Thursday, March 22, 2007

The press, from highbrow to lowbrow to nobrow has been full of stories about the major pet food recall announced by Menu Foods some days ago. Molly has taken to carrying around the list of recalled foods with her at all times so that she can respond to the numerous phone calls from concerned pet owners and can snoop through the cupboards of clients whom she actually visits. people who are interested in accessing the complete list can visit the Menu Foods website listed above (at least until they have to declare bankruptcy). The basic story is that only canned and "packet" foods are affected. No dry pet foods are included, and canned foods that come in "solid slabs" rather than "chunks" are also not affected.
A class action suit has been launched from Ontario, and some Manitoba owners may participate. Molly doesn't have enough information to comment on the legalities of this case given that the cause is still basically unknown (how gluten relates to renal failure escapes me) and how the company responded to initial reports is also still unknown. Molly can remember the last such case which affected the Royal Canin line of prescription diets about a year ago. In that case the company responded with due diligence and discovered the cause rapidly. Molly has little doubt that Royal Canin has better quality control than an outfit such as Menu Foods.The problem was corrected, and all four of Molly's cats presently eat the Royal Canin S/O diet as part of their feeding. The cause was a formulation error (maybe one more reason to not depend on computers as if they were infallible) which added an excess of vitamin D to the foods. As Molly sometimes takes great pleasure in emphasizing to health food nuts natural products are not non-toxic. Some of them are the most toxic substances on Earth. When trying to make this point about vitamins Molly uses the following language (I'll try and transcribe the tone of voice and inflection):
"Vitamin A is the MOST POISONOUS vitamin. Vitamin D is the SECOND most poisonous vitamin"
Molly varies her inflection so as to try and bypass what amounts to a religious belief that "natural" (and hence vitamins) is "good" while "artificial" (usually subsumed under the very strange term of "chemical"- as if everything in the world wasn't a chemical) is "bad". I probably have about as much success in this as I would in arguing against the curative effects of Holy Water (let's not get into homeopathy now). The word "poisonous" is used to try and bypass this religious mindset rather than the word "toxic" that is more common when discussing these sort of problems "in-house".
What struck Molly most forcibly while this stuff was happening was the extent of the list. For years now I've joked about how the pet food industry gets its foods from the same plant, puts different labels on it and charges different prices depending upon nothing greater than the advertising budget. What I didn't realize was the extent of this practice. While looking over the 93 !!!!! items listed on the recall list I noticed that some foods that I had always recommended as "high quality", such as Eukanuba and Iams, were coming from the same plant as the "ground-up rubber tires" foods sold at Wal-Mart. Looks like I was fooled. I was really shocked to see a Science Diet item (Science Diet Feline Savoury Chunks) on the list, as I always assumed that Hills was big enough to be vertically integrated throughout its entire process. Welcome to the age of "outsourcing" Molly.
But some things are far from "new". Over 35 years ago when Molly was a chemist she had a friend who was another chemist- but from Jordan. When this guy first got his degree he originally tried to find a job in Algeria shortly after they had forced the French to withdraw from the country. Like all good "liberation ideologues" they had to "prove themselves" and produce whatever the colonial power had produced. He applied for a job in a "toothpaste factory" and was given a tour of the facilities. There was a main vat from which the whole production emanated. it came down the line and was divided by sluice gates into various streams. In each stream a dye was added to give colour or a flavour was added to give taste. As he told it, the guy looked at it, took the free lunch and taxi fare and thought..."Oh fuck, this is exactly what Algeria needs...25 "different" types of toothpaste that are really the same toothpaste. " I can see the new ruling class growing in Venezuela doing exactly the same thing in the near future, and my main disappointment is how far the process has advanced here in an industry that I thought I knew much more about than I obviously do know.
Anyways, for those who are interested in knowing a little bit more about pet foods I recommend the CVMA site and its Pet Food Certification program and for a broader overview of the whole matter- without cultism , an important point- an individual site called the Dog Food Project. This latter site is a wealth of information, including a layman's guide to reading and judging pet food labels. The author is a veterinary technician with a previous degree in nutrition, and her site is one of the best that I have seen on this matter.

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