Nutrition Research is Often Bogus
Dr Ben Goldacre, in his 2013 book ‘Bad Pharma’, massacres fifty years of tampered human drug trials. In it, he says:
‘How do industry-sponsored trials almost always manage to get a positive result? It is, as far as anyone can be certain, a combination of factors. It may be that companies are more likely to run trials when they’re more confident their treatment is going to ‘win’…
‘Sometimes the chances of one treatment winning can be increased with outright design flaws. You can compare your new drug with something you know to be rubbish – an existing drug at an inadequate dose, perhaps, or a placebo sugar pill that does almost nothing.
‘You can choose your patients very carefully, so they are more likely to get better on your treatment. You can peek at the results halfway through, and stop your trial early if they look good (which is – for interesting reasons we shall discuss – statistical poison). And so on.
‘Sometimes drug companies conduct lots of trials, and when they see that the results are unflattering, they simply fail to publish them. This is not a new problem, and it’s not limited to medicine. In fact, this issue of negative results that go missing in action cuts into almost every corner of science. It distorts findings in fields as diverse as brain imaging and economics, it makes a mockery of all our efforts to exclude bias from our studies, and despite everything that regulators, drug companies and even some academics will tell you, it is a problem that has been left unfixed for decades.
‘In fact, it is so deep-rooted that even if we fixed it today – right now, for good, forever, without any flaws or loopholes in our legislation – that still wouldn’t help, because we would still be practising medicine, cheerfully making decisions about which treatment is best, on the basis of decades of medical evidence which is – as you’ve now seen – fundamentally distorted’.
I know. It’s terrifying, isn’t it? Startling to know this is happening with the companies we trust to deliver for us, safe, effective human drugs. I’m using this example in human medicine to illustrate what is happening today in the preparation and manufacture of the kibbled and tinned food your dog is eating. We all care about ourselves, but we all want the very best for our four-legged family members.
The same criticisms Goldacre uses against Big Pharma (the drug, or pharmaceutical giant companies), I believe, logically, can be levelled at the Big Food corporations like Mars (Royal Canin and Cesar brands), Colgate Palmolive (Hill’s and Science Plan) and Nestle (Purina and Baker’s Complete brands, for example) who pretend to have our dogs’ best nutrition interests at heart. As Dr G says above, distortions in findings and trials reach into every corner of science, including canine nutritional science.
I’ve always found it strange that the establishment maintains that raw and fresh food feeding is inferior to ultra-processed food, and yet they have never produced one jot of evidence. They’ve never published a few simple studies to conclude that natural feeding is worse for our pets than their offering. Personally, I think they have done these studies and found that dogs are healthy when fed real food. They then just buried the results because they terrified them and just kept on synthetic, factory food on which they can make billions.
Let’s look further. We rightly assume the pet food trials corporations carry out behind closed doors are suspicious. We can also reasonably assume, according to the very well researched Dr Goldacre, that the same is true of any industry-sponsored trials in universities and research establishments. Let’s look a little into the murky science behind feeding ultra-processed food and treats to our pets for life.
Carbs (wheat, oats, sweet potato etc.) Are Poorly Regulated
You’d have thought that carbohydrates, the main constituent of most pet food, would be well regulated, with strict guidance on minimum and maximum levels.
It is hardly regulated at all.
It is only obliquely mentioned in the European pet food manufacturers (FEDIAF) guidelines. For the geeks among us, here are ALL the mentions of the word ‘carbohydrate’ in their 2017, 102-page guideline document:
Page 23 (four mentions (five if you include German), my emphasis so you can see the words):
Total protein (Reproduction) The recommendation
for protein assumes the diet contains some
carbohydrate to decrease the risk of hypoglycaemia
in the bitch and neonatal mortality. If carbohydrate is
absent or at a very low level, the protein requirement
is much higher, and may be double. a, b, c
a Romsos DR, Palmer HJ, Muiruri KL, et al. Influence of a low
carbohydrate diet on performance of pregnant and lactating
dogs. J. Nutr. 1981; 111: 678-689.
b Kienzle E, Meyer H, Lorie H. Einfluß kohlenhydratfreier
Rationen mit unterschied-lichen Protein / Energie-relationen
auf foetale Entwicklung und Vitalität von Welpen sowie die
Milchzusammensetzung von Hündinnen. Fortschnitte in der
Tierphysiologie und Tierernährung. 1985; Suppl. 16: 73-99.
c Kienzle E, Meyer H. The effects of carbohydrate-free diets
containing different levels of protein on reproduction in the
bitch. In: Nutrition of the dog and cat. Burger IH, Rivers JPW
edits. Cambridge University Press Cambridge, UK. 1989: pp.
And on page 57 there are three ‘mentions’, no maximum and minimum values. I can hardly believe it, either!
[for the ultra-geeks, NFE, nitrogen-free extract, nutritionists code for carbs is mentioned 12 times, but only as regards calculating the energy density of food relative to fat and protein]
Nowhere can I find a justification for carbs beyond as an energy source. It seems that manufacturers often put in the minimum requirement of protein and fat and just fill the rest out with carbs to make up the energy balance. Surely there’s more to food than a pre-determined quantity of protein, fat, carb, some mins and some vitamins? The quality of ingredients, sourcing and ingredient sustainability are sadly not mentioned.
Basic Nutritional Science is Ignored
The big pet food companies, universally, ignore some of the most fundamental ideas in food science. I’m talking about them dismissing stuff that is known by even school children.
Everyone knows that feeding an unchanging, uniform diet, every single day, to any live creature is no guarantee of health. There are 8.7 million species of animal on the planet. Less than about 10 unfortunate species are expected to be fed exactly the same food daily for an entire life-stage (e.g. for the whole of puppyhood, adult or ‘senior’ life). They are dogs, cats, domesticated fish and rabbits/rodents/reptiles. All those species have high levels of nutritional disease; ask any zoo vet.
How can one formulation of ‘adult maintenance’ diet be adequate for all the individual needs of a population of dogs for the whole of adulthood? How can that formulation cope with differing nutrient requirements of ageing, illness, reproduction and variable stress? How can we know that the diet is optimal for any individual in the first place, given the variability in each animals requirement for Zinc, Calcium and Selenium as just a few examples? The answer is: it is impossible. If it were possible to feed a population on one regime, don’t you think totalitarian countries around the world would have cottoned on to keep their poor subjects fit and healthy?
Suppose feeding single-formula food, as suggested by all the big food producers, was healthy. In that case, we’d be feeding it to soldiers in battle, astronauts in space or to prison inmates, surely? If you have children, try taking them into your local GP’s surgery and suggest you plan to feed them on a ‘kid-food’ formulation until they are adults. However scientifically balanced that food might be, however supposedly nutritious the manufacturers claim it to be, I’ll wager you run the risk of being reported to child social services before you leave the doctors surgery.
Bad Trial Science, Unregulated Ingredients and Nutritional Insanity
For the sake of brevity, I’ve restricted my observations of ultra-processed food manufacturers to just three areas. Three of the most simple, obvious, yet conveniently ignored ideas that Big Pet Food (and the entire orthodox pet nutrition world) hope we don’t notice: poor trials, poor food and poor feeding guidelines.
I’m sorry mega-corporations, the game’s up. People are beginning to realise that it is impossible to achieve complete optimal pet health using suspect food based on bogus science.
Raw and fresh foods are fantastic when fed responsibly in balanced variety. It is impossible to see how they could be worse than the alternative – kibble and tins.