Ten years ago, Canadian Ann Martin raised the consciousness of pet lovers worldwide with the publication of her first book, Food Pets Die For. That was followed by Protect Your Pet. In these books, she examines what goes into pet food, how it is manufactured and who is responsible for regulating the processing industry. She began as a “citizen” investigator, who, in her words, just wanted answers to her questions, but today she is a recognized authority on the subject.
Bark: You, of all people, probably aren’t surprised by the Menu Foods recall.
Ann Martin: There are recalls every year—this isn’t unique—but what is unique is the size of this recall.
B: With processed food, isn’t it difficult to track these things?
AM: But they are supposed to! The companies themselves are supposed to test the raw ingredients. According to one plant employee (at Menu), you could actually see the crystals, the melamine in the wheat gluten. And yet they went ahead and used it?
B: At what stage did they test the food on the facilities’ “test” animals?
AM: Not until after they received complaints that animals were sick and dying of the food, and then they did their testing. You get varying reports; they tested it on 40 to 50 animals and I think that 10 to 14 test animals died.
B: It isn’t necessary to test the food on animals, is it?
AM: Definitely not, and I said that from day one! They could have run analytical testing. This has bothered me for a long time. A lot of pet food companies do it in order to ascertain if a cheap ingredient will affect the animal.
B: Since writing your first book, have you seen any positive changes in the industry, especially with the growth of the smaller companies?
AM: There are definitely some that contain human-grade ingredients, and they are good foods. “Human-grade” means that meats and everything, including the grains, are USDA inspected. That is the difference, everything is inspected for human consumption.
B: The other ones aren’t inspected at all?
AM: No, not at all. They can use anything they want for proteins, grains, fats, anything they want. If it says meat meal, it can be from road kill to zoo animals or diseased material from slaughterhouses—anything is fair game.
There are no regulations as far as the ingredients in the pet food. If it says it contains 21 percent protein, it has to contain that amount, but the source can be anything. I know people who have called the companies and asked them where they are obtaining their meat and their grain, and they won’t say. And it is the same worldwide. These are huge multinational companies.
B: You advocate changes in the labeling of pet foods—why?
AM: Let’s have them put the ingredients on the labels. There is no truth in pet food labeling. Who would buy a food that says it contains road kill? You see the commercials and they show fresh chickens and whole grains, but that isn’t the case. I have gone to the Federal Trade Commission on that one because as far as I am concerned, it is false advertising. But they won’t touch it.
B: Let’s hope that this causes people to provide more nutritious food for both themselves and their pets. But it seems that there is a lot of confusion out there among dog lovers about the right way to feed their pets. Could it be that the various opinions within the “how to feed your dog” community add confusion? From raw food, prey model, vegetarian, home cooking—all this can just confuse people, don’t you think?
AM: They get carried away with stuff; it scares people, there is no doubt about it. If you are concerned, give the dog a vitamin and mineral tablet. I talk to old-time vets, like Strombeck, and they say that years and years before this industry grew, our pets ate table scraps; the vets will tell you that back then, pets either died of old age or were hit by a car. We didn’t see so many cancers like we are seeing now. Pets ate what we eat.
B: But people need to understand that what is meant by “table scraps” isn’t the leftovers from processed, packaged or fast foods that so many people in this country eat today. Rather, it means good home cooking.
AM: I have a 160-pound Newfie—the only thing he won’t eat is shrimp and blackberries. But everything else. And I don’t eat junk food either.
B: Eat well yourself and feed your dog well and you will both thrive, it seems.
AM: When I hear from people who are so uptight about the diet for their dogs—“Shouldn’t I add this supplement, this vitamin?”—I wonder if they do this for their children? Or for themselves?
B: What made you start to cook for your animals?
AM: When my two dogs got sick around 1990, they were on a commercial diet. Our vet, who was from England, said to take them off that food and feed them ground beef, brown rice and vegetables. I thought, If I do that, I am going to kill them! Because we have been brainwashed by the vets to feed them this garbage food. And I was amazed—the dogs did great on that diet.
Many of the nutrition courses taught at vet schools are sponsored by the pet food industry, as too are conferences and symposiums. It is a shame. I would like to see some of the old vets teach the younger ones, because they know how well the animals do on table scraps.
The life span of a Newfie is eight years, but my last guy lived to be 14. I had a cat die last year, he was 27; I have one now who is 20. So apparently, with home cooking, you can’t screw it up that much.
B: Do you think that even with the heightened public awareness and the recent senate hearings that we can expect more pet food recalls?
AM: Without a doubt recalls will continue until there is some kind of reliable, independent regulation of the pet food industry. It may even be too late to rein in the pet food industry and its questionable products. The good news is that this most recent recall is a wake-up call for pet owners to take matters into their own hands and to educate themselves about how to best meet their animal companions’ nutritional needs. Some people may make the extra effort to cook for their animal companions so they will know exactly what goes into their dog’s food. And for those who cannot cook for their dogs, they can learn to read labels and purchase pet food from small, responsible pet food companies that can assure them that their foods only contain human grade ingredients.