This blog post should make you mad. In fact, I hope that you’re outraged by the time you finish reading it. I’m going to show you how misleading pet food commercials are, how these multi-billion dollar companies are spending big bucks to play on your emotions, and ultimately convince you to feed your pets their low quality and sometimes downright dangerous foods. Yup, this should make you mad. Today’s featured manufacturer and commercial: Chef Michael’s Canine Creations by Purina.
You’ve probably seen the commercial on TV—it shows a guy, presumably “Chef Michael,” slicing fresh vegetables and thick cuts of meat on the counter. The voice over describes the man’s love for his dog, how he deserves the very best. The website for this food states: “You want to fulfill your dog’s desires…and that is the inspiration behind Chef Michael’s ® line of mouthwatering wet meals and delicious dry dinners. Chef Michael’s ® canine creations help make mealtime unforgettable.” Sounds delightful. The dog in the commercial is scruffy and adorable and dives into the food bowl with gusto, spilling brightly colored pieces of kibble on the floor.
As my creative prose may be a little rusty since my college days when I was a creative writing major, I’d ask you to take a moment to refresh your recollection about this heartwarming commercial by viewing the commercial on You Tube before you read on.
Beautiful right? Nothing better than a story about a man and his dog. Now let’s find out what’s actually in the bag. Below, I’ve defined in plain English the primary ingredients as listed on the bag (taken from the Chef Michael website). Let’s find out exactly what “mouthwatering,” “delicious,” and “unforgettable” ingredients comprise this inspired dog food.
Chicken: Not mentioned on the ingredient label is the fact that Purina uses “pet grade” ingredients in their foods, rather than ingredients considered safe for human consumption. When the pet food manufacturer uses “pet grade” chicken, the quality of the ingredient is probably very low and potentially unsafe. Chicken considered appropriate for animal consumption by AAFCO (the American Association of Feed Control Officials, the “overseeing” body for pet food manufacturers) includes livestock animals rejected for use in human food because of disease, decay, disability, or death (not by slaughter). Human grade chicken was slaughtered at a USDA regulated slaughterhouse and is USDA certified to ensure safety and quality—this is not the case for “pet quality” chicken. For example, a chicken that dies of unknown causes in the coop may be sold to a pet food manufacturer for a lower price and used for your dog’s food, but would never be used for human consumption because the bird may have been diseased. When included on the product label as a whole ingredient, the contents include at least 40% moisture (useless nutrition). Ideally, the first protein source is stated in “meal” form.
Soybean meal: Ingredients on the bag are listed in order of weight, with the ingredient comprising the majority of the food listed first and so on down the line. By that rule, chicken comprises the majority of this food, righ? But wait. One little-known trick the pet food manufacturers use is to weigh the ingredients and record them in order of weight prior to cooking. Once the ingredients are cooked, those containing moisture (like chicken) are significantly reduced, so the next dry ingredients on the label actually comprise the majority of the food. Thus, Chef Michael’s Canine Creation is predominantly comprised of delicious, mouthwatering, unforgettable soybean meal. Per an educational document published by The Soybean Meal Information Center, this ingredient is known to cause gas and soft stools in pets. The safety and efficacy of this ingredient has not been studied in pets but it is thought that animals have a difficult time digesting soy-based products in general. Soy is a potent source of Omega 6 fatty acids which, when consumed in excess without the proper balance of Omega 3s, produce the ideal environment for cancer growth. In addition, the soybean is the number one allergy in dogs.
Soy flour: The second soy product so far, this is soy ground into flour. Soy is used as a protein source and benefits humans however it has not been studied with pets. The same cautions apply here as with the previous ingredient. Another little-known trick manufacturers use is called “ingredient splitting” in which they include essentially the same ingredient just in another form. So far, this food is mostly made up of soy (flour and meal).
Animal Fat preserved with mixed tocopherols: A fat source is absolutely essential in pet foods. The preferred source is chicken fat preserved naturally. “Animal” fat is an unspecified ingredient and for this reason this is a potentially dangerous ingredient. We don’t know if it’s chicken, beef, horse, dog, or cat. Animals that were treated for disease and then euthanized can still contain traces of not only the disease, the medicine used to treat the disease, but also the poison used to euthanize the animal: sodium pentobarbital. You read that right, euthanized dogs and cats are used in many popular commercial pet foods, and this may be one of them.
So that’s it, those are the primary ingredients. I wish I could tell you this was where the news got better. But in addition to these stomach-turning primary ingredients, there are some additional ingredients in this food that deserve mention. While they’re included in smaller quantities, these ingredients are either potentially dangerous or at the very least devoid of nutrition. So, continuing on through the ingredient list (taken directly from the Chef Michael site):
Brewers rice: This is considered a by-product or leftover rice that is created when rice is milled, it is sold for pet food and dairy feed exclusively. This is not a human grade ingredient or a quality source of nutrition.
Soy protein concentrate: A soy product used as a cheap protein source (the third soy ingredient, if you’re keeping track at home). This ingredient would be unnecessary if the company would use a more expensive, but better quality and bio-available animal, dairy (eggs), or even grain protein source such as brown rice. All the same soy concerns previously mentioned apply here as well.
Corn gluten meal: This ingredient is used as a binder or thickening agent in canned foods and as a protein source in dry kibble and canned foods. Glutens in general (corn, wheat, and rice glutens) were the toxic ingredient in the 2007 Menu Foods recall as they were laced with melamine. Corn is a potent source of Omega 6 fatty acids which, when consumed in excess without the proper balance of Omega 3s, produce the ideal environment for cancer growth. In addition, corn is the number three food allergy in dogs and is prone to a deadly mold called aflatoxin. Like soy, corn is another ingredient that is commonly “split” on the label, so watch out! Since it’s such a cheap ingredient, the manufacturer wants to get as much mileage out of it as possible. In fact, I think I see a split coming right about…now.
Ground yellow corn: (The second corn-based ingredient in this food) Commonly used as an inexpensive protein source, ground yellow corn is difficult to digest. All the same corn dangers mentioned above apply here. Corn in any variation is not a quality ingredient in pet food.
Glycerin: Used to enhance taste and palatability, glycerine is commonly used in cosmetics. Glycerin is a natural emollient and humectant derived from vegetable oils. It is a by-product of soap manufacturing. It is a clear colorless syrupy liquid. This ingredient doesn’t add anything to the food nutritionally, and is completely unnecessary if the food includes high quality, naturally palatable ingredients that don’t need to be further enhanced. It’d be like me serving you a bowl of gruel and then dumping a whole bunch of sugar on it so you could choke it down. Why not just serve you something you wanted to eat in the first place so it didn’t have to be artificially enhanced? Because that would probably cost more.
Ground wheat: Often used as a protein source, ground wheat is not optimal for dogs or cats, however is considered the best of the wheat ingredients. Wheat is the #2 allergy in dogs and is not an optimal source of protein.
Poultry by-product meal: This ingredient consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. “Poultry” is unspecified, so it can be any type of bird (chicken, turkey, crow, pigeon, peacock). This is a potentially dangerous ingredient because the bird included in the ingredient could have been diseased, disabled, dying, or dead of unknown causes. By contrast, chicken and turkey considered safe for human consumption is slaughtered and USDA certified.
Animal digest: A flavoring agent comprised of cooked-down broth made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals. The animals used can be obtained from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination. Any kind of animal can be included: dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter goats, pigs, horses, rats, miscellaneous road kill, companion animals euthanized at shelters, restaurant and supermarket refuse and so on.
Added color (Yellow 5, Blue 2, Yellow 6, Red 40): Dogs generally can’t differentiate colors—so food dye is only added to make the food look better to the human. If the dye posed no risk, this wouldn’t be a big hairy deal. However, evidence suggests that these dyes are not completely harmless, and pet foods like Chef Michaels continues to use them to help sell their food. Those chunks of “real” meat sure look meatier if they’re died a bright red rather than the actual color they are when they come out of the high-heat extruder, which is a very “dead” gray color.
Yellow 5: This ingredient adds no nutritional value and its safety is questionable.
Blue 2: The largest study conducted about this dye suggested, but did not prove, that it caused brain tumors in male mice. The FDA concluded that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm”, but it’s advisable to err on the side of caution and avoid this ingredient. This ingredient adds no nutritional value and its safety is questionable.
Yellow 6: Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye causes tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens contaminate Yellow 6. This ingredient adds no nutritional value and its safety is questionable.
Red 40: This is the most widely used food dye and also one of the most tested. While some studies have suggested this dye is dangerous, evidence of harm is not substantial or consistent. Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods. This ingredient adds no nutritional value and its safety is questionable.
Menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity): Also known as Vitamin K3, this is a cheap, synthetic form of Vitamin K. This substance causes cytotoxicity in liver cells, damages natural vitamin K supplies, causes allergic reactions, eczema, and irritation of skin and mucous membranes. This ingredient should be avoided and there are plenty of better-quality foods available that do not use it.
Sodium selenite: A form of the trace mineral, selenium. Since the body requires so little of this, sodium selenite does not contribute any significant amount of sodium. This potentially risky form of selenium can be carcinogenic, genotoxic and may cause reproductive and developmental problems in animals and humans. The selenium found within food, or chelated forms, like selenomethionine, have all been shown to prevent and combat cancer. This is a chemically synthesized vitamin/mineral with inherent risks including potential toxicity and the presence of undisclosed processing aids, preservatives (e.g., BHT and Ethoxyquin) and other potentially harmful additives including heavy metals. Sodium Selenite is a more common ingredient and may be more difficult to avoid, even in higher quality foods.
Grossed out yet? The commercial depicts a kindly dog owner and/or professional chef lovingly preparing food for his loyal pal, and we come to find out what’s actually in the food are not ingredients that would be sitting around anyone’s kitchen, maybe a toxic waste dump, but definitely not a kitchen: dyes, low quality animal protein with a bunch of cheap soy, corn, and wheat protein enhancers. This food contains all three of the top dog allergens and in multiple forms (ingredient splitting), not to mention a lot of Omega 6 laden soy and corn, which have been shown to promote cancer cell growth.
Go back and take a look at that commercial one more time and note if you feel any differently. Do you feel betrayed by Chef Michael and Purina? Perhaps the “aww” factor has been replaced by anger or outrage? If you have a specific pet food you’d like featured (maybe the food you’re feeding in good faith), leave us a comment and let us know and it might be the next “truth inside the bag!”