Poisonous Pet Food!?
Around Easter you may have noticed the minor media storm surrounding an article recently published in the Australian Veterinary Journal (AVJ). A team of nutritionists at the University of Sydney have performed an analysis of twenty commercial cat foods and discovered that up to 40 percent fail to meet the nutritional requirements of adult cats
The finger-pointing began almost immediately when the editor of the AVJ declined to publish the names of the pet food manufacturers involved. Somewhere along the way the media confusingly replaced the term ‘commercial’ with ‘supermarket’ cat food brands, a small detail but one that emboldened conspiracy theorists (including several high profile vets) to accuse the researchers of a conflict of interest, producing research favourable to the premium pet food manufacturers whom they assert the Universities and AVJ are supposedly beholden to.
Amongst all of this noise, cat owners were left understandably concerned, probably confused and asking the only real legitimate question: If I’m feeding commercial cat food am I harming my pet?
The simple answer: No. Good, now relax.
As is usually the case in these scenarios, the reality is a lot less sexy than perhaps the media or conspiracy theorists would like us to believe. None of the foods were being accused of containing toxins or contaminants nor were any of the potential health concerns discussed in the media raised by the authors. The University and pet food manufacturers accused of “influence” categorically deny any conflict of interest in either the design or funding of the study, and the AVJ (an internationally respected scientific publication) reasonably maintains that to name and shame manufacturers in what was a small scale study would be a dereliction of due scientific process, that is to say, more work is needed.
More work IS needed. The pet food industry in Australia is a largely self-regulated one, the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) is a voluntary members organisation with the stated aim of promoting standards of excellence amongst its members, but it is not equipped to monitor or enforce this meaningfully. The University of Sydney released a statement amidst the media frenzy:
The results of this study point to the need for a regulatory authority to undertake such research. The state and federal governments in co-operation with the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia, Standards Australia Ltd, RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association would be the appropriate authorities to investigate and pursue this research.
Therein lies the take home message. In the absence of regulatory oversight cat and pet owners must take it upon themselves to ensure their pet food manufacturer is accountable: What quality control processes can they cite? What nutritional standards does their product aim to meet and how do they verify this? As vets we are satisfied that the products we endorse and feed our own pets meet this level of scrutiny. As a concerned pet owner can you say the same?