Pet Food Politics: a summary

On March 16, 2007, Menu Foods, a pet food manufacturer from Canada, issued a recall of more than 60 million cans and pouches across 200 brands of pet foods (Nestle, 2008, p.13).

Several rounds of testing revealed that the pet foods, which were supposed to contain wheat gluten (an expensive source of protein) imported from China, in fact contained wheat flour laced with melamine and cyanuric acid. As Nestle (2008) pointed out, feed officials still measure protein content by “the amount of nitrogen present” (p. 71), so melamine, used to make plastic dinnerware, and cyanuric acid, a by-product of this dinnerware-making process – both cheap, non-protein sources of nitrogen – were used to boost the foods’ apparent protein content.

Toxicology studies conducted by UC Davis, as well as earlier studies reported in agricultural journals, showed that melamine in combination with cyanuric acid in any dose (even below the level usually considered safe) forms crystals and disrupts normal kidney function in animals (Nestle, 2008, p.87). The Veterinary Information Network estimated that around 2000-7000 pets across the US died; thousands more fell sick (Nestle, 2008, p.58). Since salvaged pet food is routinely fed to farm animals, melamine also found its way into the human food supply and was detected in hogs, chickens, and farmed fish.

Nestle (2008) argues that “contaminated pet foods were early warnings of the safety hazards of globalisation” (p.2). The pet food recall of 2007 led China to institute new food safety standards. In the US, the recall fueled a backlash against imported foods, increased demand for better labeling, and consequently, stronger support for the locavore movement.

Perhaps most importantly, the incident highlighted that the fragmented food safety system of the US could not adequately protect the country’s food supply, and that the FDA, which at the time of the incident was not empowered to issue a mandatory recall of food products, no longer has the resources or the regulatory might to cope with the current industrialized, centralized food production system (Nestle, 2008, p.143).


Nestle, M. (2008). Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 

What we eat explains how the world works....

I just finished What to Eat by Marion Nestle. I definitely recommend this to anyone who is concerned about what they eat and the food environment in our society today. She takes readers on an aisle by aisle journey through the super market explaining everything from the nutritional value, scientific controversy, and health hazards of food to the marketing, corporation influence, and agriculture of the food we eat. This opened my eyes so much to what is really going on with America’s food system. Food is life, what we eat explains what we value. It seems so simple that we should know what we are eating…yet we don’t and big industry likes to keep it that way. Americans have 3,900 calories available to them on average EVERY DAY. Imagine how many of those extra calories we don’t need could go to someone starving in another part of the world.

“When it comes to food choices, all too many food executives, government officials, and alas, my fellow nutrition professionals intone these mantras:

-all foods can fit into a healthful diet (you can eat anything you like, with no restrictions)

-there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food (you can eat anything you like)

-the keys to healthful eating are variety, balance, and moderation (you can eat anything you like, anytime)

-the key to weight control is to increase physical activity (you don’t have to worry about what you eat)

-obesity is more about personal responsibility (it has nothing to do with pressures to “eat more”)

When I hear such statements, singly or in combination, I know that they have only one purpose: to defend the right of food companies to market products any way they like. Even though each of these statements holds a grain of truth, each leaves out crucial parts of dietary advice: most of the time, you would be better off eating less, eating unprocessed foods, and avoiding junk foods.”

—Marion Nestle

Whether you like it or not every time you purchase and eat food you are making a political choice along with a nutritional choice. If it matters to you what happens to animals, poor factory or agricultural workers, the environment, toxins in our food, the influence of marketing on children, or how business is conducted in this country, then it really will make a difference if you choose to eat in support of your values. Its happening already, people are trying to form a healthier food culture, I just hope it catches fire because the health of our kids and future generations as well as the environment depends on it.

I attended a very informative panel discussion with 3 speakers-Marion Nestle, Laura Berry, and Professor Nicholas Freudenberg-who discussed Freudenberg’s book Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health

What did I learn? 

1. The ingredients to create a successful food advocacy campaign 

2. An investment institution who “views the management of their investments as a powerful catalyst for social change”- Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility 

3. Themes from Freudenberg’s book such as hyper-consumption as the norm & learning from our past to change corporate practices 

What did I not like? 

I feel that scholars may be distant to the reality that within corporations and big banks, it is unconceivable to imagine an alternative to capitalism. Freudenberg mentioned that we should “weaken & dismantle corporate consumption culture”. Weaken-maybe. Dismantle-never. Granted, I have not read his book yet, so he may have cited some concrete examples of the former case. 

The conversation focused more on external change, however, I think there is significance trying to promote change from within the “corporate-complex." 

I proceeded to ask that question to Laura who responded in saying (1) Create a business case to promote public health issues (2) Internal & External advocacy must collaborate efforts. 

Overall, the panel gave me inspiration that I do not have to abandon my current job in financial services. I must leverage my internal position to promote business and socially responsible issues- they do not have to be mutually exclusive. 

What can you do? 

Read Freudenberg’s book listed above