View Full Version : Pet Food Politics: Why Our Pets Still Aren't Safe

September 10th 08, 04:28 PM
http://www.alternet.org/healthwellness/97989/pet_food_politics%3A_why_our_pets_still_aren%27t_s afe/


Pet Food Politics: Why Our Pets Still Aren't Safe
By Jill Richardson, AlterNet. Posted September 10, 2008.

The author of Pet Food Politics exposes how the '07 pet food crisis
happened and why it is a sign of a larger problem with our own food
system. Tools

In 2007, American pet owners found out about a large-scale experiment
the food industry carried out on our pets. What happens if you
streamline, centralize and outsource food production with no goals
other than profit? In the case of pet food, the system worked until it
didn't. And when it didn't, thousands of dogs and cats died due to
eating more than 100 brands of pet food contaminated with melamine and
cyanuric acid. Like a dead canary used to alert miners of methane and
carbon monoxide, our dead pets are a warning about our own food

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health
at New York University, recognized the significance of the 2007 pet
food crisis immediately. She did what our government should have done:
She researched how melamine and cyanuric acid could have entered the
pet (and human) food supply under the guise of wheat gluten and
chronicled the story from start to finish in her newest book, Pet Food
Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

Nestle points out in previous books that it can be hard to prove the
effects of any one food because humans eat diets of many foods, making
it almost impossible to identify the effects of any specific one. Pets
serve as our canaries because they do eat diets consisting almost
entirely of one food. Also, the pet food business is even more
centralized than the highly consolidated human food supply. With
difficult nutrition and taste specifications and expensive
manufacturing equipment required to make pet food, companies find it
most economical to outsource production to specialized operations like
Menu Foods, the company responsible for importing the tainted wheat
gluten. When the Chinese supplier substituted wheat flour dressed up
with melamine and cyanuric acid for wheat gluten, pets died on a mass

Pet Food Politics reads like a gripping murder mystery, exposing how
the pet food crisis happened, what it means for the human food supply,
and why the current system of government oversight is insufficient for
pets, farm animals and humans. I've enjoyed each of Nestle's books
more than the last, and I found Pet Food Politics the most
entertaining of all. I also appreciate Nestle's compassion for
animals, as she understands that we parents of furry children love our
cats and dogs as more than "just pets." I asked Nestle a few questions
about Pet Food Politics; you'll find her answers below.

Jill Richardson: At what point did you know you needed to write about
the pet food crisis of 2007? What in particular about the story made
it a compelling topic for you?

Marion Nestle: This is a long story. My book What to Eat came out in
2006. It's not really a book about what to eat; it's about how to
think about what to eat using supermarkets as an organizing device. I
went through supermarkets, aisle by aisle, trying to answer every
question anyone might have about the issues related to food choices,
from nutrition to environmental impact. I kept seeing this huge aisle
devoted to dog and cat foods and would look at the products but
couldn't understand their labels. If I didn't understand them, I
suspected other people might not either. My partner, Mal Nesheim, is a
retired animal scientist. He had no trouble understanding them. Aha!
Let's do a book together! We signed a contract with Harcourt in
February 2007 to write What Pets Eat. And then, one month later, came
the recalls. I knew we would have to talk about the recalls in our
book. I started working on what I envisioned as a 10-page appendix to
What Pets Eat about the recalls, but I totally got into trying to
figure out what had happened. The piece got ridiculously out of hand.
Fortunately, University of California Press picked it up as a separate

JR: What was the top reason that allowed the pet food problems to
reach the magnitude they did? Was it preventable?

MN: The number one reason is that nobody was paying any attention to
food ingredients imported from China. After that, the reasons
multiply. Pet food companies had no idea where their ingredients came
from. The manufacture of pet foods is complicated, so it is
centralized in a few manufacturing facilities that make many different
brands. The food supply for pets is so tightly linked to the food
supplies for people and farm animals that the food supplies cannot be
separated; what affects one, affects all. The FDA has lost so much
funding over the last 10 years or so that it can't do its job. And
China is an important trading partner as well as an exporter of cheap
goods. This is a hugely complicated, interconnected story that I
thought was well worth telling. ... (cont)