Organic Pet Food Gets Leg Up From White House Report
Organic pet food received an indirect boost from the White House last week when the President’s Cancer Panel Report exhorted consumers to minimize their cancer risk by choosing food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones.
“Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water and numerous consumer products,” the panel wrote in an accompanying letter to President Obama.
“Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers," the report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” said.
"Exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications,” the report added.
Organic food is farmed without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering, or sewage sludge, chemical pesticides or fertilizers; then minimally processed with limited artificial ingredients and no preservatives or irradiation.
The endorsement of organic food by a presidential panel is unprecedented.
“Organic foods have the least chemicals applied in their production and the least residues in the final products," said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. "Those seeking to minimize their exposure to these chemicals and follow the recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel, can look for the USDA Organic label wherever they shop.”
Indeed, in 2009, pet owners shopped for organic pet food more than ever before. Sales of organic pet food reached $84 million in 2009, up almost 10 percent from $76 million in sales the year before, according to OTA's 2010 Organic Industry Survey.
Sales growth of organic pet food outstripped even that of organic product sales overall, which grew a little more than five percent to $26.6 billion, of which, almost $25 billion represented organic "people" food.
Though the organic food industry represents less than one-half of one percent of total pet food sales, organic pet food sales increased its penetration of total pet food sales last year.
And while total U.S. food sales grew by only 1.6 percent in 2009, organic food sales grew by 5.1 percent. "Even in tough times, consumers understand the benefits that organic products offer and will make other cuts before they give up products they value,” said Bushway.
But is the value returned in kind? A decision to buy organic food for a pet may double its food bill. For instance, a 16-pound bag of By Nature Organic Adult Dog Food sells for about $31. By contrast, a 15.5-pound bag of Purina Dog Chow Naturally Complete Dry Dog Food, which is not organic, sells for about $16.
Though organic growers and handlers must be certified by USDA-accredited organizations, there is no guarantee that organic pet food is healthier than conventional pet food. Even OTA acknowledges that organic food can only assure the potential for less toxic residue in the food.
Currently, there are no rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets. But that may change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program may soon recommend that pet food not be labeled organic if it contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids such as taurine, if they are not organic.
This article is Part Four of a Zootoo Series on pet diet trends. Check back for more information on the best ways to feed your pet.
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