As a Bay Area native I will say the following about my fellow Californians. We are progressive, healthy, activists, early adopters of causes and technology, and most of us care about nature and its creatures. Since we are also human beings who crave companionship many of us find love and satisfaction in the furrier members of our families, as do many across the country, and increasingly, the world. Just as we do for ourselves, we take care in selecting products that will keep our pets healthy and happy. But how often do we consider the health and happiness of the animals that are sacrificed for these products?
Anyone who has experienced the joys of animal companionship would shudder to think of their own pets enduring cruel treatment or neglect. Should we, then, extend the same concern to all animals? The humane treatment of animals, especially as food sources has been heatedly debated for decades. Even among the activists and supporters there is controversy regarding what actually constitutes humane treatment.
There is a school of thought that considers the use of animals as food inherently inhumane. So some of us become vegetarians or vegans. Those of us who remain carnivorous support local meat suppliers and farmers that offer cage-free, grass fed, and otherwise “humanely” raised and slaughtered meat products. (For further reading on these differing opinions I suggest checking out Doris Lin’s article at http://animalrights.about.com/od/animalsusedforfood/a/HumaneMeat.htm).
I personally believe that both approaches have merit, and ultimately come down to personal choice. However, when it comes to our pets, we are responsible for making that choice for them. There are people who opt to feed their dogs and cats vegetarian diets. This is a topic for discussion, which I look forward to addressing in the future. However for the moment, let us examine the more traditional choice of providing a meat based diet.
Unlike their human companions, who can zip down to Whole Foods for locally sourced, grass fed and finished steak, pets have much more limited options. Most of the dog and cat foods consumed each year are sold by large companies who control the majority of the industry and operate via mass production. The pertinent question is where does the meat contained in these products come from?
Unsurprisingly, this question is very difficult to answer. Most large companies buy their meat products either through supply agreements or on the open market. This means that meat products (which, for the record, mostly refer to by-products rather than actual meat) get lumped together from various sources, making it impossible to trace back to their origins. What is clear is that most of these sources are large factory farms who are notorious for atrocious animal treatment and slaughter conditions.
For factory farms, sourcing to pet food companies is a smart move from a business perspective. It provides additional income while simultaneously providing an avenue for waste disposal. This means, however, that the vast majority of “meat” products sold to pet food companies are left overs (waste) and by-products. (Without getting too deep into the gory and quite disturbing details of what exactly this includes, suffice it to say that virtually nothing is excluded, including diseased animal parts deemed unfit for human consumption.)
It is by no means a secret that these factory farms have been repeatedly exposed as engaging in animal cruelty and neglect. Additionally, there are safety and health hazards that such conditions lead to, which are passed on to us and our pets. Finally, if these sordid truths aren’t sufficient in driving home the point, many pet food companies have been accused of (and admitted to) the use of animal testing for their products. In this case I refer not cattle or chickens, but domestic animals, dogs and cats just like our own, kept in cold clinical labs.
This last fact brings me back to my original point: if we truly love our pets, then by extension shouldn’t we extend the same care for the animals involved in providing their meals? It’s bad enough that the actual ingredients in the food come from (at best) questionable sources. In addition, it’s a pretty safe bet that these ingredients are the remnants of animals raised in inhumane conditions. Finally, these products are tested on the direct relations of your family pet.
The question remains: what alternatives do we have? This is a topic which I would invite readers to comment on, and one which I hope to address in the near future. For now, however, I will end by suggesting that if you can’t stomach the thought of Fluffy suffering animal cruelty, it might be worth reconsidering what you’re putting in Fluffy’s stomach.
Note: For more thorough information on issues concerning the commercial Pet Food Industry such as nutrition, ingredients, official standards and regulations, marketing tricks, and the truth behind brand differentiation, I highly suggest visiting What’s Really in Pet Food at http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359.