Lessons from Beneful Suit: Importance of Reading Dog Food Labels

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If nothing else, the class action lawsuit against Purina’s Beneful brand of dog food has reawakened the general public on issues concerning the quality and ingredients in pet food. In the case of Beneful (and many other pet food Brands), the ingredient list is laden with artificial ingredients and fillers and is far from what I would consider species appropriate. One of the ingredients used in the Beneful product line (and other pet food brand formulas), one that has been historically pointed to by complaining consumers, is propylene glycol, which is often used in antifreeze. According to the Purina website, “propylene glycol is an FDA-approved food additive that’s also in human foods like salad dressing and cake mix.”

FDA APPROVED

If the FDA has approved an ingredient, it must be safe for pets, right? I am not so sure about that. Based on the way most people feed their pets, I would argue that FDA approval of an ingredient, even if it is approved for human consumption, does not mean that it should be fed to pets.

 

What does FDA Ingredient Approval Mean?

When the FDA evaluates a food ingredient, they look at several factors. The FDA website summarizes the evaluation process as follows.

When evaluating the safety of a substance and whether it should be approved, FDA considers: 1) the composition and properties of the substance, 2) the amount that would typically be consumed, 3) immediate and long-term health effects, and 4) various safety factors. The evaluation determines an appropriate level of use that includes a built-in safety margin – a factor that allows for uncertainty about the levels of consumption that are expected to be harmless. In other words, the levels of use that gain approval are much lower than what would be expected to have any adverse effect.

 

The general idea is that even if an ingredient might cause harm, if it is included in small enough levels, it can obtain FDA approval for use in food. On some level, this makes sense. Although it doesn’t make me want to switch back to drinking those colorful sports drinks full of artificial colors. But for most dog owners, extra caution should be used when evaluating their pets’ food. That is because most dog owners tend to feed their pets the same food over long periods of time.

 

The Cumulative Effect of Eating Unhealthy Foods

When speaking about the common practice of keeping a dog on the same food for extended periods of time, I often use the analogy of a ship sailing from London to New York. Imagine if the ship is just a little off course as it sets sail. Just a little, maybe one tenth of a degree. Over the first few miles, the deviation has hardly any impact. But as this ship crosses the Atlantic, the cumulative effect of the course deviation could result in this ship landing in Miami instead of New York.

 

The same logic holds true with food. It is often the cumulative effect that is the problem. Feeding a dog a food with dubious, albeit FDA approved ingredients for a few days will probably not have much of an impact on the pet’s health. But what happens when the dog is ingesting these ingredients day after day, month after month, and even year after year? Common sense says that this is not good for their health.

 

Back to the example of propylene glycol and its approval for human consumption. As stated earlier, this ingredient is used in things like salad dressing and cake mix and the FDA has deemed it safe in the amounts that are used in such items. However, do you think the FDA would feel the same way if they thought that salad dressing and/or cake mix were going to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each and every day, for weeks and possibly years on end, much like many pet owners feed their dogs the same dog food over and over?

 

The question for pet owners is why risk it? If an ingredient is artificially made or if it has the potential to cause harm, albeit at higher doses than typically found in food, why take the chance with your pet’s health? There are thousands of dog foods to choose from, many of which are formulated without including artificial preservatives and colorings.
 

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22 Comments

  1. Great piece of information, thanks for explaining it so well.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…It’s A Ducky Monday~Monday MischiefMy Profile

  2. I fortunately learnt through your blog to read the labels and the small print on dog food..thanks! You’re right, we fortunately can pick a better brand and we can avoid sorrows and harm… if we only spend some minutes to read the label…
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

  3. Good points here, I never thought about the fact that you are feeding your dog the same food everyday.

  4. We are very lucky to have other choices! Great info, thanks for sharing!
    Golden Daily Scoop recently posted…Did You Pack a Lunch Today?My Profile

  5. You are 100% right! There is no point in risking a pets health simply to save a few bucks. Meanwhile, in the long run will end up costing more money in health bills, and even possibly your pets life….shame
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Caledon Farms All Natural Dog Treats – Mystery Treats Revealed!My Profile

  6. People definitely need to read dog food ingredient labels; but they also need to know HOW to read them and what some of the ingredients truly are, not just what they think they are. Personally, I hope Purina loses the case BIG TIME; but I fear they will win and things will just get worse.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…Lazy Sunday MorningMy Profile

  7. Great perspective in this post! Thanks for sharing. We ‘assume’ the stuff we buy for our fur kids (as well as ourselves) is safe; and clearly FDA approval can mean little to assuage any suspicions. Being informed and reading those labels is more critical now than ever.
    Monika recently posted…Guilty as ChargedMy Profile

  8. I don’t think we want that stuff in our food, but good point about the occasional small amount versus day in and day out. Kind of like eating a bag of chips now and then is not so bad, but shouldn’t be a daily thing.
    Emma recently posted…Is Your Dog A Healthy Weight #PerfectWeightMy Profile

  9. This makes shopping for dog food so much more difficult. I just grab a bag and go. I do the same with my own food, though, and it shows.
    Flea recently posted…Bigger and Better?My Profile

  10. I don’t care what the FDA says, I don’t want that stuff in my food or my pets’ food!
    Jan K recently posted…Tuesday’s Tails: Dottie and CatMy Profile

  11. In response to Flea’s comment – it can be overwhelming at first. I remember when I first had to become aware of dog food and dog treat ingredients because my Shadow had a LOT of allergies to different foods. But I persevered and now, it is just second nature to me to always read the ingredients. If there is anything on there I cannot pronounce or am not sure what it is – I don’t buy it. For myself or for Blueberry. Healthy living does require effort, but it is so worth it in the long run. 🙂

    Thanks for this post – and you are most likely correct, this will probably be swept under the rug.
    Blueberry’s human recently posted…Mischief – Unleashed DogsMy Profile

  12. Great point about the cumulative effect. I hope this lawsuit at least gets enough attention to make a lot of dog owners switch from Beneful to something healthier. I’m sure a lot of people purchasing this food are misled by the packaging and never analyze the ingredient list.
    Elaine recently posted…How to Deal With Ticks – A Dog Hiker’s Survival GuideMy Profile

  13. You are absolutely right. There is no reason to risk our pet’s health with unnecessary ingredients. A little unhealthy food can be okay, but not every day. Great points.
    It’s Dog or Nothing recently posted…Benefits of Salmon Oil: Only Natural PetMy Profile

  14. While it takes a little effort at first to read & understand our pups’ food ingredient labels, it is SO worth it in the long run! Great post about a very important topic: our best friends’ health!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Guest Post By Jan Dunlap: “My three keys to happy adoption”My Profile

  15. Personally I’m not impressed with the FDA. At. All. These are the same folks that initially told us saccharin was safe. Then it wasn’t. They told us aspartame was safe and it isn’t. Should I go on?

    We all know anti-freeze can kill a pet, why in the world would anyone take even the slightest chance of feeding a food that contained anything that was in it?
    Jodi recently posted…The Face in the Fire – Barks and BytesMy Profile

  16. Such a good way to look at it. I try to feed my dog the highest-quality food I can afford, but I don’t worry too much if he eats an occasional unhealthy treat every now and then. It’s not the one treat here and there that is a problem (usually), it’s the overall diet. This is how I justify eating a cookie or chips every now and then myself, but I try so hard to eat as healthy as I can overall.
    Lindsay recently posted…Choosing the Right Dog Collar to Stop Extreme Leash PullingMy Profile

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