By Tracie Korol
“My child is good with dogs.” At a recent function two beverages were offered for refreshment: one was sweet tea (no, thanks) and the other, a “lite” beverage in a color not normally seen in nature, an orange so intense it almost glowed in the dark. I’ll guess the flavor was “orange”. These days I avoid foods created by scientists but there was a time when I appreciated Kool-Aid, Jello and Strawberry Quik. Even then I knew that none of them tasted anything like what they were labeled but I didn’t care because I was only 8 years old.
Artificial flavors are used in foods that have been so processed they have no naturally occurring flavors left. Scientists create imitations of these natural flavors in a lab using hundreds of synthetic chemicals, and those are added back into the food. It is a much cheaper way for manufacturers to give a product the taste of what they are trying to sell you, without giving you the actual food that you might assume is in the product. As you might expect, this happens to pet food, too.
To meet nutritional requirements, pet food manufacturers blend animal fats and meals with soy, wheat and corn and then add synthetic supplements. This yields a cheap, filling pellet that no one wants to eat. Cats and dogs are not filler eaters by choice so to find ways to entice them to eat enough for it to be nutritionally sufficient is a challenge. Man-made flavors are added to increase palatability. Flavors like Cadavernine and Putrescence tend to grab a dog’s attention. I’m not making that up.
Manufacturers are not required to disclose exactly what chemicals are in these artificial flavors, as these are considered “trade secrets”, as long as the ingredient is “generally regarded as safe”. So, even though there might be 100 different chemical ingredients, all they have to list is “artificial flavors”. Many chemicals used in artificial flavors are derived from petroleum, and many of the chemicals used are volatile. They have been shown to have an adverse effect on RNA, the thyroid, and enzymes.
Another problem with artificial flavors is that because the specific ingredients are not required to be listed, a dog with a food intolerance could unknowingly consume something that could cause a bad reaction. How many itchy dogs to you know? In an effort to solve the itch problem, vets and owners will explore novelty protein sources (like rabbit and ostrich) or look to the external pollens and funguses endemic to this area. The truly conscious will consider the dyes in a kibble as causation and opt for brown pellets only, but how many even consider the “natural” beef flavor?
The other problem that arises is that certain dogs will become “picky eaters” that will not eat anything but the canned mystery glop with the cute doggie photo on the label. The mere process of production of these canned foods is simply meat by-products broken down by use of water. The amino acids (building blocks of protein) that remain in the meat hydrolysate (liquid meat) are magnified in taste by added phosphate salts and synthetic “natural” flavors. This magnified taste of protein—though chemically achieved—is what keeps pets addicted to a cheap pet food that no one wants to eat. Why eat real meat when you can eat uber meat?
AFB International (the global science and technology leader in pet food palatability) states that for a dog the sense of smell is what pet food manufacturers are selling to. “The takeaway lesson is that if the palatant smells appealing, the dog will dive in with instant and obvious zeal, and the owner will assume the food is a hit. When in reality it might have only smelled like a hit.” In other words, the dog food need only smell like meat to the dog. When the meat aroma is completely, chemically artificial, you have a problem.
The billion dollar industry that creates flavors and smells for human and pet foods is a cutting-edge science designed to convince us—and our pets—to eat what’s in front of us, whatever it may be. “Natural” flavorings are symbolic of the massive decline in food quality, public and animal health. Processed foods, and that includes processed pet foods, have become confused with natural foods and, consequently, more and more of us are disconnected from what is really real. Strawberry Quik sure isn’t strawberry.