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Pet Food Politics: Know Where Your Dog's Food Comes From
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Nestle: We think veterinarians need to be taught more about nutrition, and by experts who don’t work for pet food companies. Mal surveyed veterinary schools to find out whether they were worried about the conflicts of interest caused by pet food company involvement. Most weren’t. They should be. The veterinary school at Cornell is covered with posters from pet food companies.

Nesheim: Right. And our students get free pet food from pet food companies.

Nestle: The entire system works just like drug company involvement in medical schools. Pet food companies provide free food and swag to students, write the major nutrition textbooks, and sponsor students and professors. And veterinary practices sell pet food. We think all this creates conflicts of interest that deserve some critical attention.

Plenty of evidence supports the idea that drug companies influence prescription practices. Why would pet food be any different? Veterinarians don’t have to know anything about nutrition because pet foods are “complete and balanced.” All they have to say is “Buy this brand.” That’s why Feed Your Pet Right isn’t so much about what to feed dogs or cats as it is about how to think about how to feed them. It’s a mixture of What to Eat and Food Politics for pets.

Nesheim: We also talk about how the veterinary profession thinks cooking for your pet is the worst thing in the world to do. After the melamine recalls, a veterinary group put out a statement saying that people should be careful about cooking for their own pets, because after all, pet food companies hire PhD nutritionists to do this. [Laughter]

Nestle: We laughed when we read Hills’ book about clinical nutrition for pets. It’s a really good book, but the chapter on pet feeding goes on and on about how it’s too dangerous to cook for pets. But then it gives completely simple, generic recipes for complete-and-balanced diets for dogs and cats. The recipes are so easy that anyone could follow them.

BARK: Would you make food for your pets?

Nestle: Oh, probably not. I hardly ever make food for myself.

Nesheim: I grew up on a farm and we fed our pets from the table. We didn’t buy pet food—we fed our pets pretty much what we ate.

BARK: How’d they do on that kind of diet?

Nesheim: They did just fine. We had very healthy, well-adjusted animals. We talk about this quite a bit in our book. How you decide to feed your pet depends a lot on your own value system. You can accommodate the nutritional needs of your pet in a variety of ways—commercial foods, home cooking, raw foods, or some combination. What you do depends on the amount of time you’re willing to spend, your value system and the kind of a life you want your pets to have. Fortunately, there are lots of good choices.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 55: July/Aug 2009
Christie Keith has covered canine health and welfare issues since 1991, is the lead science reporter for Pet Connection and writes the "Your Whole Pet" column.

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