Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Are Vets Bought By Big Pet Food?

     In light of the recent FDA investigation into dietary DCM in dogs, the age old concern that veterinarians are bought and paid off to recommend "Big Pet Food" (Nestle Purina, Mars (Royal Canin, Eukanuba, Iams), and Hill's) has returned with a vengeance.

     The reality is, vets recommend those brands because they are, unlike many offered across the US, heavily research-backed and evidence-based. The companies employ experts (Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, PhD scientists with focuses in Animal Science, Nutrition, Toxicology, etc) to formulate and evaluate their diets. They conduct extensive feeding trials that exceed AAFCO minimums before releasing new formulations to the public. They conduct and invest in research, then proceed to have that research peer-reviewed for bias and published in scientific journals for other companies and professionals to reference and utilize. These brands are the only ones offered in the US that meet the highest standards for all of the recommendations made by World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Nutrition Committee.

     While concern has been expressed that some WSAVA events and conferences have been sponsored by Mars and Nestle, these guidelines are nonetheless impartial and non-exclusionary. WSAVA does not certify or approve or endorse any manufacturers for meeting these recommendations. They provide the recommendations for owners and veterinarians to utilize on their own for evaluation of any given manufacturer. 

  1. Companies should employ experts. Employing multiple experts is better than a single expert, which is better than consulting with an expert, which is better than not involving an expert at all. Companies should be transparent and be able to name their nutritionist and provide their qualifications and credentials. 
  2. The individual(s) formulating diets should be well-credentialed and qualified to be doing so. 
  3. All foods should meet AAFCO standards for complete and balanced. Meeting that standard using feeding trials is preferable to formulation or analysis alone. Feeding trials should be conducted on all or most formulas, not simply a select few.
  4. Food should be produced and manufactured in a clean, monitored facility. Companies should be willing to disclose information on where their product is made.
  5. Companies should be able and willing to describe their specific quality control measures.
  6. Companies should be able and willing to provide a complete nutrient analysis for their food. 
  7. Companies should be able and willing to provide the calories per gram of their products.
  8. Companies should conduct research and publish that research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. 
     All pet food manufacturers should be striving to meet high standards for each of these recommendations. Currently, only the "Big Food" brands are doing so. 

     It is also true that Nestle, Mars, and Hill's provide research grants and scholarships to veterinary professionals and students. They also sponsor conferences for continuing education. Its important to note that the sponsorship does not mean that marketing reps get to give lectures about why their food should be sold, nor does it indicate an agreement to recommend or sell that brand. Instead, it usually means that employees get discounted conference attendance, and the company gets a booth in the conference's product hall. Medicine cannot be, and never will be, practiced in a vacuum. Practicing vets cannot craft their own surgical instruments, engineer their own blood analysis machines, build their own clinics, chemically formulate their own pharmaceuticals, or, most relevant in this case, manufacture their own lines of companion animal diets. Part of the medical professional's job is to critically evaluate the goods advertised to them, and be discerning consumers in order to provide the best for their clients. If those goods are created by companies that employ professionals, they are more likely to meet the high standards that the discerning practitioner is looking for. 
     
     These companies unabashedly support the veterinary medical community, but one should critically ask themselves why that would be considered a bad thing. The profits of these companies are quite literally invested in animal health and the professionals that take an oath to protect it. Where are the profits of other companies going, and why do those companies not support veterinarians?

     None of the support offered by these companies (which is never in the form of 'kickbacks') changes that they are strongly backed by research, science, and decades of commitment to animal health. That is why they are recommended. 

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