Tapping into consumer’s interest for natural, safe foods, local meat sellers are producing pet foods for dogs and cats.


Big on quality and low on additives, buying local may be the best way to keep your pet healthy and safe, and reduce the impact that food production takes on the environment and on the lives of food animals.


A Short Lesson In Pet Food Safety


Pet owners who worry about the safety of their pets’ food have some legitimate concerns, the recent Avenger’s pet food recall notwithstanding. In order to understand pet food safety issues, one must understand how pet foods are regulated in the U.S.


USDA versus FDA oversight in Food Production


Human food production is under the purview of the United States Agricultural Department (USDA). As long as foods are destined for human consumption, the USDA has vigilant oversight on ingredients, processing, packaging, and labeling. If food ingredients are destined for the production of animal feed, they come under the less-strict oversight of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). While the FDA does a pretty good-to-very good job at keeping pet foods safe, the process is not without its shortcomings. Loosey-goosey FDA marketing rules often allow for misleading pet food labels. Organizations like the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provide the pet food industry with guidelines for pet food ingredients, processing, handling, and labeling, but they exist in the absence of any consistent federal or state laws to uphold them, so are merely academic. The recent Gravy Train pet food poisoning is an excellent example. In that case, Gravy Train cans were labeled with the AAFCO quality statement, but were found to contain trace amounts of pentobarbital, presumably because euthanized animals found their way into the ingredient pipeline. The lack of strict oversight by the FDA keeps the pet food industry growing robustly and keeps animal food costs low, but it increases the risk of chicanery in the manufacturing process and the risk that unhealthy or even dangerous ingredients can make their way into pet food.


Local Meat Purveyors To The Rescue


As we stated earlier, as long as food ingredients or the manufacturing of food remains in the human food production line, it is under the effective oversight of the USDA and local meat sellers processing meats for human consumption must abide by all USDA safety standards. During the course of human food production, unused parts of the animal, known as byproducts, are either thrown away, sold to rendering plants, or, in the case of some local purveyors, turned into animal food. This is a boon for NYC pet owners because it means that the pet foods that they produce are often as safe as human foods, fresh, nutritious, and frequently affordable.


But Wait, I Thought Byproducts Were Bad


Contrary to popular belief, animal byproducts are not bad. When we process a pig, a cow, or any animal for that matter, only a portion of that animal ends up in the meat cooler for sale. Some organ meats, known a offal, or less desirable cuts of meat, that don’t end up in the grocery aisle, are as nutritious or more nutritious than the parts of the animal that we keep for human consumption. Meat sellers that make use of these parts as ingredients for pet foods make the most of every processed animal, reduce the carbon footprint of animal production, save animal lives, reduce food costs for people and pets, and provide pet owners more quality assurance since all the pet food ingredients are under the watchful eye of the USDA.


Options for Locally Produced Pet Foods


Two local pet food companies are doing a great job at manufacturing pet food. Dickson’s Market produces a great, fresh, cooked pet food available for over-the-counter sale at their Chelsea market location. Fleisher’s Craft Butchery, located on the Upper East Side, also produces a pet food made from an impressive list of ingredients. The food is sold frozen, but is not cooked, so always be sure to cook the food just prior to feeding, and be careful that your pet eats the food right away to avoid spoilage.  I tested each store’s foods on my dog Rye.  I’m embarrassed to admit that in both cases, I felt like stealing the bowl away from her and grabbing a couple of bites myself.  The food looks good, smells good, and the ingredients in either diets are simple, nutritious, and dare I say, appetizing!


Buying local is a great way to keep small business alive, makes the most of our locally processed meats, is a way to reduce the chances of pet obesity, and a way to sustain your pet on a safe, natural food that is, for the most part, free of unnecessary dyes, additives, and chemicals.  Give one a try!



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