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Contaminated pet food exposing trouble in the human food system

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After over a month of news stories claiming that a dozen or so dogs and cats have died in the contaminated pet food debacle, the FDA is finally acknowledging that thousands of dogs and cats have died after eating poisoned food. It's about time.

In that same announcement, the agency expanded the hold on Chinese imports to include: wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn gluten meal, corn by-products, soy protein, soy gluten, mung bean protein, soy bean meal/powder/gluten/protein isolate, soy protein powder, wheat gluten, wheat flour gluten, wheat gluten, rice protein, rice gluten, rice protein, corn gluten, milled rice products, amino acids and protein hydrosylates.

Take a trip down the center isle of any grocery store -- including Whole Foods and even my local natural foods co-op -- and you'll find some combination of those ingredients in just about everything that comes in a box or a can. Those are the raw ingredients of the processed food industry, including the "organic" processed food industry. It will be interesting to see how this hold on ingredients from the world's largest producer of everything will affect the price and availability of certain foodstuffs in the United States. I suspect, however, that the machine will grind on, and the industry's need for these ingredients will blow past the FDA's day-late-and-dollar-short efforts to assert caution. I'd like to be wrong about that.

Speaking of regulation, I found a rather apropos overview by a Harvard graduate student of the virtually nonexistent oversight governing pet food. It's worthwhile for the short history of pet food alone. One paragraph that I found very interesting was this one:

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During the 80s, the revelation that the world's food supply was lagging behind population growth attracted substantial media attention. Consumers began wondering why they were paying so much money for their pets' food when there might not be sufficient food for humans. This forced a once booming industry to defend the need for its products. Ironically, this meant that instead of selling their products as "fit for humans" complete with peas and carrots in canned dog foods, the industry began insisting that their "principal ingredients are not suitable for human use."

Is this where the door opened for dead, diseased, dying and decayed animals to be included in pet food, including the bodies of euthanized cats and dogs? This has been documented as recently as several years ago, when tests revealed that commercial foods contained traces of the chemical used to euthanize pets. Rendering plants mix dead dogs and cats with road kill and parts from slaughtered animals that humans don't eat and sell it as a protein substrate to pet food companies.

All I know is this: My dogs are carnivores and I am happy to be a thoughtful omnivore, and although it often requires more effort to do so, the only way I can find peace when everyone sits or lies down to eat is to know where that food came from, how it was raised and whether the animals we rely on for our nourishment were raised according to their creature comforts. It's taken me a couple of years and several moves to more hospitable environs, but I am proud that virtually all of the meat my husband, the dogs and I consume is raised on pasture by small farmers within a 50-mile radius.

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With a heavy heart I acknowledge that the money and time that goes into those choices very well may be overwhelming for most of my fellow citizens. But I am also not the first to point out that we may collectively be spending our money and time in ways that are in direct contradiction to the lives of peace, grace and health we claim to want to lead. The simple abundance of nourishing food is more within our grasp than we realize, and the first step may be turning down the noise and haste of a disposable culture, one that unknowingly serves its furry companions adulterated grain proteins and the rendered flesh of its fellow species.

 

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