Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Can Pet Owners Fight Global Pet Food Giants?

Pet food battles are a David-Goliath tale:  Tens of millions of  pet owners allied against multi-billion-dollar companies, such as Mars, Nestle-Purina, Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble, Heinz, Del Monte, and a few other international giants.

Pet owners vote with their pocketbooks, of course.  Owners who feed their cats and dogs raw-meaty-bones and BARF diets do not buy pet-food companies' kibbles and canned mush.  But hundreds of millions of other pet owners buy their pet foods, yielding them enormous profits, which are used to perpetuate the myth that cooked starches are a good diet for carnivorous pets.

Just for fun, I added up the memberships in leading Yahoo groups that are devoted to feeding dogs (mostly) and cats raw diets, instead of commercial junk foods.  I quit adding when the list included 44,892 members, and there were 10 more pages of Yahoo groups to go.  Some people have multiple memberships in raw-feeding groups, so is impossible to know how many individuals any total represents.  Most groups number members in the hundreds, but there are hundreds of groups.

There are unique raw-food groups by location (for example, 1,676 members of the Finnish language site, 987 in the Phoenix AZ raw-pet-food co-op), by species (e.g., 3937 in RawCat), by dog breed (e.g., 390 in RawAussies for Australian shepherds, 886 in NaturalGrey for greyhounds ), and type of raw diet (e.g., 17,819 in rawfeeding for the whole prey/RMB diet). 

Most raw pet-feeders do not join or participate in Yahoo groups.  They just quietly feed their pets the raw diet they think is appropriate.  There are likely tens of millions of pet owners worldwide who feed their pets exclusively or primarily raw-meaty-bones or BARF diets.  They may have experienced pets' illnesses and/or deaths from preventable diseases created by commercial pet foods, and they simply switched to raw-feeding.  Among my Lab puppy buyers are many people with this experience

People who join Yahoo groups are looking for, and offering, feeding advice or information on how to locate sources of raw pet foods or just sharing their bad experiences with commercial pet foods and local veterinarians, most of whom adamantly oppose raw-feeding.  Yahoo groups are the epitome of self-help groups.  Members share their experiences to help others with similar problems.  When a member, especially a new member, posts a question or asks for help, the deluge of helpful responses is amazing.

Even the 100,000 pet owners, let's guess, who participate in one or more Yahoo groups are an unorganized mass, unlikely to be mobilized against giant pet-food companies.  Each one has had a epiphany that led him/her to abandon commercial pet foods and to adopt a raw diet, but they have not joined a crusade against the makers of junk pet foods.  They just opted out of kibbles and canned mush, not into a revolution.

Advertising budgets of leading pet-food companies sum to $ hundreds of millions.  They pay for global media attention.  Why not capture Internet attention as well?  Pet-food manufacturers are very busy trying to co-opt  Internet groups into supporting their products.  They found their own groups and offer incentives for people to join -- discount coupons on junk foods, free veterinary advice, and the like.  They post favorable comments about their commercial pet foods on Facebook and Twitter. They engage veterinary nutritionists to endorse their foods on seemingly neutral, Internet sites for pet owners.

When you visit one of these vet-advice sites, because your pet has allergies or infected gums, they advise you feed the same commercial pet foods that created the problem in the first place.  It's rather like stumbling into a pro-life office, when you wanted to find an abortion clinic.  They appeared to offer help for your problem, but they are just a front for pet-food companies.

Despite pet-food companies' $ hundreds of millions in advertising and their increasing presence on the Internet, tens of millions of pet owners have found their way to raw diets.  Raw-feeding pet owners have friends and relatives with pets.  Word of mouth and examples of healthy pets are spreading the raw-diet revolution, slowly and quietly.

One local example: A Canine Vice Squad officer adopted raw-meaty-bones for her service dog, after she read research on the dulling effect of bad teeth on olfactory sensitivity.  Dogs with bad teeth don't smell well, and odor discrimination is the basis for narcotic-sniffing dogs' work.  After she switched her dog to rmb, his teeth became white and his gums lost their inflammation.  Other officers noticed his shiny coat and increased vitality.  The police canine unit has a contract with a local veterinarian to purchase Hill's Science Diet for their dogs.  They plan to switch all their dogs to rmb and to purchase their meaty bones from the local pet-food co-op.  These same officers have pets at home and lots of friends and relatives with pets.  And so the message spreads....

So, how will the pet-food revolution happen?  One can imagine fiery court battles over the harm done to pets by high-starch diets, but court battles are unlikely. In the US, Goliath can bury David in legal paperwork, and the case would never be heard in a court. The expense of responding to an avalanche of pretrial motions and discovery would defeat any volunteer group.  If such a case ever got to court, Goliath could line up its supporting cast of veterinarians and animal welfare groups, which depend on pet-food largesse for their very existence, to testify to the healthiness of commercial pet foods..  Pet-food lackeys would certify the scientific (sic) virtue of cooked starches and artificial nutrients for pets.  What evidence could be marshalled by raw-feeding groups to attack commercial junk foods ?  Evolutionary theory, anecdotes, and common sense, which are unlikely to win in court.

A raw-food coalition with enough legal assistance might unearth pet-food company documents admitting they know raw pet-diets are superior and acknowledging their starchy foods cause health problems.  That kind of discovery would be very helpful.  What do you think are the chances that, once challenged to a court battle, these very savvy companies will retain any damaging evidence?  The vision of shredding masses of documents and erasing computer hard-drives comes quickly to mind.  It is very unlikely, in my opinion, that much damaging evidence could be found, although I am confident it exists now.

I think a Quiet Revolution is far more likely than a court-room confrontation.  More and more pet owners, simply going about their daily business of choosing a diet for their pets, choose raw diets.  These millions of individual choices change the marketplace.  Global food companies are in the business of shaping and meeting customer demands.  If marketing cooked starches as pet foods is no longer as profitable as mincing up raw meats and bones, they will change their product line.

Consumers will be seduced into buying branded, minced rmb, instead of less expensive and far-superior raw-meaty-bones.  But 80% of the battle will be won, if starchy foods are simply replaced in pets' diets with raw animal proteins and fats.  The next pet-food frontier will be how to keep your pet's teeth clean and mouth healthy with raw-meaty-bones that you buy at the meat counter, for less money than minced goop.  One cannot be too impatient to see the Quiet Revolution take place.  It's happening slowly.

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