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But according to a new report from the Clean Label Project, a non-governmental non-profit, America’s beloved cats and dogs are facing high levels of contamination in the foods their owners provide for them.
The organization, headed by various doctors and former members of the food industry, analyzed the ingredients in 900 pet food products from over 70 brands. Brands included popular names like Purina, Pedigree, Iams, Natural Balance, Science Diet, Milk-Bone, Meow Mix, 9 Lives, and Whiskas. They also included other, smaller brands, like Wellness, SmartBone, Blue Dog Bakery, Nature’s Variety, and Newman’s Own.
According to Dr. John Tegzes, a veterinarian and certified specialist in toxicology by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, “One of the most important contributors to a pet’s health and wellness is the quality of their food.”
“However, little to no attention is being paid by many pet food brands to the toxic metals, pesticides, mycotoxins, antibiotics and BPA/BPS in their ingredients.”
As the analysis explains, products “were screened for over 130 toxins including heavy metals, BPA, pesticides and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions in both humans and animals.” The testing was reportedly conducted by an independent laboratory, confirmed by two additional labs, and reviewed by a technical advisory board of statisticians, veterinarians, epidemiologists, and food safety scientists.
The report claims the most prevalent toxins they found were cadmium, used in battery parts and associated with cancer, neurological problems, liver damage, kidney damage, and increased blood pressure; pesticides, which are linked to neurological damage and kidney damage; mercury, also linked to neurological side effects; chromium, often found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke and linked to cancer and kidney damage; acrylamide, used in sewage water treatment and associated with neurological damage and gastrointestinal symptoms; arsenic, an active ingredient in rat poison linked to gastrointestinal damage; and lead, linked to neurological impairments, gastrointestinal issues, skeletal, renal, and cardiac damage, and liver dysfunction.
The levels of lead in food were particularly concerning; at 2,420 parts per billion, the amount of lead in dog food was found to be 16 times higher than lead levels in the water in Flint, Michigan, which clocked in at 158 ppb. Mercury was found in high prevalence in tuna products, and BPA was found to be 980% more prevalent than the amount found in a can of chicken soup.
Overall, the most pervasive toxins were cadmium, lead, and arsenic. Arsenic was found in 75% of pet foods tested at levels greater than twice the EPA maximum (10 ppb). Lead was detected in 82% of food at levels that exceeded EPA safety standards (15 ppb). Cadmium was found in 94% of foods tested. All three toxins were found at exponentially higher rates in pet food than they are found in cigarettes.
“Grain-free” products had more toxins than others. Turkey was found to be the cleanest meat while fish was the most contaminated.
“Companies may be unaware these chemicals are in their products, as many of these tests are not routine or required—but that doesn’t make the presence of these toxins any less dangerous,” says Jackie Bowen, Clean Label Project executive director. “The rapid expansion of manufacturing and outsourcing has made an impact on the purity of not just pet food, but all food—and the only way to fix it is to increase awareness and demand action.”
The organization ranked foods by the top ten cleanest and top ten most contaminated products, also factoring in nutrition levels like fiber and protein. Certain products by Purina, Iams, and several smaller brands made the cut. Surprisingly, many of the brands that align themselves with “health” were found to have the highest levels of toxins. Natural Balance, Wellness, The Honest Kitchen, and Earthborn were ranked some of the most contaminated (you can view the specific rankings here).
“Despite the premium consumers are often willing to pay for products with these labels, Clean Label Project found that price is not a reliable indicator of purity,” the organization’s press release noted.
Ingredients in pet food received widespread attention in 2007 after roughly 8,000 pets died from contaminated food, and the Clean Label Project seeks to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future.
They advise pet owners to speak with their veterinarians, become more conscious about their pet food choices, and sign a petition to demand transparency from the FDA.