It has a long and disparate history in the United States and around the world. Both noble and questionable goals have been passionately pursued in its name. Some question its methods while others applaud.
Most efforts commonly cite a goal of protection or awareness. A question that ultimately arises with each new activist effort remains: Do the ends justify the means?
Chances are, you don’t often associate pet food with activism
But that’s exactly the goal of a newly formed group, The Association for Truth In Pet Food, which launched earlier this month. Its founder, Susan Thixton, has a long history of pet food activism.
Susan has spent more than twenty years investigating claims of questionable practices in the pet food industry. During that time, she has been considered a thorn in the side of industry and an advocate for pet owners. Whether you embrace her methods, or find them extreme, her goal has been to help inform pet owners with her Truth About Pet Food website, launched in 2006.
Susan was recently booted from active participation at AAFCO meetings after being categorized as a “blogger”. (AAFCO is the organization that sets labeling and nutrient requirements for pet foods) After being informed that participation was open only to representatives of stakeholder groups, she decided to form one.
The current stakeholders include state regulators, along with representatives from ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers. The Association for Truth in Pet Food will represent pet food consumers.
Do pet food consumers have a voice in the industry?
There is no doubt that a more unified voice from consumers can attract the attention of pet food manufacturers. Evidence of this is seen by the slow shift to healthier ingredients in many major brands of pet foods.
A recent example of this shift was seen in the reformulation of Science Diet products. The change was seemingly “forced” upon the company as a direct result of consumer preference for healthier foods (see below). Even The Whole Dog Journal commented with surprise on the improvement in quality of these new formulations.
Some manufacturers have built their following around a healthy approach from the beginning. Others have balanced a healthy approach with a cost awareness that forces some compromise of ingredient quality. Still others offer inferior ingredients which masquerade as quality foods. These levels of quality have been around for generations. While the market embraces them all, there is no place for unsafe products.
Recent recalls and product withdrawals need more attention
Most pet owners awareness was heightened following the recalls of 2007-2008. What began as an isolated incident snowballed to result in the death of hundreds of pets. Over the next few months, more than 5000 pet food products were recalled. It all began as a result of a few reports from pet food consumers.
As a result of the recall, new reporting and testing regulations were put into place. The event has gradually faded from consumers’ memory, but pet food recalls continue to arise almost monthly.
One goal of the newly formed Truth in Pet Food Association is to begin random testing of pet foods. It will test when reports are received indicating a food may have made a pet sick. Whether the Association can complement or confirm the testing done by manufacturers remains to be seen.
Pet food testing is very expensive
Whether a laboratory tests for the presence or absence of unwanted ingredients, the costs remain high. Manufacturers are not unconcerned about the health of their products, but do have a vested interest in protecting their bottom line. The Association has the health of its members’ pets as its top priority.
The approach each of these groups take towards testing may be similar, or drastically different. It will be informative to see how testing from both groups compares or diverges in results. The driving force behind any of these tests should be protection of the health of our pets.
Membership in the organization is set at $10 annually, with larger donations gratefully accepted. The dues have been set low to make it accessible for as large a membership as possible.
Time will tell how effective the Association can be to act as a representative for previously unorganized pet food consumers. It appears to be a group whose existence is long overdue.