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Humane Sourcing and the Pet Food Industry

How “Pet Power” Can Help Build a Better Future for Animals and the Planet

By Anthony Bennie, Founder of Clear Conscience Pet.

Can animal lovers change the world for the better?

We love our companion animals. We talk to them constantly, they sleep in our homes (sometimes in our beds!), and we give them parties and buy them gifts. In short, we treat them as furry four-legged humans. Many of us have come to deeply believe in the inherent “soulfulness” of our companion animals, and we don’t doubt that they are intelligent, emotional and intuitive.

So why should we think of cows, pigs, sheep, and other agricultural animals as less worthy of humane treatment than our pets? The answer is, we shouldn’t. We don’t need to have cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, or other livestock in our homes as “pets” to treat them with dignity and respect.

Is there a way to harness the power of pet stewardship to change the world for the better? Can those of us who share our lives and homes with companion animals make life better for livestock animals, humans, AND the planet?

What needs fixing?

As things are today, the overwhelming majority of meat based pet food and treat ingredients come from “factory farms” and mega feedlots instead of humanely raised, grass fed meats. The term CAFO, which is an acronym for “Combined Animal Feeding Operation,” is used by the USDA to identify mass “meat factories” and mega-feedlots in which thousands of animals are raised in unnaturally cramped conditions, with very little freedom of movement and little or no intra-species socialization. While such operations do succeed in producing lots of meat per square foot, they negatively impact not only the health and well-being of the animals raised in this unnatural manner, but the larger environment and even human health.

Cramped conditions foster disease and lead to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock. This has caused the mutation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens animal and human health, since it reduces the likelihood that antibiotics will work when they are needed most to treat infection.

The use of added growth hormones to help the confined livestock to grow more quickly has introduced these hormones into the human and animal food stream, bringing many possible long term side effects.

And the negative environmental impact of various types of CAFOs is well documented. The unnatural concentration of thousands of animals in small areas creates huge waste disposal problems, leading at times to serious groundwater pollution. Soil erosion is another by product of CAFOs.

Livestock eating only commercial feed and no grass produce meat that is much less nutritious than those with at least partial access to grazing on grass. Grass-fed animals produce meat that is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and other important vitamins and minerals. CAFO raised animals do not provide these benefits at anywhere near the same levels.  Think of it as simple “karma;” when we treat the animals well and allow them a decent quality of life, they return the favor by giving us healthy and wholesome meat.

In Temple Grandin’s most recent book, Animals Make Us Human  (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin, © 2009, co-written by Catherine Johnson), Dr. Grandin says it beautifully and straightforwardly: “Since people are responsible for breeding and raising farm animals, they must also take the responsibility to give the animals living conditions that provide a decent life and a painless death. During the animal’s life, both its physical needs and its emotional needs should be satisfied.”

The mass feedlot/factory farm meat production model does not satisfy any of these criteria. A large animal cramped in a tiny space that lives only to eat, eliminate, and eventually be slaughtered doesn’t really HAVE a life in any sense that we would recognize. Their physical need to graze and exercise is unmet, and their emotional need for interaction and socialization with members of their own species is denied.

CAFOs are an unsustainable, inhumane, and some say a cruel model for the management of one of our most vital resources- the livestock we depend upon to support our planet. So what can we do about it?

What’s the alternative to CAFO’s, and how does this affect the economy?

The quality of life for farm animals and our environment can be improved dramatically by supporting the shift away from CAFOs and back to humanely raised, grass fed, free range and pasture kept livestock. But will this hurt our economy at a time when we need American businesses to grow, not shrink further?

In the USA, we have tremendous land resources. When one flies coast to coast, it is clear that there are areas of the country with no dense human habitation for hundreds of miles.   There are literally tens of millions of acres of public lands in the U.S.A. that have been sealed off from ranchers as grazing land in pursuit of an ill-defined environmental agenda. At least some of this is land that could be sustainably used for responsible ranching without harming the environment. We would see tremendous growth in the American ethical and humane ranching industry by responsibly and selectively reopening closed lands to grazing leases.

Worldwide awareness of the problems associated with factory farms and the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, and steroids has created a huge and growing demand for naturally and humanely raised meats. So shifting more of our meat industry to the humane and sustainable model would actually help to increase American exports while improving human health and animal welfare.  It’s a win-win proposition.

So where do animal lovers and the pet food industry come in to the picture?

It’s really quite a simple plan: if pet loving families start to demand products made from humanely raised meats, and the manufacturers of pet food and treats meet that demand by offering products designated as humanely produced, the multi-billion dollar pet food industry could be a powerful force for change.  We could use our tremendous economic power to increase the demand for humanely produced meats and decrease the demand for meats produced by “factory farms.” This will create an economic incentive to shift livestock management to the humane and sustainable model.

Dogs, cats, and ferrets are all carnivores to some degree, and if we keep them as companions, we have an obligation to feed them in a biologically appropriate manner.  Since vegetarian or vegan diets are not appropriate for the best health of any of these species, we must feed meat as part of their diets.

Start looking for and demanding pet foods and treats that are made from humanely raised meats and it will help those who raise them to succeed. Ingredients such as cleanly and humanely produced organ meats and connective tissue are VERY healthy nutrient sources for our carnivorous companions. They are a very nutritious source of food and treats for pets. Full utilization of these ingredients helps ethical, family owned ranches to improve yields, and makes their operations more sustainable.

So why not move towards pet foods and treats made from humanely raised meat sources as a way of reconciling our love for companion animals with the practice of meat consumption? In so doing, we can make a leap forward and expand our love of animals into a broader and more spiritually consistent sphere that doesn’t stop at our back doors. It’s a simple equation. Treat all animals to the best of our ability, and we can have a clearer conscience in our complex relationship with them.

Let’s use the “Power of Pets” to build a more sustainable model of food production. At the same time, we can start to more adequately repay our karmic debt to livestock animals by treating them more humanely and with the same respect and love as we show our beloved companion animals.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Isis, whose great beauty was exceeded only by her huge heart. She’ll always be with us.

Isis Bennie