Food & Nutrition
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The Politics of Pet Food


The only way to know for sure that your dog is gaining weight is to weigh him regularly. If he is, you need to feed him less and exercise him more. Feeding less is also not so easy to do, because the number of calories your dog needs is tricky to figure out. Veterinarians determine calorie needs using a formula based on weight and expected activity, but these needs are not in direct proportion to body weight (the formula involves a fractional exponent). Smaller dogs need more calories to maintain the right weight for their size than do larger dogs. Without a clear idea of calorie requirements, you have to adjust food intake by trial and error. Our conclusion: More information about calories could help.

Will calorie labeling eliminate obesity in pets? Of course not, but it could be useful, especially if accompanied by information about the calorie needs of dogs based on size, age, condition and activity levels. We think that the time has come for calorie labeling of pet foods and treats. And we cannot think of a single good reason not to do it.

This exactly parallels the situation in New York City, where the Health Department wants fast food outlets to post calorie information on menu boards. Surprise! The New York Restaurant Association (NYRA) strongly opposes this measure for now-familiar reasons: unnecessary and useless. Although the NYRA still is fighting the measure, restaurant chains must post calorie information. For many customers, including us, the information is a revelation. Our favorite example so far: a blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that sounded wonderfully healthy until we saw its 1,100 calorie count. No wonder the NYRA doesn’t want customers to know such things.

So let’s get those calories onto the labels of commercial pet foods as well as onto treat packaging. Let your veterinarian, AAFCO and the FDA know that you want calories revealed. Use those customer call numbers and website addresses on package labels to ask pet food and treat companies to give you the calorie counts. We think calorie labeling will be required eventually, but we’d like to see it come sooner rather than later.





Marion Nestle, PhD, is the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at NYU; her most recent book is Pet Food Politics.

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