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.
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:
- Eukanuba Naturally Wild New Zealand Venison & Potato
- Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, Limit Ingredient Diet Sweet Potato & Venison
- Nature’s Variety Prairie New Zealand Venison Meal & Millet Medley
- 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.
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!
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.