AVMA vs. Raw Food; Industry Wins, Pets Lose

One of the first questions that people ask their vet is, “What do you recommend that I feed my pet?”  From now on, the answer people might get from their veterinarian is to steer clear of raw pet food diets.

To the dismay of raw food proponents and the glee of traditional pet food manufacturers, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) passed a resolution Friday discouraging the feeding of raw meat to cats and dogs.

According to the AVMA, the reasoning behind the resolution lies with the health concerns for humans.  However, because the scientific literature does not support their claim that raw food is a threat to human health, the question naturally arises as to the AVMA’s motive for the proposal.

Hidden Agenda

The AVMA decision could stem from their long-standing partnerships with pharmaceutical and pet food corporations.  Financial documents reveal that the AVMA receives significant contributions from major corporate sponsors, like Hill’s Pet Nutrition, who pledged $4.5 million in support of AVMA programs and services over the next four years.

An example of such an unholy alliance is the partnership between the AVMA and Hill’s is their “Alliance for Healthier Pets”, a partnership to raise awareness of the epidemic in pet obesity.  Unfortunately, the PSA directs you to a Hill’s website that solely endorses Hill’s Prescription Diet and Hill’s Science Diet pet foods.

The AVMA roster of corporate sponsors includes a disturbing number pharmaceutical and pet food companies that have formed lucrative partnerships that the AVMA has benefited from over the years. The list includes (but is not limited to):

  • Abbot
  • Arm & Hammer
  • Bayer
  • Boehringer-Ingelheim
  • Campbell
  • Diamond Pet Foods
  • Elsevier,
  • Friskies PetCare,
  • Hartz,
  • Heinz,
  • Hill’s Pet Nutrition,
  • Hoeschst-Roussel,
  • Hoffman LaRoche,
  • IDDEX,
  • Johnson & Johnson,
  • Merck,
  • Merial
  • Novartis
  • Nestle-Purina
  • Nutro
  • PetSmart
  • Pfizer
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Ralston Purina
  • Royal Canin
  • Schering Plough
  • Upjohn
  • Virbac

All of these corporations market therapeutic diets and veterinary medicines that often are available only through a veterinarian; and veterinarians, because of their professional standing, can influence pet parents with regard to the pet foods and veterinary medicines they choose.

Vets speak out

On the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession, some said they would like to see the AVMA take a step back to focus on the handling of all pet foods.

“Before we take a stance on anything, I’d like the AVMA to go beyond raw foods because there’s almost a constant barrage of recalls on commercial kibble,” said Dr. Marne Bell Jones, a practitioner in Columbia, Mo. “We can’t treat kibble like it’s sterile.  If we’re going at this from a public health standpoint, we need to look at that, too.”

Dr. Jean Hofve agrees, and feels that the proposal was “politically and financially motivated, as Hill’s, Purina, and others are major donors and sponsors of AVMA and its charitable arm, AVMA Foundation.  The history of the road that led to this remarkably tactless and possibly illegal proposal, its links to the Delta Society and pet food mega-maker Purina”.

The Delta Society Connection

The AVMA was encouraged by the Delta Society and the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine to make a policy statement concerning the public health risk of feeding pets raw food diets adapted from the Delta Society’s own position on the matter that forbids members to feed raw food to their dogs.

Such a recommendation can only be seen as highly suspect when the current Chair of the Board of Directors of the Delta Society, Brenda Bax, is also the Marketing Director of Purina and that Nestlé Purina is the premier sponsor of Pet Partners, formerly Delta Society. The agenda of the Delta Society was driven by their association and partnership with Nestle-Purina which presents a  clear conflict of interest exists.

The Big Picture

While many think of the AVMA as a professional association, most are unaware that they are an industry lobbying organization for veterinarians and affiliated industries in animal commerce and agriculture.  The broader consequence is that AVMA often defends inhumane practices or, at the very least, stands on the sidelines as leaders in animal welfare advocate for the interests of animals.

AVMA’s milquetoast stance on crucial animal-welfare imperatives, such as sow confinement (gestation crates), force-fed foie gras production, veal crates, downer cows, the sub-therapeutic antibiotics on factory farms and other practices that impinge on the basic welfare of animals; the AVMA  has been less than enthusiastic sponsor in adopting measures to change such practices in the past, as example their inexplicable refusal to support the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

Policy statements adopted by veterinary organizations, including those approved by the AVMA, are frequently cited in the development of legislative or regulatory initiatives. They are also used in developing standards of animal care in a variety of contexts, including shelters, sanctuaries, research institutions, agribusiness and veterinary schools, both in the United States and abroad. In context of the recent AVMA pet food policy recommendations and how the new policy will affect other segments of society, remains unknown.

The Ties That Bind

At issue are the consequences of such relationships for the credibility of dietary advice.  Such connections cannot help but raise questions about the ability of veterinarians to provide independent opinions on matters of diet and animal health.

The potential for conflicts of interest arise when corporations establish financial relationships with the veterinary academia, veterinary medical practitioners and veterinary associations is inevitable; when pet food companies align with veterinarians, corporate interests affect the quality of care and services animal patients receive.

Corporate sponsorship affects the recipients of such largess who tend to give advice and write prescriptions in a way that is strongly favorable to the sponsors’ products than might be expected from a more objective review of the evidence.

The co-opting of veterinarians is a deliberate corporate strategy to neutralize criticism and promote the sale of products.  The approval of the new policy regarding raw meat diets for pets illustrates the need that professional associations should apply safeguards when embarking on financial relationships with pet food companies.

What role such partnering may play in contributing to the grave consequences of animal health, we may not ever fully know.  However, if the precedent set by yesterdays policy to advise consumers to avoid feeding raw pet food diets, we can only assume that the AVMA is pandering to its corporate affiliates agenda than in protecting the health and welfare of your pets.

House of Delegates Wrap Up: The Vote on the Proposed Raw Animal-Source Protein Policy (Resolution 5)

August 3, 2012 | Dr. Kimberly May  (AVMA@work blog post)

As you may already be aware, the AVMA House of Delegates was scheduled to discuss and vote on a proposed policy about raw/undercooked animal-source protein diets for companion animals during their meeting today.  It certainly has been a controversial topic, as shown by the large number of comments on our previous AVMA@Work blog entry.

The resolution was thoroughly discussed Thursday afternoon by a reference committee, and two amendments were proposed.  (see the attached document,  Raw or Undercooked Animal.amendments. The amended text is in red on the attached document.)  The first amendment added a paragraph that acknowledges that there are some pet owners who prefer to feed these diets, and states that vets should ensure that owners are aware of the risks and measures that should be to prevent mitigate the health risks.  The second amendment changed “never feed” in the first bullet point to “avoid feeding.”

The HOD discussion and vote took place today.  Prior to the discussion, all in attendance were requested to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.  (This is standard procedure.)  Those opposing the amendment felt that it weakened the policy and that the policy is based on sound evidence that there is risk.  Those supporting the amendment felt it was necessary to allow vets to serve clients without facing conflict with AVMA policy.

The HOD voted NOT to pass the first amendment to the proposed policy with a majority vote 66.6% against the amendment.

The second amendment, which changed the first bullet points “never feed” to “avoid feeding,” was PASSED with a majority vote of 91.9% in favor of the amendment.

Following the discussion, the House voted on the amended proposed policy via electronic balloting.  In order for a resolution such as this to pass, a majority vote is required.  The outcome of the vote was 90.9% in favor of the amended resolution.  This proposed policy is now policy as amended.

Please keep in mind that this policy is NOT a ban on raw foods for pets and it is not a regulation that requires veterinarians (regardless of whether they’re AVMA members or not) to comply, or even agree with it.  It’s not a debate on the healthiness of or risks associated with raw foods versus other commercial pet foods.  Nor is it an attempt to force a ban or restrict pet owners’ rights to feed their pets how and what they want.

Another blog post on the rest of the resolutions and bylaws amendments will be posted after the meeting has concluded.

(SOURCE: AVMA@Work.com)


UPDATED: October 30, 2014

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.