A Fresh Look at Treats Made from Organ Meats and “Body Parts”
By Anthony Bennie, Founder and President of Clear Conscience Pet
As a self-taught canine and feline nutritionist, I have a confession to make: I spent most of my 20 year career in the natural and holistic pet food industry beating up on “by-products” as ingredients in food and treats. Early pioneers of the natural feeding movement zeroed in on the use of these UFOs (“unidentified food objects”) as one of the first lines of attack in our crusade against inadequate or harmful commercial foods. And for good reason; most of the dry and canned pet foods on the market naming by-products as ingredients were of poor quality then, and still are today. Exposing these poor ingredients helped natural pet foods to emerge from cult status in the mid-nineties into what has now become a multi-billion dollar industry, one that offers real nutritional alternatives to improve the health of our animal companions.
But should we reconsider our hard-line stance against by-products? And what does the term even mean? “By-products” has been a catch-all name for ingredients that don’t show up often in human foods, but as we look at cuisine around the world, it turns out that unlike Americans, most of the world’s humans are fairly adventurous in their food selections and routinely and eagerly eat things to which we turn up our noses!
For example, organ meats such as liver, kidneys, heart, tripe, spleen, lung, and others, are popular around the world for people food. These ingredients, along with connective tissue such as tendons, trachea, and cartilage, have great potential as nutritious supplemental treats in a twenty-first century dog diet. But the USDA does not regulate the sources once they are declared out of the human food stream, and the potentially negative aspects of using such ingredients has outweighed the benefits for many health conscious consumers. However, if you know how to distinguish between the good and the bad, these naturally healthy nutrient sources can give dog lovers a clear conscience as to their treating choices.
So why bother? What is wrong with traditional commercial dog treats? Call it “cookie syndrome;” most commercial treats are very high in carbohydrates, processed flours, and alarmingly, even concentrated sugars in various forms.
Add in the various chemical preservatives, mold inhibitors, and other undesirable additives found in moist and semi-moist grocery store treats that are engineered to appear “meaty,” and you have a recipe for poor nutrition and empty calories in your dog’s diet if you use typical mass market treats . Even treats that are touted as “all natural” or organic, such as those popular “dog bakery” type treats which are mostly wheat flour and sweet coatings, are guilty of the high-carb “cookie syndrome.” The rule of thumb is, too much grain, processed flour, or sugars under any name (corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, molasses, honey, etc.) make for poor treating choices. So what are the alternatives?
By using minimally processed organ meats and select cartilage rich chews as treats, we can begin to turn the dog nutrition pyramid back around to its proper structure. This means high quality meat proteins first, good fats second, phytonutrient sources such as antioxidant-rich “Superfood” vegetables third, and carbs a distant fourth.
The clear conscience treating philosophy starts to take shape when combining these nutritional strategies with a sense of ethics as to how source animals are treated, and how the entire process impacts the environment. To be your own best judge, follow the guidelines below.
New rules of the game for treating with clear conscience :
Transparency: Ask the right questions, get the right answers!
1: WHAT is it? Every meat-based ingredient must be clearly identified as to what it is and what animal it came from. If you don’t understand what an ingredient is, you probably shouldn’t use it. And be careful! For example, the popularity and healthy benefits of North American Buffalo, properly known as Bison, has led to unscrupulous suppliers selling Asian Water Buffalo simply labeled as “Buffalo,” which is an entirely different species, raised nothing like grass-fed American Bison.
2: WHERE did it come from? This includes the country and if possible the specific region in which the animals were ranched, and where the final processing, cooking, and packaging were done.
3- HOW was the source raised and treated? A key part of the clear conscience philosophy is an active sense of responsibility not only to the animals we feed, but to those we eat. Clean sources, raised without unnecessary confinement and with adherence to cruelty-free humane principles not only are better for your pets, they are better for your conscience as an animal lover and citizen of the planet.
Seek sources committed to free-range or open-pasture raising practices, and stated policies against the use of added growth hormones, steroids, and feed-based antibiotics. If animals are raised in a clean, natural, and low stress environment, the positive karma and low toxin lifestyle will yield healthy treat and food sources.
The opposite is true in a toxic environment loaded with chemicals, in which the source animal’s filtering organs such as the liver and kidneys will retain residual levels of these toxins! If you buy the cheap “body part treats” that are prevalent on the market, you are giving your family pets discarded waste from domestic “meat factories” that confine cattle to inhumanely tight spaces, with no opportunity to walk in a pasture or roam on a range. Many such products are unregulated imports with even more questionable origins. It is far better for the environment not to pack thousands of large animals into confined spaces where they will create lots of concentrated waste, which winds up in our ground water and fouls the environment.
4- WHAT handling and processing methods are used to prepare the treat? If the ingredients are clean as defined above, then very simple preparation is all that is necessary. Oven-roasting or natural smoking are the preferred methods. Ingredients should be flash frozen and handled exactly as they would if they were headed towards human food plants, not treated as waste that is allowed to degrade before being liquidated to those who manufacture low end pet food and treats.
5- WHY use the ingredient; what is the benefit to the dog? To assist in answering that question, we will wrap up this introduction to clear conscience treating with a list of some of the above mentioned treat ingredients, and their function and benefit. As always, do your homework, ask good questions, and you will be doing the very best you can for your dogs. Won’t that help you to have a clearer conscience?