Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mass Produced What Gluten, Humans, and their Furry Friends

The massive pet food recall that has erupted over the past week has implications for everyone, not just pet owners and their little snugglers.

Menu Foods, the Ontario-based company behind the recall, manufactures pet food for more than fifty well known brands of pet food, including Winn Dixie, Hannaford, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Iams (Proctor & Gamble), Purina (Nestle) and Eukenuba. That's right, the reason the store brand and the big name brand have the same ingredients is because they are exactly the same product, made by the same people and machines. Pet owners scrambling to figure out if the brand food their little friend eats is being recalled can assume it probably is.

Menu Foods issued a statement saying that tests of its food had “failed to identify any issues with the products in question.” But it did "associate the timing of the reported deaths" of more than 20 animals (from kidney failure) with its use of a new supplier for wheat gluten, a source of protein. "Associate the timing"?! To make things even less transparent, Sarah Tuite, a spokeswoman for Menu Foods, declined to name the supplier. Thanks, Sarah!!

If Michael Pollan has taught us anything, it's to see this event for what it really is - a terrifying, if inevitable failure of the mass-produced food industry. Most of the food that human beings eat is made on exactly the same scale, with exactly the same lack of consumer oversight and literal and figurative distance from the bodies being fed. We can all take this event as yet another invitation to eat locally grown food, and to think about why government subsidies to huge farms (where the ingredients for pet food come from, too) and the corporate conglomeration mindset might be less than moral, ideal, or nurturing for our bodies and the bodies of those we love.

UPDATE: Things are looking even worse for Menu Foods: it's found that 7 out of 40 to 50 animals the company tested with the new food died weeks before the recall.

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