Dog food recall - a lesson to be learned

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column
By: Gail T. Fisher

By now you’ve heard about the massive pet food recall of nearly 100 different brands and labels of dog and cat food products. What a tragedy to pet owners who have lost pets, or whose pets are sick from eating one of the implicated diets.

The manufacturer, Menu Foods, whose facility in Kansas is the source of the contaminated product, has a list of affected brands on their website I found it particularly interesting that most of the links from the Menu Foods list took the surfer directly to the affected lot numbers and codes, with the exception of the higher priced Iams and Eukanuba, which linked first to to a press release on their website. Oh sure, you could get to the affected products and numbers, but only after wading through five additional links. I got the feeling that the primary concern was damage control more than pet safety.

But there’s another fascinating aspect to this issue. Isn’t it interesting that all these foods being recalled, including designer labels costing far more than “store brands” come from the same place?! As tragic as the reasons for this recall may be, part of me is thinking that this is really an important lesson for the informed consumer – as I know all readers of this column try to be.

You may be thinking that just because they come from the same place it doesn’t mean they’re the same foods. Perhaps different brands’ recipes differ from one another. But whether or not different brands use different recipes, the bottom line is that the basic ingredients for virtually all these brands and foods come from the same suppliers, they are of the same quality – or lack of quality – and the differences between major brands are marginal.

Some of the manufacturers have been very careful to stress the fact that these are canned and moist foods, not their dry dog foods, which come from different plants. But you know what? There are not nearly as many manufacturers of dry foods as there are different labels – so the same uniformity of source ingredients exists with the major dog food brands as well.

Please do not think I mean to imply that, since they’re all alike, you may as well buy the cheapest food. That is absolutely not my intention. The fact is that the most popular brands of dog food, especially the so-called “designer labels” spend huge amounts of money marketing to both retailers and consumers with heart wrenching commercials, clever product names, and attractive packaging. Who can forget the wonderful commercial with “Casey” the Irish setter, starting as a young puppy, next scene a frolicking active dog, and then we see him as an elderly, grey faced dog, slowly following his owner up the staircase. Such marketing strategies not only tug at our heart strings and make us believe, by implication, their product will keep our old dogs alive longer, they also raise the cost of their product to the consumer.

There is a difference in the quality of dog foods, but as this recall demonstrates, there are also a great many similarities between foods that are widely available to the mass market of pet owners. Next week I’ll write about how to best select a diet for your dog, based on label reading and quality of ingredients, not on availability, and most importantly, not based on glitzy or emotion-laden marketing strategies.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2007. All rights reserved.
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