Cigarettes, Lies, and Pet Food Advertising

Cigarettes, Lies, and Pet Food Advertising

It’s difficult to imagine that cigarettes and lies have any connection with pet food – but when you look closely at the advertising tactics of some pet foods, look closely at the ingredients in those pet foods – you’ll find cigarettes, lies, and pet food fits perfectly together.

To give you an example of the connection, we’re looking closely at an extremely popular cat food, sold in every grocery across the country. The pet food manufacturer is one of the most popular and largest producers of pet food, selling cat and dog foods all over the world. I can’t give you the pet food name, so I’ve made up a name and I’ve change some of the wording from the information provided on the pet food bag. But…and this is a really big but(t)…the ingredients provided below are the actual ingredients of the real cat food. And dog owners – the same tricks apply to dog food.

I’m using the pretend pet food name of ‘Yummy Good – Super Seafood Dry Cat Food’ instead of the actual cat food name. Just like many pet foods, on the front of the Yummy Good Super Seafood Cat Food bag is a photo of the most beautiful cat you’ve ever seen – his coat almost glows in the picture. Bright big eyes, mischievous face – this cat looks like the picture of health. Your eyes are instinctively drawn to the picture. Right above it you notice the pet food name –

Yummy Good – with a big red heart next to it. The ‘yummy’ and the heart – leads you to believe this cat food not only tastes good, but somehow you are providing love by feeding it. Under the beautiful cat picture you notice ‘Super Seafood with Ocean Fish, Albacore Tuna, Salmon, and Crab Flavors’. And you think ‘wow, look at all the fish in this cat food…it’s so healthy!’ To seal the deal…you read “100% Complete Nutrition” and “with Healthy Omega’s”. This has got to be a great food for my cat – all those different kinds of fish, complete nutrition, omega’s, and it’s named Yummy! You pull the bag of Yummy Good Super Seafood from the shelf, and being a good pet parent, you read a little more about it on the back of the bag. You read that this food offers ‘Healthy Skin and Coat promoted by Omega Essential Oils’, ‘Clear Healthy Vision supported by vitamins and minerals’, ‘Healthy Immune System supported by Complete Nutrition’ and ‘Strong, Lean Muscles supported by High Quality Protein’. Sold! Wow my cat is gonna love me for this!

While you might think you discovered this cat food by a natural shopping process, it’s actually an expertly scripted sale. It’s exactly how most pet owners decide on a brand of cat or dog food, unknowing participants in the consumer/pet food sales process. Pet owners are precisely led down an expertly scripted path – inadvertently purchasing and feeding their pets popular brands of cat or dog foods assuming the best of nutrition is being provided to their pet.

So now let’s look at the actual ingredients of one of the most popular cat foods in the U.S. – the pet food I re-named Yummy Good Super Seafood. First, you should know that ingredients listed on pet food labels are listed by pre-cooking weight – heaviest to lightest. So by pre-cooking weight – the first five or so ingredients are the heaviest and make up the majority of the food. Knowing that – here are the first five ingredients of a REAL cat food sold in grocery stores all over the U.S. that I’ve changed the name to Yummy Good Super Seafood Cat Food… “Ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, meat and bone meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E)”.

‘Ground yellow corn’ is the first ingredient – no seafood there and corn has little to no nutritional value to cats or dogs. ‘Corn gluten meal’ is the second ingredient – gluten is often used as a binder or thickener for pet foods. No seafood again and no nutritional value to the pet. ‘Poultry by-product meal’ is the third ingredient…hmmm, still so seafood. By-products are animal pieces that are considered unsuitable for human consumption – sort of the garbage of the meat processing industry. Poultry by-products consist of animal pieces like chicken feet and turkey heads – providing little to no nutritional value to the pet. ‘Meat and bone meal’ is the fourth ingredient – what?…still no seafood? Meat and bone meal, if you can imagine it – is an even worse pet food ingredient than by-products. This ingredient is the garbage from anything and everything animal…things like euthanized sick animals, diseased animal tissue, or even expired grocery store meat. As you can guess, it provides little to no nutritional value to the pet (cat or dog). And our fifth ingredient is ‘animal fat preserved with mixed tocopherols’. When chicken feet, turkey heads, cow intestines and expired grocery store meat are cooked (in the pet food industry it’s called rendered), the fat that rises to the top becomes the pet food ingredient animal fat. The pet owner (and even the pet food manufacturer) has no idea what types of animals the fat comes from and worse yet this common pet food ingredient has been determined by the FDA to be most likely to contain pentobarbital (the drug used to euthanize animals). In other words, you can pretty much assume that the pet food ingredient animal fat contains euthanized animals and the drug used to end their life. Again – no seafood and little to no nutritional value to the pet.

This is perplexing – the majority of an actual cat food (the first five ingredients) that I renamed Yummy Good Super Seafood – contains NO seafood. Surely the next five ingredients will be the ‘good stuff’. Well, let’s see…here are the next five actual ingredients of a popular cat food with Seafood in the name… “soybean meal, animal liver flavor, phosphoric acid, calcium carbonate, salt”. Still no seafood! Actually, still no quality nutrition provided to cats in ten ingredients! The first ten ingredients make up a huge majority of a pet food, a guesstimate with this cat food would be around 85%. So the largest majority of an extremely popular cat food I’ve re-named Yummy Good Super Seafood Cat Food contains no seafood and provides little to no nutrition to a cat. It isn’t until the twelfth ingredient on the list that we find what the name implies – seafood – and that’s right before the artificial coloring of the cat food.

Think about that just for a moment. Think about the weight of the food coloring you use when you color Easter eggs. The couple of drops of coloring you put into the water – think about how much those couple of drops of food coloring weigh. Now imagine a piece of salmon or Albacore Tuna that weighs just slightly more than a couple of drops of food coloring. That’s how much seafood is in this bag of cat food!

Amazing huh? And remember, these are the actual ingredients of a cat food that is sold in every grocery store across the country – a pet food that I assure you would be recognized by every U.S. pet owner. A cat food that touts Seafood in the name – containing probably far less than one small piece of Albacore Tuna or Salmon in a ton or more of cat food! A pet food that claims “Healthy Immune System supported by Complete Nutrition’ and ‘Strong, Lean Muscles supported by High Quality Protein’ – when actually there is only a sliver of high quality protein/nutrition in the food.

As surprising as it might be, this is all perfectly legal and common practice in the pet food and pet treat industry. It’s simply advertising. The existing rules of the pet food industry allow “unqualified claims, either directly or indirectly” on pet food labels. Misleading yes, but it’s nothing new to advertising.

Twenty or so years ago, the tobacco industry sold pretty much the same story to consumers. Similar to this pet food claiming ‘Ocean Fish, Albacore Tuna, Salmon, and Crab Flavors’, Camel Cigarettes for example had slogans such as ‘Slow down – Pleasure up’, More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other cigarette’, and ‘For Digestion’s Sake – Smoke Camels’.

The tobacco industry got caught at their game – but the pet food industry continues on, following in some of the exact steps that worked so perfectly for cigarettes. Former effective tobacco marketing techniques such as continuity programs rewarded tobacco loyal consumers with ‘Camel Cash’ and ‘Marlboro Miles’ to exchange for coupons or brand wear t-shirts and hats is commonplace today with pet product consumers. To build a stronger bond with smokers, tobacco sponsored sporting and entertainment events. Pet Food Industries have taken that one step further. Not only is every major pet event attached to a pet food name (marketing by association to the best dogs or cats in the country to a particular brand of pet food), but almost every veterinarian graduating in the last twenty or so years has been affected by pet food corporate marketing. Veterinary students up to present day at almost every veterinary college in the U.S. are commonly taught dog and cat nutrition by pet food manufacturers – nutrition classes based on what each manufacturer wants them to know, not pet nutrition based on unbiased science and research. Twenty years ago this would be similar to R.J. Reynolds employees teaching third year medical students respiratory function classes.

Pet food has even joined the TV game show world. Auditions have already begun for the ‘Meow Mix Game Show’ set to air on Game Show Network in November 2008. It’s known as “branded entertainment”; an advertising tactic that has been commonly utilized for many years.

Twenty plus years ago tobacco advertising monies also controlled the media. Numerous behind closed door meetings have been reported between major television, radio, and print media with tobacco representatives pointing out that bad ‘press’ would be frowned upon and tobacco would consider removing the millions of advertising dollars provided to the media companies should bad press stories be published. For years, these tactics prevented consumers from knowing the truth about tobacco risks. Today, we can only assume the media’s blind eye to rendered euthanized animals and dangerous chemical preservatives being common to many pet foods is due to the same strong arm tactics. Pet food million dollar plus advertising budgets provided by pet food high profits (a ‘seafood’ cat food made with corn and by-products provides a great deal more profit than a ‘seafood’ cat food made with real seafood) continue to keep pet owners in the dark.

How much of an impact does pet food advertising have? In 1989 a Surgeon General’s report regarding the impact of cigarette advertising stated “familiarity of tobacco advertising and promotion may contribute to an environment in which tobacco use is perceived by users to be socially acceptable, or at least less socially objectionable and less hazardous than it is in fact.” Study after study has proven Cigarette advertisements capitalize on the consumers misperception of risk factors associated with smoking. In fact the many studies of tobacco advertising effects on consumers resulted in the eventual end of tobacco advertising.

No one knows the true impact pet food advertising has on the health of pets. No study has ever been done. But using the example provided above – with one of the most popular cat foods in the country – a cat food that touts ‘Seafood’ in the name and blazons ‘Ocean Fish, Albacore Tuna, Salmon, and Crab Flavors’ across the label – and knowing that this cat food has an unimaginable tiny amount of seafood actually in it – you can guess the effects on a cat’s health. It was proven with cigarettes the power of advertising and it’s basically proven with pet food when such an inferior cat food is a leader in national cat food sales. Familiarity of pet food advertising and promotion surely seems to contribute to an environment that these pet foods are perceived as healthy and premium.

Cigarette smokers today at the very least are informed – they make their smoking or non-smoking decisions based on science, not manipulating advertising. Pet owners are not provided the same privilege. Pet owners continue to unknowingly purchase cat and dog foods whose ingredients cannot match the advertising claims. Remember that even if the pet food label says Yummy or Seafood or even Super – the ingredient list might tell a completely different story. The front of a bag or can of pet food is just marketing – it in no way gives a petsumer enough information and/or sound information to judge the actual quality of nutrition that is provided to the pet in the food. Until misleading pet food advertising is outlawed just as cigarette advertising was – pet owners must read the ingredient list, understand a few common pet food ingredient definitions, and ask a few questions of the pet food manufacturer. Briefly, look for cat and dog foods that contain no ‘by-products’, no ‘meat and bone meal’, no ‘animal fat’, and very little mention of grains (corn, wheat, or soy). Call the manufacturer and ask if any ingredients originate outside the U.S. (avoid pet foods that utilize Chinese imports) and get an assurance that the meat quality is a human grade. There are many quality pet foods out there – pet owners have to look a little further, but the reward to your pet’s health far outweighs the minimal effort to find them.

Wishing you and your pet the best,

Susan Thixton

Truth About Pet Food

Petsumer Report

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