A naturals dog food company whose products are based on raw meats has refuted assertions made by veterinary researchers and a mainstream pet foods manufacturer that its products are nutritionally unbalanced and can cause canine health problems. Steve Brown, president of Steve's Real Food For Dogs of Eugene, Ore., resorted to his lawyers to force corrections to an article published last March in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that, he said, had erroneously analyzed his company's product and concluded it contained a harmful excess of vitamin D.
In addition, Brown said Ralston-Purina—one of the giants of the $13 billion pet foods industry—was using the uncorrected data in a series of seminars at dog shows to condemn raw-meat diets as unhealthy. The threat of legal action has since caused Ralston-Purina to stop the practice, Brown said. A May issue of JAVMA printed a correction that said Steve's Real Food met the vitamin D standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Then, in June, JAVMA published what it called corrected tables showing nutrient values of various raw-foods diets, but these tables indicated Steve's Real Food was now deficient in vitamin A. The questionable thing about this conclusion, Brown said, was that no vitamin A deficiency was noted in the article claiming excess vitamin D. "We have a tremendous amount of vitamin A in our food," Brown said, "and I had independent test reports showing 60 to 100 times" what the JAVMA study said. "I don't know how they [researchers] got the vitamin A number. The authors of the report are supposed to be scientists, but they used data that were obviously impossible." (The July 15 issue of JAVMA printed a letter from Brown that reported nutrient-value tests from an independent laboratory that were favorable to Steve's Real Food.)
Nevertheless, the JAVMA authors—Lisa M. Freeman, D.V.M., a clinical nutritionist at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine near Boston, and Kathryn E. Michel, D.V.M., a clinical nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia—have not retracted their initial recommendations that raw-foods diets can harm dogs. (Neither researcher could be reached for comment by press time.) Brown noted in his July letter that "The real issues veterinarians should be discussing with their clients and the industry are value and the development of methods to accurately test the claims of raw-diet proponents. Because raw diets require variety, the AAFCO feeding trial methods are not appropriate for raw diets."
In 2000, natural products stores reported pet products sales of $163 million, according to the June 2001 issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser. Gross profit margins averaged about 34 percent.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 12