By Anthony Bennie, Founder and Chief Nutrition Officer, Clear Conscience Pet® LLC
As an animal nutritionist and the founder of a company that develops naturally healthy treats such as our new Sliders® Holistic dog snacks and SuperGravy® food enhancing toppers, I face hundreds of choices and questions in the process of inventing and formulating new products. The most important decisions are defining the purpose of the product and deciding what ingredients to use so that we can make what will be absolutely the best product possible. To become a part of the Clear Conscience Pet family of holistically formulated pet nutritionals, all of our products must contribute to a healthy diet.
How Sliders® Helped to Teach us About Glycerin
In developing the Sliders® line of holistic pet snacks, one of the key challenges was making a tender real meat treat without chemical preservatives. We were told again and again by manufacturers and consultants that the path to a cost effective moist treat was to add vegetable glycerin. So we explored this ingredient as a possibility and discovered serious concerns. Ultimately, we decided that we could not use glycerin, based on unresolved questions about its healthfulness and its suitability for use in a truly natural product. The following lays out the questions we faced and why we ultimately came up with what is the right answer for Clear Conscience Pet: we won’t use glycerin in any of our products.
Glycerins (also spelled glycerines) are humectant compounds. They work by “encapsulating” water molecules so that the water in moist treats won’t accelerate spoilage and lead to mold formation. Glycerin, frequently listed on ingredient panels as “vegetable glycerin,” is the most widely used humectant stabilizing ingredients in a broad variety of pet treats including many “natural and holistic” brands.
Glycerins are not naturally found in any food, they are chemically altered manufactured compounds. “Vegetable Glycerin,” as designated on pet treat ingredient lists, is most often a by-product of saponification, the manufacturing of soaps and detergents from vegetable oils. Glycerin can also be made from by-products of the distillation of ethanol fuel from corn. In my opinion, these are not natural food ingredients, yet as stated above, they are the predominantly used stabilizers in so-called “natural” moist/tender dog and cat treats.
Glycerin is not a “trace” inclusion in a formula as are some chemical preservatives. To stabilize a moist or semi-moist treat, manufacturers typically include a minimum of 10% glycerin and this can run to 15% or more in moister treats. The cooking down then concentrates the glycerin or glycols into even higher levels in the finished products that we feed our pets; therefore, if a treat has a typical 50% “shrink” from raw to finished state, the glycerin is now 20 to 30% of the finished product that your dog will eat. This is not an inconsequential presence; it is a major component of the fed product.
The Chinese Jerky Controversy and Glycerin
One of the decisive factors in our decision to forego the use of glycerin, and instead develop the Sliders® method of making natural moist/tender pet treats, was our research into the Chinese chicken jerky controversy. There has been an outcry over health problems in dogs that had consumed Chinese pet jerky products, including chicken and other jerkies such as duck and sweet potato treats.
Symptoms reported include decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination. Some dogs treated by veterinarians have presented with increased urea nitrogen and creatinine levels- classic symptoms of early kidney failure.
It is important to note that NO cause and effect relationship has ever been established definitively connecting Chinese chicken jerky or other Chinese import pet treat products to these illnesses. But the current FDA count is over 2000 reported cases of illness attributed by pet guardians to Chinese pet jerky. In March and April of 2012, a delegation went to China with representatives from the FDA and a congressional delegation led by the well-known former U.S. Congressman and consumer rights advocate Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
Investigators were granted very limited access to the manufacturing facilities that were “inspected.” In fact, they were even denied the request to procure samples directly from the manufacturers, citing “national sovereignty;” in essence saying that the Americans had no rights to impound a product from a Chinese plant. While this is certainly well within the sovereign rights of the Chinese and the Americans were invited guests, one would think that more respect would be shown in light of the fact that exports of pet treats from China to the United States have increased exponentially in the past several years. It is yet another in a sadly long list of huge trade imbalances with China in various industries. As shown in the chart below from the FDA, one sees that there has been a twenty fold (over 2000%) increase since 2007 in these imports:
So where does glycerin fit in to all of this?
The FDA documents linked below state that the only substantive finding in this inspection tour was as follows: “The FDA did identify that one firm falsified receiving documents for glycerin, which is an ingredient in most jerky pet treats.” (emphasis added) http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm295445.htm
This discrepancy has placed glycerin usage on a short list of areas that the FDA is more closely examining to try and solve the puzzle of the reported “mystery illnesses.”
The Clear Conscience Pet® Decision on Glycerin
Glycerin is a chemically altered ingredient, which by definition does not meet the criteria of a natural food component as we interpret it. Adding the possible linkage of glycerin to the health problems reported from Chinese jerkies, we have decided that it is absolutely not in line with our sourcing philosophy to use glycerin in Clear Conscience Pet products. This was one of the key motivators of Clear Conscience Pet’s determination to develop Sliders® Tender Holistic treats for dogs, a superior quality GLYCERIN FREE tender snack for dogs and cats.
Anthony Bennie, Chief Nutrition Officer