By Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, contributor for Only Natural Pet
Among the many pet food choices available today are a handful of products labeled “organic.” These products tend to be higher in price than most foods—are they worth it?
Definition: Because there’s a lot of confusion about it, let’s start with what “organic” really is. The term “organic” has a very specific, legal meaning set by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
Products labeled “100% Organic” with the “USDA Organic” seal contain only organically produced ingredients. Products made from at least 95% organic ingredients may also carry the “USDA Organic” seal. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may label those on the ingredient listing. The USDA has ruled that its organic standards do apply to pet food. Most organic pet food products fall into 70% organic category, but a few follow the higher standards.
It’s important to understand that natural and organic are not at all the same. Natural, as applied to pet food, means that the ingredients come from nature (animal, vegetable, mineral); in other words, they are not synthetic. However, they may undergo many types of processing and still be considered natural. Neither term implies anything about animal welfare; products from “factory” farming and confinement operations (such as battery cages for chickens), can still be organic, natural, both, or neither.
Organic Benefits: Organic food has many benefits to the environment. Unlike conventional agriculture’s chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, organic farming is safer for earth, air and water. Organic farming is more labor-intensive, which accounts for its higher cost—but it uses less water and less energy, which are both in limited supply.
But is organic really better for our pets? Yes! Organically grown crops are higher in nutritional value and contain more vitamins and antioxidants than conventionally grown produce; organic meat and dairy products have a healthier balance of fats. Pesticide residues are, of course, dramatically lower in organic diets.
Pesticides have many harmful effects; many are particularly toxic to the nervous system. Acute overdoses are the most well-studied, but chronic exposure to pesticides over time has been linked to impaired cognitive function, decreased immune function, cancer, and even weight gain. Young animals and smaller pets may be even more sensitive to chemical toxins, due to their faster metabolism. Unfortunately, crops that have too much pesticide residue for human consumption can legally be used in pet foods. Buying organic pet foods ensures that these contaminated crops don’t find their way into your pet’s food bowl.
(Reprinted on DogPerDay.com with permission from Only Natural Pet. The articles and information in the Only Natural Pet Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.)