Non-profit claims some pet food contains harmful toxins

Mercury, arsenic, lead.  All toxins that could be in your pet's food.  And if you're buying the best for your dog or cat a new study found that expensive food might not be the safest.

The I-Team looked into the data from a national non-profit.  It studied more than 900 dog and cat food products.  All were screened for a long list of toxins and contaminants.  What the group found has some local pet owners shocked.

Lori Morse has two cats; she buys the food she knows they'll eat. "It depends on the consistency. They like the pate, something easy to eat."  We told her about a new study by a non-profit out of Denver, called Clean Label Project. 

With the help of an independent lab, Clean Label Project tested top-selling pet food and treats for harmful toxins. Lori told us, "I can't believe that any metals like that should be in any concentration in any pet food."

The study found, overall, the products tested had more arsenic and lead than the maximum level the EPA allows in drinking water.  Some of the food and treats Lori feeds her cats ranked in the "average" category, but Clean Label Project pointed out that doesn't always mean it's the safest option.

Annie is an Akita mix.  Her owner, Matthew, trusts the brand he buys.  "I chose it because it has a good reputation; it's known for quality and not using a lot of additives." We looked up what Annie eats. Some of it tested in the most harmful range.  Matthew told us, "it's definitely a little alarming."

Each product tested received one, three or five stars.  One being the most toxic. 

Jaclyn Bowen is the Executive Director of Clean Label Project.  "There's not a lot of studies out there that look at chronic exposure," she pointed out.  The goal of the non-profit is to educate people about toxins in products.  Bowen claims "brand owners are not testing for this stuff."

The lab screened for more than 130 toxins and found high-priced food doesn't always equal a safer rating.  "You assume that additional purity comes with that additional price, it means additional quality. But literally we found no correlation between price and product purity," Bowen said.

Dr. David Rosene is a vet at the Shorewood Animal Hospital. He believes the study plays an important role, "it gives us as a consumer the ability to make an educated decision."  But Dr. Rosene did caution it doesn't include all aspects of nutrition.  "You still need to be aware of the nutrient quality, the quality of the brand, the national reputation, the ingredient list and whether it meets the food industry standards."

Lori plans to use the study as a guideline the next time she goes shopping for her cats. "Now that I have that information, that list, I can just print it out and take it with me to the store and get what's good."

Clean Label Project only lists the overall ratings for the pet food tested.  We wanted to know the breakdown of toxins found in the products the people we talked to use. Two of the Fromm dog products with one star ratings had elevated levels of arsenic and mercury.  Fromm is made in Mequon; the company says it does its own testing and doesn't agree with the non-profit's findings and told us, "we fully stand behind the safety of our food and treats."

The Purina food our cat owner uses was ranked "average," but some Purina products did get the lowest ranking with elevated levels of arsenic and mercury.
The Nestle Purina PetCare Company told us it tests for toxins and said "we also test for well over 150 ensure the quality and safety of our pet food."

Clean Label Project does acknowledge some of the contamination is environmental or found in air, water and soil.  But it also points out there are industrial contaminants at play.  The non-profit says it has been talking to some manufacturers about how to reduce the level of toxins in pet food.

Full list of pet food tested.

Top and Bottom 10 Products 

FDA Regulations for Pet Food:

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and related legislation, requires that foods, including animal and pet foods, be safe, wholesome and properly labeled. The agency can and does take action when foods violate these standards. In some cases, the agency issues guidance or sets action levels or tolerances for certain substances.

Although the FDA has not issued specific guidance or set levels for heavy metals (i.e., lead, arsenic and mercury), any level of these substances in pet food must be safe for the animal and it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its product. In addition, the agency can take action if it has a safety concern. The FDA handles these situations on a case-by-case basis, reviewing the relevant facts and current scientific literature before reaching a determination. As part of its assessment, FDA scientists look at the level of contamination in the food, the physiology of the particular animal the food is intended for, how much of the food the animal is likely to eat over the course of a lifetime, and other potential exposures that might add to the animal’s overall dose.

Cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury are all present to varying degrees in water, air and soil, making their presence unavoidable. However, food producers should take steps, whenever possible, to minimize their presence in food.

(As additional background, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the agency responsible for issuing regulations establishing tolerances for pesticide chemical residues in foods, including pet foods. The EPA also has responsibility for registering (i.e., approving) the use of pesticides. The FDA is responsible for taking enforcement action against food, including animal food, that is adulterated under section 402(a)(2)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) as a result of pesticide chemical residues that exceed the levels allowed by EPA.)

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