Ingredient Diet" must mean something different to Natural Balance than it does to me

"Limited Ingredient Diet" must mean something different to Natural Balance than it does to me

Eukanuba contained poultry – not surprising since their product contains chicken meal as a listed ingredient.  A bit surprising that any company would consider putting out a novel protein diet and then add chicken – although also not surprising because let’s face it, chicken meal is much cheaper than venison.  Unfortunately, they also tested positive for soy, coming in at 8.5 ppm – despite the fact that soy is a major allergen and, yeah, not on the label.

Then on to Natural Balance.  Sadly, this company has a long history of “mystery” ingredients.  Those of you who remember the 2007 melamine recalls may also remember it was Natural Balance who suddenly came forward and announced that their product was also on the recall list despite not having any of the affected ingredients on its label – turns out it was adding rice protein on the sly (and on the cheap) and escaped too much scandal by blaming it on their canning company (a pretty sore excuse).  Well, despite not being listed on the label, their LID Sweet Potato and Venison tested positive for soy at greater than 25 ppm (it appears as though this is the maximum level they tested for) as well as testing positive for beef – what is considered possibly the worst allergen possible for dogs, at least by the veterinary community.

Now, this is particularly infuriating in the case of Natural Balance, as it wasn’t too long ago that their products were called “Venison and Sweet Potato” – the reversal of ingredient listings automatically means that there is now more Sweet Potato than Venison in this product – and with Venison now coming second in the name any idea the minimum amount of venison required under AAFCO regulations?  3%.  Sadly, the worst is yet to come – not only have they vastly reduced the amount of meat in their products across the board, but now we come to find out that what little is there is not even the meat source they claim, exchanging a portion of the “hypoallergenic” and very expensive venison for a top allergen and cheaper substitute!

Yes, it does indeed read "no corn, no wheat, no soy" on the front of this bag. Pity they didn't test for corn or wheat...

Our old pals Nature’s Variety of course makes this list as well, being another company that loves to throw chicken in everything it makes (why is there chicken in every single Instinct kibble product for cats?  Don’t cats deserve an allergy free meal too?) – unless, apparently, they list it on the label.  If that sounds confusing, it is!  Despite listing Chicken Livers as an ingredient, this product tested negative for poultry.  And despite claiming to be free of soy, this product tested at 22ppm.  Now, it seems that Nature’s Variety has since removed Chicken Livers from the ingredients list of this product (online conformation only – your bag may vary) – but hey, who knows, maybe that means now it does contain them.

Three of the four products tested were positive for soy, one for beef, one for poultry and three of their ingredient panels failed to match their actual ingredients.  Wellness is the only company whose product appears to be what they claim it to be.  At least, according to this particular battery of tests.

It’s time to stop this ridiculousness.  There is big money to be made for a laboratory somewhere – one who will offer pet food companies a certification program, requiring quarterly samples to be obtained off store shelves and independently tested from front to back, top to bottom, with full results available online for customers to view.  Trust me, the companies that truly care about quality will become evident quickly.  As for the rest, well… as we always say – VOTE.  With your dollars.  In the meantime, we’re adding Eukanuba and Natural Balance to our “Do Not Buy” list.  Nature’s Variety, on the other hand, has been on it for a while with this latest news serving only as an assurance that they belong there.