Monday, April 02, 2007

Cat Food?

I went to the vet twice in the last couple of weeks to take my cats for their yearly check-ups and shots. Kitty Carlyle's appointment was the day after the news broke about deaths linked to pet food. Not much was known at that point but it looked like pets who were eating "the good stuff” - foil packages of premium food - were victims. Phew, we were safe; my cats eat dry kibble from industrial-sized bags I buy at Costco.

The following week, I showed up with Brondis, my big yellow male cat. The vet had a long printed list of recalled pet food products. Again, it was mostly the high quality stuff from cans, chunks-in-gravy style food. My cats share only an occasional can of mushy stew served as a treat. Relief - safe again!

I started to follow the news coverage. There was an undertone of apology: this isn’t soft news; after all, our pets are family members. My thought was: exactly, I love my cats.

As the days pass more information is emerging. There is speculation about the safety of some dry food products and wheat gluten is identified as the problem ingredient. I read the list of ingredients on our bag of cat food. Thank goodness, no wheat gluten. Again, we're OK. The cat food I buy is made with chicken and rice and a whole host of chemical-sounding ingredients.

The problem wheat gluten is from China. What the heck is gluten anyway? It’s the protein in grains after starch is removed. Wheat gluten makes bagels and pizza dough chewy and delicious. Pet food gravy is thickened with wheat gluten and it is probably a protein source too.

The problem with this pet food gluten is that it is linked to a contaminant. During the last few days, the news vacillates between naming the culprit as aminopterin, a chemical used as rat poison or cancer chemotherapy; or melamine, a chemical found in plastic resins and pesticides. The source of the contaminant is not identified.

With the exception of formerly-feral Brondis who adeptly hunts (and eats) birds and small rodents, my cats eat a human-engineered diet of kibble - neat pellets nutritionally balanced to promote long, healthy lives. I always read the packages carefully when I buy a new food. I want my feline buddies to be healthy (and I want the vet bills to be manageable).

When I really think about it, what self-respecting cat wants to eat wheat gluten or rice? I am mortified when I see feathers or slain, partially-eaten small rodents on the patio. (Brondis likes to share.) But, then, he is being true to his nature. Cats are, after-all, carnivores. Carnivores eat meat!

Beloved carnivore pets ate scraps and bones when my parents were growing up. Now, our pets dine exclusively on meals from bags, boxes, and cans. Scientific research goes into the development of these products. Everything is engineered for species-appropriate nutrition. Key words hearkening good health for humans like antioxidant and Omega 3 are strategically placed on attractive packaging. Feline-specific maladies are mentioned: hair balls and urinary problems are minimized by this food. Coat and skin health are promoted. Yes, I read the product descriptions carefully.

This whole story has an undercurrent I have not heard explicitly spoken about in the news coverage. The coverage is very specific: this is pet food.

My thought is this is food (period).

The factor that causes most concern for me is that the list of pet food products being recalled grows longer every day. Today a feline favorite in my household was added to the list. I don't serve it all that frequently, but a Pounce product is being recalled as a precaution. The contaminated wheat gluten now seems widespread in the manufacture of pet food.

As I learn about the manufacture of food products, I am beginning to realize that a complex list of altered food subtances coming from a large range of sources is commonplace. If something goes wrong with one ingredient, the implications can be massive. This holds true for food that is manufactured for pets and for people.

I was hiking in the woods this weekend and my companion and I stopped and shared what one friend optimistically calls "a protein bar". This "nutrition bar" is made specifically for women. The attractive foil packaging extols the virtues of the product as having more fiber and less sugar. Antioxidants are mentioned. I squinted to read the ingredients. Many are organic, some are isolates and extracts; brown rice is included as brown rice syrup. I picture people in lab coats researching these virtuous cookies for women who like to eat well while they exercise...or in my case hike or bike.

My thought this weekend was Hmm, human kibble.



At 3:49 PM , Anonymous Olivia said...

Well said.


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