Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Food Testing

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Julie. She agreed to participate in a nutritional study being performed by a large national food corporation, testing a new line of vitamin and mineral enhanced foods. She, along with 7 other adults who were of normal weight and health, participated. All they had to do was have some basic bloodwork done before and after the six month testing period, and during that time they were to eat only the company’s new products, a fortified bologna and Ramen-style noodle cup.

After a month or so on the diet, she noticed she was losing weight, though she was eating an even higher than usual amount of food. She was tiring more easily, she noticed her skin was breaking out, and it seemed she kept catching the same cold over and over. But it was so easy to eat this convenient, processed food, it was pretty tasty, and she always felt full.

By the end of the test, Julie had lost 14 of her slim 130 pounds. She was also shocked to learn that two of the study’s participants had passed away toward the end of the testing period! One, a woman in her early 40s, had died of kidney failure, though her pre-test bloodwork had not indicated that she had a problem. A 50-year-old man had also died after contracting a serious infection. While the food company’s staff was saddened by these deaths, they were not due to “nutritional causes,” and so did not affect the outcome of the study. The new foods were certified as safe and providing complete and balanced nutrition.

Yes, the above story is totally fictitious. There is no way that a human dietary item would receive such inadequate testing! However, that is exactly the testing required for pet foods to receive certification from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which must appear on every product offered as a maintenance diet for pets.

The requirements for a food to pass the AAFCO test are:
8 pets older than one year must start the test.
At the start, all must be normal weight and health.
A blood test is taken from each animal at the start and finish of the test.
For six months, the animals must only eat the food being tested.
The animals finishing the test must not lose more than 15% of their body weight.
During the test, none of the animals used are to die or be removed because of nutritional causes.
6 of the 8 animals starting must finish the test.

So, what does that tell us about our processed pet foods? We cannot take the labels at face value, and must work to educate ourselves about what ingredients are used, and whether they are something we want our pet to eat. Huge pet food companies pay advertising agencies millions of dollars a year to present their foods in the best possible light. Is a slick ad campaign enough? Don’t you want to know more about what you are feeding your pet?

At Central Bird & Animal Hospital, we talk with clients every day about the importance of proper nutrition. It truly is the cornerstone of our pets’ health. One thing that we frequently hear is, “Those foods are too expensive.” Yes, in most cases a quality food does cost a bit more than something with a lot of fillers, by-products, and questionable ingredients. However, the reality is that by feeding a food that supports your pet’s health, you actually save money in the end. You will feed less of a high-quality food, because it is more digestible and contains more nutrition than “bargain” brands. You will also spend much less money treating recurring or chronic problems such as ear infections, hot spots, other allergy-related problems, immune system problems, and kidney disease, just to name a few. And the best benefit of all is that your pet will have a longer, healthier life and more energy.

The fact is that any processed food is, by its very nature, less than ideal nutrition. Much of the nutrition, the essential fatty acids and probiotics, vitamins and minerals, are lost during the necessary cooking process. While a raw natural diet is best, for most owners, a kibble or canned food is a convenience that they are unable to give up. In those cases, choosing the best quality food you can find, and supplementing it with raw food and whole food supplements is a good alternative.

Nutrition truly IS the most important decision you will ever make regarding the health of your pet.

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