*edited to add*: Now Purina is in the game- Alpo Prime Chunks and Gravy recalled late last night (of course).
*edit #2*: Apparently the news is saying everything from "Hills Feline m/d is recalled" (which is true) to "All Hills dry pet foods are recalled" (which is definitely not true). JUST the Feline m/d- no other dry food products- are recalled.
Well, the pet food thing just got a little worse yesterday with a) the FDA's discovering of melamine in the tainted food, and b) Hills' recall of their prescription diet Feline m/d ("metabolic diet", for chubby cats). From what I can tell, melamine doesn't seem particularly toxic. According to VIN, a cat would need to eat about 4 kg of the tainted food to approach a lethal dose. One current theory is that melamine, which is chemically fairly similar to aminopterin, might be converted in the body to aminopterin. That would explain why melamine is present in the affected foods and in the kindeys/urine of animals who ate the foods, but why aminopterin is not necessarily present in all those places.
Anyway. Yesterday afternoon Menu Foods declared the recall a success and stated that all their foods are now safe. Shortly after, Hills announced their recall of m/d when they determined that the source of Menu's wheat gluten (called seitan when you feed it to people) was also the source of their own. Note that the first announcement of a recall was made late on Friday (the 17th), the announcement of the discovery of aminopterin was made last Friday (the 23rd), and the expanded recall and discovery of a new potential toxin was announced yesterday. Chris says this is a common technique in politics, to announce bad news just before the weekend so that people get all mad, then forget about it by the time Monday comes around. If we find out that Hills waited on this recall to make it on a more convenient day, they will have lost the trust of an awful lot of vets. Recalls happen, bad food gets into the food supply, and frankly with the globalization of food production, it's impressive that it doesn't happen more often. But to try to save your company's own skin by delaying the announcement of a recall, while however many pets are eating your (prescription) diet? That's disgusting.
Hills and vets have an interesting relationship. I think their sales line is "The #1 food vets feed their pets," and that's probably true. Some people claim that it's because Hills pays off vets to support their product... I've talked to a lot of people and that's simply not true. Some people say vets recommend it because they sell it, which is true in a lot of cases, but there are only a few companies that make prescription diets (Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin, I think). The main reason vets use and trust it is because vets are all scientists at heart, and Hills has a lot of research on their side. Their prescription diets do a lot of good things, and can replace or at least assist drug therapy in the treatment and control of certain diseases. They clearly spend a lot of time and money formulating their diets, and they get the science to back it up. They also invest a lot of money in vets and vet students. The sponsor a lot of our speakers, both related and unrelated to nutrition, and if we didn't have their funding we'd have a lot fewer opportunities. They even purchased all of us our copy of Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. So why have I still been so skeptical of them?
Maybe it's because I worked for Petco for way too long and have developed a large distrust of all things corporate. Everything in corporate is about CYA (cover your bum) and trying to look good to the public while making as much money as possible. Then don't do anything really beneficial for anyone but the company until you get caught. I'll admit that Petco made some remarkable changes to their animal care policies, but not until their San Francisco store got shut down for animal cruelty. In Hill's case, I think my skepticism came from reassurances that any pet food with a recognizable name (mainly Hills' Science Diet, Purina, or Iams/Eukanuba) is a good food, and what makes them better than the rest is their quality control. Little companies can't afford to be doing chem analyses on each batch of food they produce, while the big guys can. They can afford to make sure the food is safe and contains all the nutrients they say it does. And "pets need nutrients, not ingredients"- meaning that if protein comes from chicken, or soy, or grown in a petri dish, it doesn't matter because your dog's body will process them all the same way. Companies who make dog food using organic free-range chicken are selling more to pet owners than to pets.
I've heard those arguments over and over, and I believe them..... sorta.... I mean, their quality control has to be amazing, considering how many animals eat that food, since recalls like this put a black eye on the companies involved for a long time. And considering "super premium" food companies like Innova or Eagle Pack still only have about 5% of the share of the pet food market, deaths related to a toxin in their foods likely wouldn't even be noticed as being food-related, as it would affect so few pets.
But despite that, I still have a hard time buying the "nutrients, not ingredients" line. I understand it scientifically- your gut could care less what the source of those proteins are, it just wants to digest and absorb them. But at the same time, I can't believe I'd be just as healthy consuming a powder that contains all necessary nutrients as I would be eating a well-balanced diet that includes fresh foods (to quote Michael Pollan, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."). Okay, so the body utilizes nutrients rather than ingredients, but ingredient type and source and quality all have to factor in to how well our body can extract nutrients from it, right?
My nutrition text states that to meet a dog's daily protein requirements, a kibble should have about 20% protein. Beyond that, protein is utilized not to build other proteins, but to provide energy. Carbs provide energy too, so most dog food companies use 20% protein and make up the rest of the energy needs with carbs, because protein is expensive while carbs are not. But who says that carbs are the best choice here? Cheaper yes, but would dogs do better with more protein? Does a high-carb kibble have any unintended side-effects? The Hills guy told us at a lunch talk the other day that n/d, their prescription cancer diet, is low carb because cancer feeds off of carbs. Lower the carbs, starve the cancer. So why not just use a low-carb diet all the time? It won't keep cancer from occurring, but if you never give it carbs to grow on in the first place.... But oh, carbs are cheap, protein is expensive.
This is my last point, I swear. This recall is coming from a breakdown in quality control somewhere. Perhaps not in the manufacturing plant, as they clearly didn't know to be testing for this toxin since they didn't even know what the toxin was. The breakdown came early on, when someone decided that importing pet food ingredients from China was safe, despite the fact the both of the toxins they've found are illegal for use in U.S. food production. Pets need nutrients, not ingredients.... but some ingredients have toxins from fertilizers and pesticides... Maybe Winnie doesn't need organic chicken, and maybe I'm buying her food for my own piece of mind. But at the beginning of all this, Hills' and IAMS' defenders kept insisting that this sort of thing could happen to any company, big or small. Now that they know what this is, I can say that it couldn't have happened to those companies who practice their quality control at the beginning of production- utilizing pesticide-free grains grown in the U.S.