The "Exotic Ingredients Mean Good Nutrition" Myth

The fervor of the race for a niche, an edge, in the pet food market intensifies.

Since most pet foods are essentially made the same, the only place
left to be "special" is on the ingredient list. So we now have foods with grapefruit, turnip greens, parsley oil, dandelion, split peas, thyme, apples, spearmint, marigolds, persimmons, broccoli, eyebright, quail eggs, and on and on. (Kind of starts to sound like lizard tongue, bat wing and eye of newt, doesn't it?) Although each of these ingredients prepared properly may have some food or nutraceutical merit, just mixing a smidgen into standard mixed "100% complete" processed foods just to create a fancy label is another matter. Without scientific evidence of value at the levels being used (which never seems to be there), such fad exotics can only create a false sense of nutrition.

Then there is the question of cost. If these ingredients were being used in a proportion that could have any meaning other than homeopathically (a branch of medicine based upon infinitesimally small dosage), they would put the price of the food out of reach of everyone but Bill Gates. For example, many such ingredients can range from between $10 to over $200 per pound. If such ingredients were used in meaningful amounts, a forty-pound bag of dry food could cost $100 or more.

But most consumers don't think this through. They get swept along by beguiling ingredients and evocative propaganda and don't put two and two together. Is it not strange that twenty pounds of the food they are buying for twenty dollars might cost $100 or more if they were to buy the fresh ingredients in the grocery store? That doesn't include the processing, shipping, packaging, infrastructure of a pet food corporation and advertising, built into the packaged product.

But no matter. You know, pet food manufacturing is kind of like as­trophysics. No ordinary person can hope to fathom such esoteric sci­ence. After all, if they know everything there is to know about nutrition and its scientific underpinnings to create "100% complete" foods, it should be an easy matter to put $100 or more in a packaged product, sell it for $20 and make a profit.

Well, that's the long and short of the absurdity. What is most pathetic is that it is actually pulled off, with wave after wave of new pet food packaged brews barking whatever fad ingredient happens to be capturing the public's attention for the moment.

Enough delirium. The fact is, anyone yes you too, can go to any number of manufacturers who have ready-made formulations sitting on the shelf. You can ask them to rearrange the ingredient list a little and add a few pinches of a whole array of exotics you think will make your product irresistible to a gullible public. Why, you can even go to the store and buy caviar, send it to the manufacturer and have him squish one tiny egg in each ton of food he mixes. Now you can say your food has caviar in big red glossy letters in full-page ads in the most chic publications in the world. No problem. You're not lying. And, most importantly, you're on your way to becom­ing a caviar pet food mogul.

A better way to evaluate a food is to ask these questions:

  1. Who designed the product?
  2. What are their health, nutritional and scientific credentials?
  3. How long have they been doing this?
  4. What are the results of feeding over long term?
  5. What does the company believe?
  6. What is the informational and scientific quality of their educational/marketing materials?
  7. Are they manufacturing it or having it made at a toll producer?
  8. Do they seem principled, or merely profit oriented?