Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dog Food Recipes Cannot Be Patented

Jane E. Brody interviewed Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and an author of a book on dog food entitled “Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat":

[Nestle] noted... that the so-called premium pet foods cost three to four times more than supermarket brands. Within the premium brands, there is also a wide price range, yet when the ingredients lists are compared, they are strikingly similar since all have to meet certain nutritional standards. The first five ingredients of nearly every kind of dog and cat food are generally the same, representing protein, fats and carbohydrates

“All pet foods are made from the byproducts of human food production,” Dr. Nestle explained. “No matter what the package says, your dog is not getting whole chicken breasts, but what remains after the breasts have been removed for human food.”

And, indeed, it is primarily human food companies — NestlĂ©, Purina, Mars and Procter & Gamble — that make the pet foods sold throughout the world. Of course, in much of the world, domestic dogs and cats survive on table and street scraps, not commercially produced pet foods. In seeking evidence for the added value to health and longevity of commercial pet foods, the authors found almost none with any validity.

No agency requires proof of pet food health claims, and no pet food company is willing to invest in decades of research to determine whether its products keep animals healthier and extend their lives, the authors state. Pet food companies say they do research, but it is rarely done in a scientific fashion, with comparable control and experimental groups. There is, however, ample evidence that, despite claims to the contrary, both dogs and cats “are perfectly able to digest grains if they are cooked,” Dr. Nestle said.

None of this should imply that different pet food products make no difference to individual animals. When my friends’ havanese began licking its paws incessantly, the vet suggested they try a corn-free pet food, which stopped the itching. However, they need not spend $31 for a 12.5-pound bag of premium food free of corn; Costco’s Kirkland Super Premium Dog Food, also free of corn, costs about $15 for a 40-pound bag.

Still, Dr. Nestle suggested, “if one or another brand seems to completely change the way a dog behaves or cures an allergy, when you find something that works for you, stay with it.”

While many pay good money for marketing gimmicks, Dr. Nestle also does not object to people paying for attributes they value. If characteristics like natural, organic, holistic, vegetarian or kosher are important to pet owners, it may be worth it to them to pay top dollar for pet foods that claim to provide the desired attribute, even if there is no official or enforced definition of the claim.

Although some owners insist on cooking for their pets, the authors said animals are more likely to get all the nutrients they need, and in the right amounts, from a commercial product.

“Besides, the pet food industry serves an important ecological function by using up food that would otherwise be thrown out,” Dr. Nestle said. “If everyone cooked human food for the 472 million cats and dogs in America, it would be like feeding an additional 42 million people.”

Strip that down, and what does it mean?


  1. No dog food is proven better than any other.
  2. Almost all dog food is more-or-less the same with only slightly different proportions of protein, fats and carbohydrates.
  3. As a rule, dogs do fine on grain-based foods.
  4. Individual dogs may have allergies to certain foods, but price has little or nothing to do with food quality, and even grain-free foods can be had for very little money.
  5. Making your own dog food is not the "Green" way to go; it increases waste in the food chain.

Why have pet food company's never published research showing one food is better that another?

The article does not say, and seems to suggest that billion dollar companies like Purina are too lazy or unscientific to care.

Not true.

The real story is simpler: recipes cannot be patented or copyrighted.

Find a better dog food formula, and everyone will have it and use it.

Of course, the same is true of human food where there is also no scientific evidence to support the notion that one packaged diet is better than another. And yes, there are packaged diets for humans -- ask Jenny Craig!

Which is not to say that a whole lot of food research has not been done.

It has, for both people and dogs.

But what it shows, in both cases, is that what you eat maters a lot less than how much you eat.

Less is more. Run your dog light, and you will run your dog longer. Lean is life.

If a recipe cannot be copyrighted or patented, what's that mean for both human food and dog food?

Simple: in the business of food, minor manufacturing techniques and branding issues matter.

Reese's does not have patent or copyright on the idea of putting peanut butter and chocolate together, but they do have a patent on the machines that make their product, and a copyright on the packaging and even shape of the cup. Ditto for other processed foods.

In fact, one can argue that one reason we eat so much processed food is that food companies stay up all night long trying to think of a patentable or copyrightable food element.

Here, packaging and novelty matters more than content because a package can be copyrighted, and a production machine can be patented, but a recipe is forever unprotected.

What that means for dog food is that what you are mostly getting with higher prices is hype, promotion, nonsense, bunk, novelty and packaging, not nutritionally better food.

Of course, that will not stop some people from spending their money on it, and if that's where you want to do, God bless and God speed. But just be sure to run your dog light. If you cannot easily feel two or three ribs (or see them on a smooth coat after a good run), your dog is too fat. Feed less.


YesBiscuit! said...

In many ways, I think of the home prepared food I make for my pets as using "leftovers" from the human food industry. You see, I can not afford to buy premium cuts of meat, such as are regularly eaten by people. For the dogs, I tend to buy foods on markdown or clearance. For example, I have been buying some cereal that's about to expire which is being sold at a reduced price at my local grocery store the past week or so. And I regularly find various types of meat, bones and dairy products that are close to expiration and marked down. For veggies, I will use up the scraps that I don't eat myself such as broccoli stems or vegetables that I didn't get to eat in a timely manner. And of course the old standby - table scraps - go into the dogs' bowls as well.
I'm not claiming this makes my dogs' homemade food "green", but it would qualify as the utilization of food intended for human consumption that would otherwise be thrown away. As I have a strong distrust of pet food companies after learning so much about their practices during the 2007 recall, I feel better having direct knowledge of exactly what the ingredients are that my dogs are eating.

Mongoose said...

I don't think it's true that dogs get better nutrition out of commercial food, though. I tried all kinds of brands for my dog and she's much healthier when I cook for her. You just have to adjust your dog food recipe until the dog looks awesome. And she actually eats less now than on commercial kibble. She was getting cravings because the kibble isn't complete, and eating like a pig. With my cooking, she feels satisfied. Plus it's tastier.

Also, while cheap pet food might have the same nutrition for all I know, I hate the stuff that has fancy shapes and food colouring in it. I tried it on my cats once and the food colouring showed up in the litter box. That can't be good for them.

Gina said...

"Making your own dog food is not the "Green" way to go; it increases waste in the food chain."

Well, no. My dogs are eating offal, green unbleached tripe, and pieces of pasture-raised beef, goat, sheep and poultry that humans don't buy or eat.

In short, they're eating all the waste that usually gets herded into pet-food, but without the rest of the stuff that goes with it, and from regional farmers/ranchers I know by name.

As for the rest of that piece, Jane Brody completely missed the point, focusing on the usual silly side-issues like "kosher" etc.

The word "insist" as in "people who insist on ..." pretty much speaks to the assumed bias that underlies the entire piece and the inability to see the feeding of companion animals as an extension of a set of values that reaches beyond the assumption that pet-owners are stoopid and just want to feed their "widdle puppy-wuppies" choice cuts of steak from silver plates.

seeker said...

I don't buy 'dog' food. I buy good food and we all eat it. Their's may be leftovers or raw meat. I have discovered that they eat less, poop less, and have clean white teeth. I find it wasteful to spend $10 or $15 on a bag of grain filler, animal byproducts and preservative chemicals. My little allergic guy is also much better.
When I was a child on the farm, the farm dogs lived a long full productive life on leftover scraps, bones, milk and eggs. That or they died in the line of duty. Not from cancer, kidney failure, or liver disease. I noticed that through the years, my kibble fed pets lived a much shorter life span. I decided when I lost my JRT at 14 to liver disease that I was going back to 'real' food for my beloved pets. It's simpler for me and healthier for them.
And no doggie dentures either.
Debi C

PBurns said...

Dogs are living longer and longer and this is true partially BECAUSE dogs are now being fed on specially created fired-cured foods.

For the record, this same statement is true for humans!

It turns out human leftovers tend to be loaded with salt (a killer on kidneys), while raw guts thrown into a communal guts pile are loaded with salmonella and E. coli, while trichenosis, toxoplasmosis, and other dieases are very real concerns.

Both points can be ovestated, but so too is the notion that kibble is loaded with crap. It isn't.

A question: If you yourself would not eat raw meat for fear of parasites and disease, why count the risk as zero for your dog?

Now read this paper >> http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC339295/?tool=pmcentrez Isn't that interesting!

In fact, the push to raw foods is a philosophy. Nothing wrong with it, provided that some thought is given to disease and parasites, and some real knowledge is in hand when it comes to salt and foods that contain dog-specific toxins. A big freezer, and pulling from the bottom will help.


Viatecio said...

A question: If you yourself would not eat raw meat for fear of parasites and disease, why count the risk as zero for your dog?

I'll step out on a limb here, but I'll do so truthfully and under an internet name that isn't unfamiliar to some people.

I occasionally eat raw meat, and I don't mean just sushi. Mostly beef and poultry, because that's what's most widely available. Pork, not so much because I had a scare with it. Admittedly, the bones are a little hard to chew and tripe/offal is a bit off-putting to my human senses, so those are verboten...but since you admit that dogs eat roadkill and garbage too, that can't be the worst thing I'd give my dog having not tried it myself. Plus, I really would avoid the sick animals that might lag behind the herd and be brought down more easily, but apparently other predators wouldn't...see, I do have standards!

I don't eat the stuff so often, or out in public since it's socially taboo, and I fully expect to be called out for my idiocy and immaturity(?) for saying it here. I completely understand and take upon myself the weight of responsibility should I ever get sick in any way that can be directly traced back to any raw meat that I might have recently consumed. It's my gut and my hospital bill if anything happens!

Either I'm extremely lucky to have evaded illness, I happen to eat the "right" meats that have not yet been recalled, or I just have a good immune system...there have been no problems yet, and as long as it's done sparingly (after all, there is a reason animal proteins are higher up on the food pyramid and it's not because they were meant to be eaten in any great quantity every day!), I have so far remained healthy if not for a few vanity pounds. Whether it's straight from the butcher's rendering plant or fresh from the aisles of WalMart, there have been no difficulties as of yet.

It's not a lifestyle, it's not a fetish, and I don't do it because I'm one of those people who think that werewolves are real. With that said, I can't really say exactly WHY I do it, other than hey, it tastes good (even if a medium-rare steak tastes better) and it's something different that has not had any negative effect on me. It's not like smoking, where "Those nasty cancers won't happen to me" runs rampant, depsite nasty cancers having a significant link to the use of tobacco. It's "My choice," and the worst that can happen is projectile vomiting and profuse diarrhea that will eventually get better after a while, lesson learned.

Plus, I've always noticed how corn tends to come out of me in the same condition in which it was swallowed. I've noticed this is often the same case in dogs. Both humans and dogs are omnivores. This isn't exactly science in terms of the linkies referenced in your "Let's Try Science" post, so it might not hold water in the way that a peer-reviewed journal would want it to. But that doesn't stop me from going "Hmmmm."

So if I'd like to and have the appropriate resources and knowledge available, can I feed my dog raw now?

I'm trying to figure out how to work in the fact that I'm an intact female as well as some sort of preclusion to the possibility that I might be allowed to keep intact dogs, but sadly, reproductive status in humans is grossly skewed from the amount of responsibility required of people to not allow an intact dog to breed. Oh well, it was a start...guess I'm just destined to get mammary cancer since I wasn't spayed at a young age. Or is that taking the "human/dog" analogy a bit too far?

The Doubtful Guest said...

I don't disagree with you that marketing is a huge part of the reason there is so much "controversy" over feeding one's dogs these days.

I fed raw for a few years and noticed that my dogs did very well on it. But it was a major hassle for me, and expensive. I love my dogs very much, but I decided I had better things to do than make their food myself, and that there are good kibbles out there that had the nutrients listed right on the bag.

So I switched back to kibble. I chose a kibble in the "middle" category: not from the grocery or "big box" store, but not "human grade," either.

My dogs do fine on it. It's affordable for me, and it meets everyone's needs. It's got grain in it. That doesn't bother me.

That said, I disagree that all kibble is the same. I have no intention of ever giving my dogs Ol' Roy. Some kibbles have less preservatives, and less unpronouncable stuff, and the common wisdom in humans is "simpler is better."

I don't buy into the hype, and I definitely don't believe that premium dog foods costing $3 per pound are using the same chicken breasts I eat, but I have had enough dogs develop crusty coats and disgusting stools to make me read labels more carefully.

And I am overweight, but I will not do that to a dog, even a non-working one. Obesity in dogs is a crying shame, and completely preventable.

Anton said...

ACtually Dr. Lonsdale's research was prevented from being published in vet journals, since they (the vets) are not only on the take of the pharma but also the nestle's of this world.

The argument that using human leftovers for the pedrigree/eukanubas of this world making itmore green is insane. All that crap first gets shipped half way acros the globe (in europe's case most comes from South America and goes to germany)

KathyC said...

I believe we should consider our dogs' nutritional needs to be as important as our own. I'm a locavore because I like to know where my food comes from and I also know that it reduces my carbon footprint by cutting out the transportation factor. I try to do similar things to reduce my dogs' carbon pawprints by buying treats made closer to home, and by sometimes making them dog biscuits and such from scratch. Although not everyone agrees here, one thing we hold in common: we want the best for our pets.

geonni banner said...

I read somewhere recently that only one quarter of all domestic dogs in the world have owners. I think it's safe to say that not too many of the ownerless dogs are getting kibble to eat - any kind of kibble. But though many of those dogs die from road accidents, parasites and disease, I think that probably has more to do with the fact that they are not vaccinated or wormed and the fact that they spend a lot of time running in the road.

But when I see pictures of these "pariah" or street dogs, whether they are from Africa, Indonesia, Spain or Russia, they look pretty good. Lean - you can see their ribs - but generally not much worse than the mutts at the local dog park. And they sure aren't dying of being overfed, which a fair number at the dog park are.

If those street dogs can do relatively well on garbage, feces and stolen human food, I think that the reason our pampered purebred pooches develop allergies, weird nutritional deficiencies and cancers not because of generic kibble or premium kibble. They do so because, unlike the street dogs, they are inbred, under-exercised,and overfed. We mostly have pedigree dogs. Even those pet dogs that are of mixed ancestry are usually not more than a couple of generations from their inbred and selected-for-dysfunction pedigree kin. F1 and F2 mixed-breed dogs are just as susceptible to their pedigree parent's and grandparent's genetic defects. Street dogs or pariah dogs, on the other hand are truly random-bred.

The emaciated, mangy, scabby dogs that you are constantly having thrust in your face on "The Dodo" and such, are usually owned dogs that were dumped or abused by their owners. Such dogs have no idea how to score sufficient amounts of "dumpster cuisine" and are so mentally twisted that they fold up like card tables and die.

I feed my dog a premium food and raw meat. I do so because she does well on it. My motto is, "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it." But I have no doubt that she could do well on any number of foods from any number of price ranges and sources. But she has done poorly on other premium kibbles so I stick with what works.

Meagan said...

Most of my dogs' meat come from people who would otherwise throw it in the garbage. People looking to clean out their freezers, I sometimes get 50 or more pounds from one person. I recently took 100lb of pork from a farmer who needed room in his freezer. We take venison from my father in law when he butchers during hunting season. I was amazed at how much meat would have just been thrown in the trash. My one dog has eaten raw meat/bone/organ for 3 years and never any parasites.

PipedreamFarm said...

To use an argument analogous to yours on lyme...

If the dog is not showing symptoms of being sick when it is passing salmonella (or any other microbe you choose to test for) in its stool; is it really sick? Is that salmonella really a health problem for the dog?

All kibbles have preservatives and all will need the same level of activity of these preservatives in order to achieve the same shelf life (prevent the fat from oxidizing). The source of these preservatives can be natural or synthetic; all ARE chemicals. The natural ones may have been chemically extracted or may come as part of a mixture (unknown impurities) as found in nature.

This fad that if you cannot pronounce the name it must be bad is just another MARKETING SCAM. Can you pronounce these: "(2R,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[(2S,3S,4S,5R)-3,4-dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxolan-2-yl]oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxane-3,4,5-triol", "1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione", or "3,7-dimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione"? If not you'd better give up sugar, coffee, and chocolate.