Potcakes from the Caribbean – Animal Wellness – Fall 2012
Article published in Spring/Summer 2011 Issue of The New Barker
Humane Sourcing and the Pet Food Industry:
How “Pet Power” Can Help Build a Better Future for Animals and the Planet
By Anthony Bennie, ©2011, All rights reserved
Can animal lovers change the world for the better?
We love our companion animals. We talk to them constantly, they sleep in our homes (sometimes in our beds!), and we give them parties and buy them gifts. In short, we treat them as furry four-legged humans. Many of us have come to deeply believe in the inherent “soulfulness” of our companion animals, and we don’t doubt that they are intelligent, emotional and intuitive.
So why should we think of cows, pigs, sheep, and other agricultural animals as less worthy of humane treatment than our pets? The answer is, we shouldn’t. We don’t need to have cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, or other livestock in our homes as “pets” to treat them with dignity and respect.
Is there a way to harness the power of pet stewardship to change the world for the better? Can those of us who share our lives and homes with companion animals make life better for livestock animals, humans, AND the planet?
What needs fixing?
As things are today, the overwhelming majority of meat based pet food and treat ingredients come from “factory farms” and mega feedlots instead of humanely raised, grass fed meats. The term CAFO, which is an acronym for “Combined Animal Feeding Operation,” is used by the USDA to identify mass “meat factories” and mega-feedlots in which thousands of animals are raised in unnaturally cramped conditions, with very little freedom of movement and little or no intra-species socialization. While such operations do succeed in producing lots of meat per square foot, they negatively impact not only the health and well-being of the animals raised in this unnatural manner, but the larger environment and even human health.
Cramped conditions foster disease and lead to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. This has caused the mutation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens animal and human health, since it reduces the likelihood that antibiotics will work when they are needed most to treat infection.
The use of added growth hormones to help the confined livestock to grow more quickly has introduced these hormones into the human and animal food stream, bringing many possible long term side effects.
And the negative environmental impact of various types of CAFOs is well documented. The unnatural concentration of thousands of animals in small areas creates huge waste disposal problems, leading at times to serious groundwater pollution. Soil erosion is another by product of CAFOs.
Livestock eating only commercial feed and no grass produce meat that is much less nutritious than those with at least partial access to grazing on grass. Grass-fed animals produce meat that is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and other important vitamins and minerals. CAFO raised animals do not provide these benefits at anywhere near the same levels. Think of it as simple “karma;” when we treat the animals well and allow them a decent quality of life, they return the favor by giving us healthy and wholesome meat.
In Temple Grandin’s most recent book, Animals Make Us Human (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin, © 2009, co-written by Catherine Johnson), Dr. Grandin says it beautifully and straightforwardly: “Since people are responsible for breeding and raising farm animals, they must also take the responsibility to give the animals living conditions that provide a decent life and a painless death. During the animal’s life, both its physical needs and its emotional needs should be satisfied.”
The mass feedlot/factory farm meat production model does not satisfy any of these criteria. A large animal cramped in a tiny space that lives only to eat, eliminate, and eventually be slaughtered doesn’t really HAVE a life in any sense that we would recognize. Their physical need to graze and exercise is unmet, and their emotional need for interaction and socialization with members of their own species is denied.
CAFOs are an unsustainable, inhumane, and some say a cruel model for the management of one of our most vital resources- the livestock we depend upon to support our planet. So what can we do about it?
What’s the alternative to CAFO’s, and how does this affect the economy?
The quality of life for farm animals and our environment can be improved dramatically by supporting the shift away from CAFOs and back to humanely raised, grass fed, free range and pasture kept livestock. But will this hurt our economy at a time when we need American businesses to grow, not shrink further?
In the USA, we have tremendous land resources. When one flies coast to coast, it is clear that there are areas of the country with no dense human habitation for hundreds of miles. There are literally tens of millions of acres of public lands in the U.S.A. that have been sealed off from ranchers as grazing land in pursuit of an ill-defined environmental agenda. At least some of this is land that could be sustainably used for responsible ranching without harming the environment. We would see tremendous growth in the American ethical and humane ranching industry by responsibly and selectively reopening closed lands to grazing leases.
Worldwide awareness of the problems associated with factory farms and the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, and steroids has created a huge and growing demand for naturally and humanely raised meats. So shifting more of our meat industry to the humane and sustainable model would actually help to increase American exports while improving human health and animal welfare. It’s a win-win proposition.
So where do animal lovers and the pet food industry come in to the picture?
It’s really quite a simple plan: if pet loving families start to demand products made from humanely raised meats, and the manufacturers of pet food and treats meet that demand by offering products designated as humanely produced, the multi-billion dollar pet food industry could be a powerful force for change. We could use our tremendous economic power to increase the demand for humanely produced meats and decrease the demand for meats produced by “factory farms.” This will create an economic incentive to shift livestock management to the humane and sustainable model.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets are all carnivores to some degree, and if we keep them as companions, we have an obligation to feed them in a biologically appropriate manner. Since vegetarian or vegan diets are not appropriate for the best health of any of these species, we must feed meat as part of their diets.
Start looking for and demanding pet foods and treats that are made from humanely raised meats and it will help those who raise them to succeed. Ingredients such as cleanly and humanely produced organ meats and connective tissue are VERY healthy nutrient sources for our carnivorous companions. They are a very nutritious source of food and treats for pets. Full utilization of these ingredients helps ethical, family owned ranches to improve yields, and makes their operations more sustainable.
So why not move towards pet foods and treats made from humanely raised meat sources as a way of reconciling our love for companion animals with the practice of meat consumption? In so doing, we can make a leap forward and expand our love of animals into a broader and more spiritually consistent sphere that doesn’t stop at our back doors. It’s a simple equation. Treat all animals to the best of our ability, and we can have a clearer conscience in our complex relationship with them.
Let’s use the “Power of Pets” to build a more sustainable model of food production. At the same time, we can start to more adequately repay our karmic debt to livestock animals by treating them more humanely and with the same respect and love as we show our beloved companion animals.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Isis, whose great beauty was exceeded only by her huge heart. She’ll always be with us.
Anthony Bennie © 2011 all rights reserved
Not to be used except with written permission, with the exception of quotes for review purposes
Anthony Bennie is a companion animal nutritionist, the author of numerous previous published articles on the subject of holistic and natural pet nutrition, has guest lectured at several colleges of veterinary medicine, and is the Founder and President of Clear Conscience Pet®
CONTACT: Anthony Bennie
Clear Conscience Pet®, LLC
Treating with Clear Conscience
A Fresh Look at Treats Made from Organ Meats and “Body Parts”
By Anthony Bennie
Founder and President of Clear Conscience Pet
©2010, All Rights Reserved
As a self-taught canine and feline nutritionist, I have a confession to make: I spent most of my 20 year career in the natural and holistic pet food industry beating up on “by-products” as ingredients in food and treats. Early pioneers of the natural feeding movement zeroed in on the use of these UFOs (“unidentified food objects”) as one of the first lines of attack in our crusade against inadequate or harmful commercial foods. And for good reason; most of the dry and canned pet foods on the market naming by-products as ingredients were of poor quality then, and still are today. Exposing these poor ingredients helped natural pet foods to emerge from cult status in the mid-nineties into what has now become a multi-billion dollar industry, one that offers real nutritional alternatives to improve the health of our animal companions.
But should we reconsider our hard-line stance against by-products? And what does the term even mean? ”By-products” has been a catch-all name for ingredients that don’t show up often in human foods, but as we look at cuisine around the world, it turns out that unlike Americans, most of the world’s humans are fairly adventurous in their food selections and routinely and eagerly eat things to which we turn up our noses!
For example, organ meats such as liver, kidneys, heart, tripe, spleen, lung, and others, are popular around the world for people food. These ingredients, along with connective tissue such as tendons, trachea, and cartilage, have great potential as nutritious supplemental treats in a twenty-first century dog diet. But the USDA does not regulate the sources once they are declared out of the human food stream, and the potentially negative aspects of using such ingredients has outweighed the benefits for many health conscious consumers. However, if you know how to distinguish between the good and the bad, these naturally healthy nutrient sources can give dog lovers a clear conscience as to their treating choices.
So why bother? What is wrong with traditional commercial dog treats? Call it “cookie syndrome;” most commercial treats are very high in carbohydrates, processed flours, and alarmingly, even concentrated sugars in various forms.
Add in the various chemical preservatives, mold inhibitors, and other undesirable additives found in moist and semi-moist grocery store treats that are engineered to appear “meaty,” and you have a recipe for poor nutrition and empty calories in your dog’s diet if you use typical mass market treats . Even treats that are touted as “all natural” or organic, such as those popular “dog bakery” type treats which are mostly wheat flour and sweet coatings, are guilty of the high-carb “cookie syndrome.” The rule of thumb is, too much grain, processed flour, or sugars under any name (corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, molasses, honey, etc.) make for poor treating choices. So what are the alternatives?
By using minimally processed organ meats and select cartilage rich chews as treats, we can begin to turn the dog nutrition pyramid back around to its proper structure. This means high quality meat proteins first, good fats second, phytonutrient sources such as antioxidant-rich “Superfood” vegetables third, and carbs a distant fourth.
The clear conscience treating philosophy starts to take shape when combining these nutritional strategies with a sense of ethics as to how source animals are treated, and how the entire process impacts the environment. To be your own best judge, follow the guidelines below.
New rules of the game for treating with clear conscience :
Transparency: Ask the right questions, get the right answers!
1: WHAT is it? Every meat-based ingredient must be clearly identified as to what it is and what animal it came from. If you don’t understand what an ingredient is, you probably shouldn’t use it. And be careful! For example, the popularity and healthy benefits of North American Buffalo, properly known as Bison, has led to unscrupulous suppliers selling Asian Water Buffalo simply labeled as “Buffalo,” which is an entirely different species, raised nothing like grass-fed American Bison.
2: WHERE did it come from? This includes the country and if possible the specific region in which the animals were ranched, and where the final processing, cooking, and packaging were done.
3- HOW was the source raised and treated? A key part of the clear conscience philosophy is an active sense of responsibility not only to the animals we feed, but to those we eat. Clean sources, raised without unnecessary confinement and with adherence to cruelty-free humane principles not only are better for your pets, they are better for your conscience as an animal lover and citizen of the planet.
Seek sources committed to free-range or open-pasture raising practices, and stated policies against the use of added growth hormones, steroids, and feed-based antibiotics. If animals are raised in a clean, natural, and low stress environment, the positive karma and low toxin lifestyle will yield healthy treat and food sources.
The opposite is true in a toxic environment loaded with chemicals, in which the source animal’s filtering organs such as the liver and kidneys will retain residual levels of these toxins! If you buy the cheap “body part treats” that are prevalent on the market, you are giving your family pets discarded waste from domestic “meat factories” that confine cattle to inhumanely tight spaces, with no opportunity to walk in a pasture or roam on a range. Many such products are unregulated imports with even more questionable origins. It is far better for the environment not to pack thousands of large animals into confined spaces where they will create lots of concentrated waste, which winds up in our ground water and fouls the environment.
4- WHAT handling and processing methods are used to prepare the treat? If the ingredients are clean as defined above, then very simple preparation is all that is necessary. Oven-roasting or natural smoking are the preferred methods. Ingredients should be flash frozen and handled exactly as they would if they were headed towards human food plants, not treated as waste that is allowed to degrade before being liquidated to those who manufacture low end pet food and treats.
5- WHY use the ingredient; what is the benefit to the dog? To assist in answering that question, we will wrap up this introduction to clear conscience treating with a list of some of the above mentioned treat ingredients, and their function and benefit. As always, do your homework, ask good questions, and you will be doing the very best you can for your dogs. Won’t that help you to have a clearer conscience?
By Anthony Bennie, 7/3/10
©Copyright 2010, all rights reserved
ORGAN MEATS and CARTILAGE-RICH CHEW SOURCES: BEST SOURCES ARE Grass-fed or organically raised Bison or Beef, Elk, and other free ranged sources
|Liver||Organ Meat||Great source of vitamin A and iron; Also B-6, B-12, and Folic Acid;||Energy/Endurance, Digestion, Blood Health, Mental sharpness|
|Heart||Organ Meat||Taurine; Coenzyme Q-10;Collagen;Selenium; Phosphorous; Zinc||Cardiac health; digestion; cell renewal and health; metabolic regulation and digestion|
|Kidney||Organ Meat||Iron, B complex vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin)||Eye health, stress prevention, skin health|
|Lung||Organ Meat||Protein, Taurine||Cardiac health, muscle tone|
|Spleen||Organ Meat||Vitamin A, Taurine, B vitamins||Cardiac health, immune system|
|Tripe (stomach lining)||Organ Meat||Digestive enzymes and protein||Digestive health, bone and muscle strength|
|Cartilage||Connective tissue||Chondroitin, Glucosamine, Collagen, Protein||Joint health and arthritis prevention|
By Anthony Bennie, 7/3/10
©Copyright 2010, all rights reserved