What are you feeding them

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Chinese consumers angered at the recent news that fast food chains were using meat beyond their expiry dates have even more cause for concern. The threat may have already infiltrated their home, in the food they feed their pets.

Even before KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks were allegedly found guilty of using out-of-date meat, the safety of pet food was already under the spotlight.

US Congress members were told that 5,600 dogs fell ill, and the deaths of 24 cats and 1,000 dogs were laid at the door of foods labeled as American-made, but allegedly containing tainted ingredients imported from China, such as chicken, duck and sweet potato jerky.

In mitigation, China’s own quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, has hit back, saying the allegations are not backed by scientific evidence.

Despite the dispute, the question that pet owners are asking is how they can ensure their pets are getting safe food when even food for humans is potentially risky.

China’s pet industry only took off in recent years as most pet owners used to treat their canines and felines with homemade food.

The majority are still not very aware of the ready-to-eat dry food that can be bought at supermarkets.

According to industry insiders, China does not have pet regulations, pet food manufacturing guidelines or specific measures for supervising pet food safety and punishing the wrongdoers. Shanghai Star asked them which brands consumers can trust, and if they should take to preparing pet food themselves.

Trust the tried and tested

An Ni, a senior pet nutritionist and expert from Hong Kong-based World Pet Association, says big brands with a long history and strong R&D capabilities should be the top choice for buyers.

“These companies have specific laboratories for pet food tests and make modifications accordingly,” she says.

In this regard, foreign brands such as Royal Canin have an advantage over their domestic counterparts as few domestic companies have a history of more than 10 years or the funding for costly laboratory experiments.

Also, most foreign brands have an anti-counterfeit code which buyers can verify on the companies’ websites.

These brands usually boast a relatively complete system in dealing with complaints or disputes while the smaller manufacturers make it harder for consumers to safeguard their rights.

It’s common to see Chinese consumers resort to the media to pressurize small manufacturers in a dispute, as the legal framework for the pet food industry is still incomplete, An says.

“My advice for all pet owners is that they should stay away from unheard-of brands or illegitimate channels like smuggled products,” she adds.

Wang Tianfei, a senior pet nutritionist and columnist, says buying pet food through a legitimate channel is an important means of ensuring that you get the genuine product.

As online shopping has become immensely popular in recent years, more are buying pet food on the Internet.

“Customers should always select online retailers with a good reputation and stay away from shops with negative reviews,” he says.

Having said that, consumers should not blindly put their faith in well-known foreign brands either, as the recent scandal involving KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks shows. In the latest scandal the out-of-date meat was supplied by Shanghai Husi Food, which is owned by US-based OSI Group.

Pet food has to be stored properly as well, and experts say a specific container can help it from being exposed and contaminated, while keeping it fresh. Pet food should be kept cool and dry, especially in summer.

. . .

Wrote by WANG Zhenghua. Contributed by YANG Yuqing

Published on China Daily Website

August 3, 2015

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