A look inside the Global Pet Food industry (Part 2)
Hi All and thanks for continuing to support our blog! This is the second of our 'Cartel Land?' blogs - we split them in two because there was too much once we started writing!
In Part 1, we explored 'Pet Inc.' and the vast sums of money currently spent in the global pet industry. We introduced the main players, some of the marketing ploys they use and how so many familiar or specialist brands are simply subsidiaries of larger, more questionable corporations.
In Part 2, we're focusing on the ties these manufacturers have with professionals and institutions tasked with our pets' health. We're starting to see a trend around 'pet food' and 'pet care' no longer being distinct entities - that in many cases they've been brought together in the name of profit-making enterprise.
The key question is: why would they recommend raw feeding as a nutrition option if they have strong incentives to opt for commercial dry dog food?
Cartel: a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices
It's no secret that various health issues are an increasing concern amongst Australian dog owners. It's a worry backed by the statistics though, with:
- Over 40% of dogs now considered overweight or obese
- Insurance claims for animal osteoarthritis doubling in the past 4 years
- Canine diabetes claims having risen by 115%
- More than 80% of dogs over the age of 3 having some form of periodontal disease (cue: bad doggy breath!)
That last one in particular surprised...and scared the hell out of us!
That's 4 out of 5 dogs.
The crazy thing is the link between commercial dry dog food and these health issues is so strong. The obvious question then is...who do you turn to when your pup presents with symptoms of illness?
Your vet of course!
Increasingly, the role of Australian vet's is to keep our pet's healthy, rather than just treating an illness after it has presented.
Before moving on though, we want to be really clear about something: this is not about taking cheap shots at vets.
They help us care for our animals, are an extremely respected profession and generally chose their career due to a real love of animals!
However, a glance around any vet's practice reveals the prominence of one or two big brands of...highly processed commercial dry dog food. In fact, two of the biggest, Hill's and Royal Canin are available exclusively through pet stores and vet practices.
Picking up the Scent
We wanted to understand just how and why certain well-known brands became the 'vet's choice' of premium dog nutrition when they're so clearly having a negative impact on our dog's health. It wasn't difficult to figure out that big dog food manufacturers actually begin their marketing strategy before our pup even comes home with us. They start at the source - the vet education system.
- Hill's Pet Nutrition has a 'project funding' agreement with Murdoch University, Perth
- This includes providing branded lab coats for veterinary students on placement
- Hill's products are openly promoted at the university's teaching practice hospital
- Almost all discarge letters for treated animals from this hospital recommend a Hill's-specific diet
The links with Sydney University Veterinary Teaching Hospital have also been well-documented:
- Small animal nutrition has been taught by a Hill's representative
- Hill's is a 'main sponsor' of the Sydney University Veterinary Hospital
- Royal Canin has also had corporate sponsorship arrangements
Both institutions have come forward and denied any conflict of interest arising from these sponsorship deals. However, since these arrangements made the news early last year, information about them has become much harder to source.
If there's nothing to be concerned about...why stop talking about it?
The issue here is that vets are being exposed to and influenced by major pet food companies from an early point in their training. If they're being taught that certain brands are the 'premium' sources of nutrition for pets, then how can we be certain no bias is carried forward to their time as practising professionals?
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), which represents more than 6,000 vets nationwide, has been on record as endorsing the commercial dry food diet for dogs.
No surprise really though...scratch the surface and we can see that:
- Hill's Pet Nutrition: Platinum Supporter of the AVA
- Royal Canin: Gold Supporter of the AVA
- Greencross Ltd (Petbarn): Gold Support of the AVA
It seems there's a blatantly obvious conflict of interest sitting in there with all of that support...
A Revolving Door?
Here's the problem we're starting to see with all of this:
To us, it just doesn't seem ethical. At best, it's regulatory oversight. At worst, it's a profit-generating system that makes sure everybody in 'the circle' gets paid throughout a dog's life cycle but at the expense of their health.
We recently visited some wildlife parks and got talking to the Canine handlers about what they feed their Wolves and Dingoes. You probably guessed their answer though, right? Fresh, raw meat and bones - it's the best and most natural food available.
The big thing here is...has your vet ever recommended a raw diet to you? It's a tough situation because at the end of the day, you're just trying to do the best thing for you dog.
Next time you're there though, ask the question. Only by becoming fully informed can we take ownership back of our best friends' lives and healthcare!