The new Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 contains a controversial provision that could affect what goes into our pets' foods and our own. Called the "Monsanto Protection Act" by its opponents, and officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, the provision has been getting a lot of attention since President Obama signed the bill last week. So what does it mean? Large biotech companies such as Monsanto produce GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and GE seeds (genetically engineered seeds) and sell them to farmers throughout the country. Crops harvested from these farms turn up in plenty of foods for both humans and pets. The Bill effectively protects these biotech companies from federal courts should any evidence come to light about negative health side effects to the crops. Read more about GMO Food Crops in Pet Food.
International Business Times writes, "many anti-GMO folks argue there have not been enough studies into the potential health risks of this new class of crop. Well, now it appears that even if those studies are completed and they end up revealing severe adverse health effects related to the consumption of genetically modified foods, the courts will have no ability to stop the spread of the seeds and the crops they bear."
What Does This Mean for Pet Food?
Some veterinarians believe that GMOs in pet foods can be linked to cases of allergies, asthma, dermatitis, and digestive problems in cats and dogs. Dr. Michael W. Fox
and Dr. Judy Jasek, DVM
allow that increases in these issues in pets seem to have increased with the use of GMOs in pet foods. According to Dog Food Advisor
, a GMO preservative called ethoxyquin can be linked to birth defects, liver failure, and even cancer in pets.
The good news is that the bill will expire in 6 months, and in order for Monsanto and other biotech companies to continue to enjoy this protection, a similar provision will have to be passed again. Organizations like Food Democracy Now will try to keep that from happening, though some people fear that the precedent has already been set.
What Can I Do to Avoid Buying GMO-Containing Pet Foods?
Tracking down where ingredients come from can be a tricky business, but a little extra time will usually get you to the truth. When you're buying pet food, GMO ingredients probably won't be called out as such, but you can use other methods to find GMO-free foods. If you're concerned about keeping GMOs out of your pet's food, here's what you can do:
- Buy foods labeled organic
- Avoid soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn, and sugar from sugar beets as these crops can have a high prevalence of GMO
- Buy products that are labeled as GMO-free
- Contact the manufacturer if you're unsure
- Prepare your pet's food yourself at home**
**If you do decide to feed your pet homemade food, be sure to consult a veterinarian or board-certified veterinary nutritionist so that you create a balanced diet for your pet. Dietary insufficiencies from home-prepared pet foods can result in health problems.
GMO Food Crops in Pet Food
Let’s face it, most of us probably get a bit confused when talking about or reading about GMOs, GEs, and what their use means for our diets, and the diets of our pets. What you probably do know is that GMO food crops are widely used, and this practice isn’t likely to go away. So what does this mean for our pets’ health?
What Are GMOs?
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and GE seeds (genetically engineered seeds) are organisms and crops that are developed by biotech companies to be more viable or useful in some way. Need a type of corn that doesn’t get mowed down by insects before you can harvest it? Want your salmon to mature in a year and a half instead of three years? Farmers and food manufacturers turn to biotech companies to secure cheaper, more sustainable ingredients and hardier seeds.
Crops harvested from farms using GE seeds turn up in plenty of foods for both humans and pets, as do food products that come from GMOs.
How Are GMOs Created?
Remember Gregor Mendel and his pea plants from high school science class? While big companies like Monsanto are getting a lot of press lately, genetically modified foods aren’t brand new. Starting with Mendel’s work in the late 1800s, we’ve been learning about genetic inheritance traits and have been applying that learning to our food supply. For example, we’ve selected the preferred mutations of fruits and vegetables to sustain their color, grow bigger produce, and grow plants that are more resistant to infections.
Isn’t This Just a Shortcut for Big Companies?
No one can deny the monetary benefits of bioengineering to the companies that do it. But they aren’t the only ones who benefit. Really. Those salmon who mature faster could help wild salmon avoid depletion or extinction. This also means you won’t see the price skyrocket at your grocery store when there’s a shortage.
The applications of GMOs are in large part in an effort to promote sustainability and to feed the population without shortages. GMOs are often created in the first place to prevent shortages from anyone drought, parasite infestation, or the like.
Now that we know the genetic code of many foods, we have the ability to take small pieces of DNA that do something useful and incorporate them to add a nutrient of interest (like add vitamin A) or make a protein that will prevent parasites from destroying crops.
Possible Downsides to GMOs in Pet Foods
Some opponents of GMOs in pet food in particular argue that the prevalence of food allergies in pets has risen in correlation to the widespread use of GMO products in pet foods. Veterinarians stand on both sides of the fence on this, but in the end, the research at this moment is poor. True food allergy in pets accounts for less than 5% of pet allergies overall, so there isn’t an overwhelming amount of evidence to go on.
Another reason some people dislike GMOs is the fear that these are "Franken-foods," or foods we just don’t know enough about. Some people fear that the introduction of new DNA into the diet could have negative effects on health.
So What’s the Truth?
There’s not much evidence at this point that GMOs are causing health issues. Any new DNA that occurs in food meets the same end as the food’s “old” DNA—it gets broken down into small fragments when digested. However, should issues be discovered, it’s important that consumers be notified and protected. This is why the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” is so hotly debated.
For example, a genetically modified corn recently in use creates a chemical that will prevent herbicides from killing the corn while getting rid of weeds in the field. This chemical allows more herbicides to be used, leading to better crop yields. In testing, when this chemical and the herbicide together were fed to rats in excessive quantities, they led to a slightly higher incidence of liver and kidney problems. However, more tests are needed to fully understand the effects and to ensure complete safety for the consumer.
What Can I Do?
GMOs are likely to never go away, so if you’re concerned about GMOs in your pet’s food, what can you do?
There is currently no regulation in the pet food industry that requires labeling GMOs. So here’s what you can do if you want to be sure your pet’s diet doesn’t include any GMOs:
- Buy foods labeled organic
- Avoid soybeans, canola, corn, and sugar from sugar beets as these crops can have a high prevalence of GMO
- Buy products that are labeled as GMO-free
- Contact the manufacturer if you’re unsure
- Prepare your pet’s food yourself at home
If you decide to give your pet homemade food, consult a veterinarian or board-certified veterinary nutritionist when designing their diet. Dietary insufficiencies from home-prepared pet foods can result in health problems.
More on Choosing Pet Food
What Should I Look for in Dog Food Ingredients?
Nutrition for Adult Cats
Food to Help Your Senior Dog Lose Weight
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.