The Myth of "100% Complete and Balanced" Processed Pet Foods
The pet food industry has been running in place and causing immeasurable harm to pets for at least 75 years. It presents an egregious example of scientific hubris and commercial irresponsibility. Whether you have pets or not, what follows will underscore and substantiate everything the book has said thus far regarding how wrong society can be on health and nutrition. Only in this case, our wrongness falls upon innocent pet victims.
Companion animals were once fed table scraps and also ate whatever they could find or catch in the barn or fields. This was fine until leash laws were enacted and pets became more urbanized and house bound. So pet owners began to seek convenience foods from the grocery store. Alert entrepreneurs in the food processing industry noted this and saw an opportunity to convert waste (much of it still highly nutritious) in the growing human food industry into pet food. These converted scraps proved to be an efficient use of resources otherwise wasted and a convenient solution to keeping the pet’s bowl full.
There are now extruded, pelleted, baked, canned, freeze-dried, semi-moist, frozen, lifestage, breed specific, high protein, low protein, natural, holistic, USDA approved, human grade, fortified, anti-allergenic, and disease treatment processed pet food formulas. In a race to create new market niches, profiteers roll out an endless array of purported "special" ingredients, and demonize a growing list of "bad" ingredients. Each manufacturer argues that their food is the best and can offer either unsupported claims playing to myths and public ignorance, or proofs such as analyses (% protein, fat, water, etc.), successful AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) feeding trials, digestibility studies (how much comes out compared to how much is fed), and testimonials and endorsements. All such claims and proofs constitute a fallacious life support system keeping, as you will see, a very dangerous idea alive.
The commercial pet food imbroglio is confusing and frustrating for consumers trying to make conscientious choices. After all, how can pet food A be better than food B, while B is better than A, with each side providing proofs? Rather than get into the confusing debate, most people just go with the flow and swallow current marketing razzle-dazzle. Myth, lore, faith, convention, clever advertising, convenience, trust, and tales of pet food ingredient dos and don’ts have become the basis for pet feeding. But virtually every processed pet food claim intended to lure consumers is found to be deceptive upon close examination.
For example, "human grade" ingredients sound good, but virtually all pet food ingredients come from human grade processing facilities. "No by-products" sound good, but the trimmings, organs, and scraps you and I can’t find at a meat counter turn out to be some of the most nutritious elements for pets. "No corn, soy, or wheat" is a common scare tactic but the brands that omit them usually use some other form of starch that is nutritionally inferior. Some brands, in an attempt to scare people into their coffers with a "no-grain" claim, use tapioca for their starch. But that can contain the poison hydrogen cyanide. Some make boasts about being holistic, natural, and the like but are essentially the same as all other brands. The "no preservatives" claim would mean that the nutrients are unprotected from oxidation and would generate toxins worse than the preservatives that have been left out. One brand, implying by its name that it is "raw," lists the raw ingredients it contains after fifty or so ingredients that are heat processed (ingredients must be listed in order of quantity), and below an ingredient that is in the food at one ten-millionth of an ounce in a normal meal. The raw part of the food could be at billionths of an ounce, trillionths, or just a few molecules per twenty-ton truckload.
People are easily led and deceived because they tend to believe anything on a label and assume pet feeding is mysterious and needs high tech solutions. Let’s think about this for a moment using the same common sense we would use in choosing our own best foods.
Because of the nondescript nature of the mush and nuggets in pet food cans and bags, pet owners must extend a lot of trust to manufacturers. But the balm of blind trust and faith never turns out to be a solution for anything. For example, consider the following approved ingredients from the official AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) regulatory publications:
dehydrated garbage (you read that right)
polyethylene roughage (plastic)
hydrolyzed poultry feathers
hydrolyzed leather meal
some 36 chemical preservatives
peanut skins and hulls
corn cob fractions
ground corn cob
ground clam shells
poultry, cow and pig feces and litter
hundreds of chemicals
a host of antibiotic and chemotherapeutic pharmaceuticals
a variety of synthetic flavorings
This is not to say these ingredients are commonly used, just to point out that they can be. Obviously these ‘approved’ ingredients prove it may not be such a good idea to blindly trust regulators, manufacturers and nutritionists, and assume they know better about how to feed your pet than you do.
The absurdity of official nutrition deepens because at the same time regulators approve dehydrated garbage, they ban natural ingredients like pollen, chondroitin, Coenzyme Q10, and other nutraceuticals (natural substances with health effects). Any health food store and grocery has foods and nutraceuticals approved for humans that are banned from inclusion in commercial pet foods.
This sad state of irrationality—approving feces and garbage but banning chondroitin—can only be explained by the fact that regulators are trained in old school nutrition - using textbooks parroting 100-year old nutritional ideas. They are taught and come to believe that the nature of the food makes no difference, just the percentages of protein, fat, vitamin A, and the like. If dehydrated garbage and feces is made sterile (safe?) and has 12% protein, then to them that equals nutritious food. Similar thinking can be found in human hospitals where old school nutritionally trained dieticians feed diseased and starving patients instant potatoes, Jell-O, canned meat, and Diet Coke. Any claim about special merits of natural ingredients is often considered voodoo by them.
Both human and animal nutritionists can be so caught up in their science of percentages that no room is left in their brains for common sense. If that’s the way they want to eat, that is one thing. It’s quite another for consumers to follow along just because nutritionists and regulators promote themselves as expert, authoritative, and immune from error.
In a classic case of government run amok, regulators carefully purge the industry of natural ingredients that may have health benefits, and then call manufacturers to task over picayune matters on package labels that have nothing to do with nutrition, health, or safety.
Here is just one example of how regulators fill their time policing pet foods - A commercial food that had chicken and beef in it claimed on the label that it had "meat." The regulatory Gestapo swooped down and declared it illegal. They considered neither chicken nor organs to be "meat" because of a terminology technicality they had created. It took thousands of dollars and months of work for the manufacturer to make the changes to the packages. For what? So the public would not be ‘misled’ to believe that the "meat" mentioned on the label was chicken and organs (even though the ingredient label clearly identified what was in the product). This was an action taken by the FDA, the same regulatory body that permits drugs into the market that maim and kill hundreds of thousands of humans and animals every year. In contrast, never has the word meat on a label harmed a pet. And most certainly no pet has ever been harmed if their owner understood meat to be chicken and organs.
Pet food regulators busy themselves refereeing precise label verbiage, size of print, where on packages certain things must be said, and work to promote the disease-producing "100% complete and balanced" pet food label claim (I will get into in a moment). They are stuck in their own deep bureaucracy, oblivious to the real world, and convinced of their self-importance by monitoring silly nonsense.
In the meantime, against such a massive background of agreement among industry, regulators, medical professionals, and nutritionists, how could the public help but be bamboozled into thinking that pet food manufacturing is some sort of high tech wizardry their pets need? Yes, processors can soup-up their twin-screw extruders and make things like white flour, textured soy vegetable protein (TVP), dye, and flavoring look and taste like a real pork chop. But the best of technology is being used to fool owners and pets and to make profits, not to create truly healthy pet foods.
The results speak for themselves. After countless generations on the new fangled diets, pets are plagued with every manner of modern degenerative disease, including obesity, cancer, dental disease, et al that plague humans and their companion animals on their fare of processed foods.
The tragedy is greater for pets because people can at least choose foods for themselves; pets can’t. Even though people may think they are being smart by relying on the pet expert industry, stop and think about this for a moment. Nobody in their right mind would ever eat the same processed food, meal after meal, day after day for a lifetime. Nobody would make his or her child eat the same processed food at every meal. So why on earth would we ever think of doing it to our pets? Yet virtually every pet owner feeds the same processed food, meal after meal, day after day, and does so thinking they are doing their pet a favor because the label says "100% complete and balanced."
Recognizing this contradiction and using the same intuitive sense to feed our pets as we do ourselves is the key to healthy pet feeding.
Aside from the fact that the singular feeding of processed foods spawns illness and disease, it is a cruelty to force a captive animal to eat the same food at every meal. Try eating a bowl of dry Captain Crunch as the only food at every meal for the next 15-20 years, the lifetime of pets. Or eat a can of Spam at every meal for the same time.
The exclusive feeding of processed pet foods takes advantage of people’s desire for convenience and their unwillingness to trust themselves or take personal responsibility. As for the pet industry perpetrators, it all began innocently and well intentioned enough. Entrepreneurship is the American way. All pet food producers needed to do was convince the public to throw their "non-nutritious and imbalanced" table scraps in the garbage, and to feed their pet the new modern way. But heat-processed, starch-based pet foods had all sorts of nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. Pets were dying, developing rickets, and going blind, just like starving children do in a third world country.
To save the day, regulators stepped in to force manufacturers to "balance" the pet foods better. So manufacturers consulted nutritionists who hold the belief that almost any mix of base ingredients can be made whole by adding protein from virtually any source along with synthetic vitamins and minerals. (The recent massive pet food recall of products containing an ingredient that was evidently spiked with toxic melamine to boost its nitrogen percentage—interpreted as protein—is an example of the danger of a focus on percentages.) They "fortified" and "balanced" the foods so they would meet the "known" standards. To prove that the resulting foods are wholesome and healthy they decided to devise an experiment, known as the AAFCO feeding trial. This is an example of something called science that is not that at all. Since it is not an experiment worth doing, it is not worth doing well.
It goes like this: If after a few weeks of eating the specific diet to be proven, the caged experimental animals don’t die or show signs of deficiency, toxicity, or sickness, then the pet food passes. The manufacturer can then claim "100% Complete and Balanced" on the label. Monitoring this claim and making sure manufacturers meet the standards surrounding its presentation on labels is pretty much the central focus of pet food regulation: the FDA, USDA, AAFCO and every state feed control agency.
With a passed AAFCO test certificate in hand, the manufacturer can tell everyone that their new ‘scientifically proven’ food is all that a pet owner should feed and if they feed anything else nutritional imbalance and disease may result. If the manufacturer flashes scientific looking graphs and charts in front of veterinarians, some of them might endorse the products as well. (Veterinarians, like physicians, get little if any nutritional education. What they do get comes primarily from the biased "100% complete" pet food industry.)
By performing such testing all was supposed to be well and science served. But as it turns out, the claim of "100% complete" is a pretense of science because it assumes that which cannot be true - 100% complete knowledge.
Nutritionists, caught up in their cognitive chauvinism about percentages, totally miss the fact that nutrition has long-range impact that cannot be measured in a several-week AAFCO feeding test. Measuring such things as body weight, general condition, and a few blood values only gives the process the flavor of science, not its substance. They forget that prisoners have been known to survive for years on little more than water and a little rice or bread that is deficient and imbalanced by every nutritional measure. They overlook the body’s ability to adapt to and tolerate all kinds of nutritional abuses - for a time. Their so-called proof of a food’s perfect completeness is a mockery of logic, evidence, and science.
The commercial gambit of claiming 100% completeness is nothing new. It was also attempted in the baby formula industry. After all kinds of assurances that scientifically designed baby formulas were the "100% complete" smart choice for modern moms, the breast was retired to its ‘proper’ place as a cosmetic appendage. Physicians were indoctrinated by industry propaganda to push baby formula as the new, advanced, modern way. Then disaster struck. Hundreds of thousands of babies suffered serious nutritional diseases. When the breast was brought out of retirement, health was restored. Surely with such a terrible lesson, food processors would not again try to supplant nature.
But they have, and on a grand, worldwide scale. With clever subterfuge the pet food industry—under the tutelage of official nutritionists and regulators—is doing exactly the same thing the baby formula industry did. The difference is that it is now illegal for mothers to be told that baby formula is better than natural food (in this case, breast milk), or that formulas should be fed exclusively. Why? Formula can cause disease and death.
But the lesson learned has not been transferred to pet feeding. The "100% complete" claim is now the bread and butter of a multibillion-dollar pet food industry and pays the salaries of countless nutritionists and pet food regulators. The scam has caused disease and death from its beginning, but it continues unabated while regulators harass manufacturers about how to place words on package labels.
Think about it. Our world is complex beyond comprehension. It is not only largely unknown, it is unknowable in the "complete" sense. In order for nutritionists and manufacturers to produce a "100% complete and balanced" pet food, they must first know 100% about nutrition. But nutrition is most certainly not a completed science.
In fact, although nutrition is rapidly being developed as a science, it has always lagged behind the other sciences. This is in part because it is a field of study that has not stood side by side with the other sciences in universities. Rather, nutrition has more or less been considered an incidental branch of homemaking or some other applied field such as animal husbandry. Additionally, because of its almost infinite complexity, the science of nutrition is not easily developed.
The fact of the matter is that the "100% complete" claim is actually 100% complete guesswork. At best, one could say that such a claim is the firm possibility of a definite maybe.
As proof, consider that each time regulatory agencies convene to decide how much of which nutrients comprise "100% complete," debate ensues and standards usually change. This not only proves that what they claimed to be 100% complete before was in fact not, but should also make us highly suspicious about what they now claim to be 100% complete.
So don’t believe the claim on any commercially prepared pet (or human) food that it is "100% complete and balanced." It is a specious, unsupported boast intended to build consumer trust and dependence on commercial products—not create optimal health. It is a marketing slogan and nothing more.
Modern, heat processed, food-fraction-based, additive-laden pet foods sold as supposedly ‘100% complete’ foods to be fed exclusively have caused serious illness and the death of untold thousands of pets. Take the case of cats fed thoroughly approved, AAFCO proven, "100% complete and balanced" premium branded foods. These poor cats ended up with eye maladies and dilated failing hearts (dilated cardiomyopathy), among other things. Science, perhaps the most prestigious of all scientific publications, prefaced a study of this disaster with this: "Thousands of pet cats die each year with dilated cardiomyopathy…"
When such nutrient problems strike, the exigencies of public relations and profits prompt the industry to quickly search out a solution. In this case, to make up for the damage heat processing was doing, they added synthetic taurine. This action had the virtue of being relevant to the matter at hand (animals dying from taurine deficiency) but was generally unimportant in that it did not fix the underlying cause: the pompous mindset that all is known and that good nutrition is just about percentages. This intellectual cul-de-sac creates mental cobwebs preventing the understanding of the single most essential element of health: nature cannot be improved upon.
So the industry—including nutritionists, veterinarians, and regulators— continues mired in its wrong thinking and parading out before the public an endless array of new brands that are heralded as the fix to all the pet disease and dying going on. The market is flooded with "100% complete" diets by prescription, for life stages, for specific breeds and sizes, and those featuring high protein, low protein, no-carb, low-carb, organic, no corn, no soy, no wheat, high fat, low fat, lamb, potato, rice, avocado, persimmon, tapioca, quail eggs, buffalo and on and on. But they all miss the point: a heat-processed food cannot be "100% complete" and should never be fed exclusively.
Occasionally there are disastrous failures in commercial foods such as with taurine, and more recently with the "100% complete" and "natural" foods containing the rodenticide, aminopterin, and the plastic melamine. More often, results are not immediately apparent. Subtle nutritional problems can cast long and insidious shadows. Many of the degenerative diseases striking animals - particularly in their middle and later years after perhaps years have passed with no apparent problems - are directly related to following the "100% complete" pet food myth. Since these degenerative diseases are the primary reason people flood veterinary offices with their pets, this is no small matter. The pain and suffering for both pets and their owners, and the financial loss, is a tragedy of incalculable size. It will not end until the "100% complete" claim is banned from labels or people recognize it for the fraud it is.
When people are no longer under the assumption that a packaged pet food is perfect, they will hopefully begin to think and find a better way. It will have little to do with nutritionists and regulators pretending they have complete knowledge, and everything to do respecting and listening to nature and our own internal common sense.