Are Pet Food Feeding Trials Essential?

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In the course of a year several new dog and cat food products will be launched onto the UK pet food market. Some of these will be manufactured by the big boys, Masterfoods or Nestle Purina, who will conduct scientific feeding trials, but others come from small companies who really are just marketing and distributing – they have no manufacturing facilities and make use of independent manufacturers who produce food for anyone. Several well known and well advertised UK brands and a host of smaller brands are produced centrally and simply distributed by the brand owners.

Small companies cannot afford the luxury of Research & Development facilities, they also do not have the facilities to do their own pet food feeding trials. Let’s face it, they are up against the might of the Waltham centre for Pet Nutrition operated by the company that brings you Pedigree, Royal Canin and the like. Their publicity states

‘Set in the heart of the English countryside, the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition is a state-of-the-art facility that unifies all of the research and development expertise of the Mars group of pet care companies worldwide.

Waltham collaborates with many of the world’s most prestigious universities and academics in advancing nutritional research and worldwide the Mars Group employs more than 100 dedicated veterinarians and 500 scientists (plus several of the world’s leading companion animal nutritionists).’

No small company can compete with the might of such a multi-national company.

So is the pet food I feed safe?

That’s an interesting question! Large pet food companies can afford the facilities of a testing centre, so what goes on there?

Well, the rules for conducting feeding trials seem to be all based around AAFCO guidelines.

Masterfoods say this about their feeding trials ‘Adult maintenance trials may take six months to complete. A full veterinary examination is also conducted to ensure the pets used in the trial are healthy. Food intakes and body weights are recorded throughout the trial period along with other important indicators such as oral health, skin and coat health, body condition and faecal quality.

‘At the conclusion of the trial a blood sample is taken to detect any nutritional deficiencies or excesses. As a further measure to assess palatability, in home feeding trials are conducted as we have access to approximately 8,000 households. This ensures we get a true reflection of pets’ acceptance and preference of the product range. Some pet food products may take up to three years to develop because of this rigorous three-step testing process.’

What about a small company?

You will probably find that small companies tell you that they do not conduct feeding trials because they do not consider them necessary – usually a new food is given to staff and family to try out on their pets. If there are no adverse comments from users over a four or six week period then the food is launched to the general public.

This can work out fine, but essentially they are using pet owners around the country to do their long term food trials. I know of occasions where a food has been launched in this way and then caused health problems that were not picked up during the initial food tasting.

However, it also has to be said that all new pet food recipes have their origin at feeding trials which have been done in the past. The AAFCO nutritional guidlines have been used for years as the base figures for formulating pet food recipes, and you or I could probably put together a fine quality pet food based upon those guidlines – but we have to bear in mind that these were established through nutritional feeding trials, and have been amended no doubt since based upon current knowledge.

For this reason, unless a recipe is using very novel ingredients, or formulated with proportions of ingredients that vary greatly from other foods on the market, it is generally assumed that these foods will be perfectly safe for the pets that they have been created for.

So, maybe pet owners do need to ask themselves a question. If I am trying a new pet food, am I happy that this food has been extensively trialled over a period of 6 months to 2 years and proved by scientific methods to be beneficial to health – or am I comfortable that a food has been formulated to a similar recipe to others on the market, given out to a dozen or so pet owners and over a short period of time no adverse comments made?

The choice is ours!

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Source by John Birch

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