If you have just bought a bag of pet food because the bag or label shouted out at you that this food contained added spirulina, glucosamine, chondroitin ,Omega-3 and Omega-6, prebiotics, probiotics, Cranberry Powder, Dried Kelp, Dried Bacillus Licheniformis Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, CPA Complex™, Mannan-oligo-saccharides, Green Tea, selenium yeast, eye of toad and tongue of newt (I made the last two up!) or anything else that doesn't sound like 'food' then you need to read on, because you are in danger of falling into the GREAT MARKETING TRAP.
firstly lets look at the arguement purely from a human perspective,
and here I would urge you to get hold of (or get your library to
stock) a copy of 'In
Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating
by Michael Pollan, a respected US author and journalist
In the book, Pollan argues strongly for a more sensible approach to nutrition than that being imposed upon us by government, nutritionists and the food industry. Why? Pollan says 'Because most of what we're consuming today is not food, and how we're consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone -- is not really eating. Instead of food, we're consuming "edible foodlike substances" -- no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion.'
The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.
But if real food -- the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food -- stands in need of defense, from whom does it need defending? From the food industry on one side and nutritional science on the other. Both stand to gain much from widespread confusion about what to eat, a question that for most of human history people have been able to answer without expert help. Yet the professionalization of eating has failed to make Americans healthier. Thirty years of official nutritional advice has only made us sicker and fatter while ruining countless numbers of meals.
In 1869 Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory substitute for butter, suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes. French chemist (yes, chemist!) Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés invented a substance he called oleomargarine, the name of which became shortened to the trade name "Margarine". Margarine now refers generically to any of a range of broadly similar edible oils. The name oleomargarine is sometimes abbrieviated to oleo.
Manufacturers produced oleomargarine by taking clarified vegetable fat, extracting the liquid portion under pressure, and then allowing it to solidify. When combined with butyrin and water, it made a cheap and more-or-less palatable butter-substitute. Modern margarine can be made from any of a wide variety of animal or vegetable fats, and is often mixed with skimmed milk, salt, and emulsifiers.
In some European countries butter based table spreads and margarine products are marketed as "butter mixtures". These "butter mixtures" compose a significant portion of the table spread market. The brand "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spawned a variety of similarly-named spreads that can be found on supermarket shelves all over the world. With names like "Utterly Butterly," "You'd Butter Believe it," and "Butterlicious," these butter mixtures avoid the restrictions on labeling with marketing techniques that imply a strong similarity to real butter.
BUT let's take a step back. Margarine (a highly processed product) was promoted just a few years ago as the truly healthy alternative to butter, a natural product which in excess is not so good for us. Now we discover that margarine, full of hydrogenated fatty acids and trans fat is really BAD for us, we've actually been damaging our health following the nutritionists advice and manufacturers have had to scurry around finding alternatives in the light of current scientific thinking.
I'm sorry, but there is a natural alternative to this unhealthy margarine. Your mother and grandmother knew all about it, it's called butter and to make it healthier you just eat less of it!
Michael Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he challenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach -- what he calls nutritionism -- and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology of real, well-grown, unprocessed food.
Our personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part. We can escape the Western diet and, by doing so, most of the chronic diseases that diet causes. We can relearn which foods are healthy, develop simple ways to moderate our appetites, and return eating to its proper context -- out of the car and back to the table. Michael Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.
OK, now let's look at what's been happening on the pet scene in the last few years. Quite honestly, what the pet food industry has been doing is mirroring the human food industry. As health food magazines promote the latest nutrichemical fad and foods become low fat, low salt, low fibre, low taste and low everything else, what has increased has been the ingredient label, as whole foods have been replaced by nutrichemicals. Look at current pet food labels. As an example, and just an example (I'm not saying this is wrong, just typical of this whole marketing thing) look at the ingredients in a bag of Nutro Ultra Holistic Food (Holistic, in my definition means 'natural')
Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Brown Rice, Ground Rice, Rice Bran, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Lamb Meal, Salmon Meal, Natural Flavors, Flaxseed, Sunflower Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols), Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Rolled Oats, Potassium Chloride, Egg Product, Tomato Pomace, Dried Pomegranate, Dried Blueberry, Dried Cranberry, Dried Pumpkin, Dried Spinach, Dried Carrot, Salt, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), L-Carnitine, Biotin, Niacin Supplement, Potassium Iodide, Copper Proteinate, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement (source of Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Beta Carotene, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Sodium Selenite, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid
Tomato Pomace, Dried Pomegranate, Dried Blueberry, Dried Cranberry, These are not traditional pet food ingredients. The question has to be asked... Are they actually necessary if the food is good enough quality to offer complete nutrition without them?
Royal Canin now have a bewildering range of foods for lifestages and breeds, indoor and outdoor cats as well as a range of foods for health problems. Are these necessary or just marketing managers pandering to our perceived needs - if scientists tell me I need Omega 3 in my diet I must feed the cat some as well?! What about the cat I grew up with as a child who lived to a ripe old age with no particular health problems. That was achieved on a simple food without all this added chemistry set! What about my Father-in-law's farm dogs, brought up on table scraps, washings out from the dairy and a handfull of fish meal - they worked hard, looked fit and never needed a single visit to the vet.
Breed specific diets? If they are no more expensive than your normal food then fine, but please ask the question otherwise - Is this more marketing hype than necessity?
As to lifestage foods, well there is certainly some sense in this, but maybe not quite as much as some manufacturers would like us to believe. Puppies need a higher level of some nutrients than adults, as do very working active dogs, pregnant and lactating bitches, but not so crucial maybe are the so-called senior recipes. As you and I get older we adjust our diet by eating less as our level of activity goes down. The same should be true for our pets - as they get older they need less to eat so we need to adjust the amount we feed. This can be done by either reducing quantity or changing to a lighter diet, lower in protein and fat - there are several adult light diets that fit the bill.
Let's hear it for a sensible approach to the nutrition of our pets. Three cheers to companies who refuse to go down the route of adding novel chemicals and nutrichemicals to their food just for the sake of it. I want to feed my pets food not chemicals. If the ingredients are not good enough and complete by themselves then why not get that right first before supplementing the diet with unnecessary things.
Remember margarine - it was the healthiest thing since sliced bread, until all of a sudden it wasn't - who's to say Omega 3 won't be next!