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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Great Veterinary Food Conspiracy?

Over the last week I've been discussing topics on pet foods, something that is often a polarizing issue.  Most veterinarians have a pretty good consensus on what we look for and consider "quality".  Some very passionate owners will strongly contradict this consensus with heated opinions of their own.  It can become difficult for vets and these owners to communicate effectively as both sides have contradictory opinions on what is best for their pet.

What irks me and many other vets is that many of these pet owners seem to get the feeling that there is a great conspiracy in veterinary medicine where food companies completely dominate education on nutrition and gleefully influence the weak-willed veterinary community into blindly recommending their diets, which everyone knows aren't really that good.  For those who don't read all of the comments, here are some quotes after my blog on corn in pet food....

of COURSE Hill's would push for dogs to eat a "balanced diet" chock full of corn and other grains, because they have one of the highest corn contents on the market!

I find it remarkably coincidental that so many veterinarians out there sing the tune of this post, while at the same time Hills throws large amounts of money at vet schools and clinics...

I feel that most veterinarians are against raw diets because either A) they don't know enough about it or B) they see clients who don't know enough about it

What about comments from several years ago when I talked about what I felt are the best pet foods?

So the 'top nutrition specialists' feed their dogs food full of corn, by-products, fillers, unnatural preservatives, etc.? Great to know that these are the people 'educating' us on pet nutrition.
I think you should do some more research. It doesn't sound like these 'veterinary nutritionists' were taught anything more than what little the regular vets are taught. It's all still heavily influenced by the very companies they are recommending. After all, Science Diet and the likes are the ones who sponsor/teach those pet nutrition courses. Coincidence? I think not.

The nutritionists you speak of may have done their own 'research', but it looks like they stuck close to what they were 'taught' and based it all off of that.
I'm content in the fact that there are indeed /some/ vets that have gone beyond what they were 'taught' by those companies and truly done their own research. I'm hoping more vets will begin to do so.

Your comments are what I call typical vet responses that I usually get from vets that have only been educated from one perspective. (That being from classes taught by the dry food manufacturers.)

The amount of research and money spent by manufacturers making heat processed food has convinced the public that because of that they must be safe and adequate to feed.

As for your "scientific data", who paid for those studies? Well, each and every one has been paid for by pet food companies. Think logically for just one second. Do you think a pet food company would pay for a study to be done on BARF? Certainly not! They already know what the results will be, so they avoid it all together.
I'll tell you one thing you'll see in BARF dogs, that's a lower risk of cancer. Yep, I said it. Do you remember in vet school what they taught you about cancer? ...or maybe they didn't. Well, here goes. Cancer feeds off sugars. What do carbohydrates get broken down to?

The problem I have with the Veterinarian profession is that their education centres around commercial food companies and little in the way of real nutrition is taught, much as with human medical instruction.

I think every veterinarian is familiar with these discussions and comments.  The words may vary but the sentiment is the same:  "Pet food companies teach the nutrition classes and sponsor the research, therefore what vets learn about animal nutrition is wrong."  That's the essence of this "conspiracy" about manufactured pet foods.  Unfortunately for the detractors of common foods, there is no validity to any of these claims.

Let's start with the classes.  Pet food companies absolutely do NOT teach the nutrition classes in vet school.  Veterinary colleges utilize professors that are specialists in their field and are independent of any for-profit company.  Various vendors and companies have given lunchtime lectures at schools, but that is not related to classes and are always voluntary.  The curriculum is also determined by academics to meet standards of education and testing in the field.  These companies have absolutely no influence whatsoever over the content of these classes.  I challenge anyone who feels differently to find an official for-credit veterinary nutrition course taught by someone working for a food company.

What about the "nutritional specialists"?  There is a specialty in this area just as there are veterinary specialties in pathology, radiology, oncology, cardiology, dermatology, and so on.  In order to become a board-certified specialist you must attend 3-5 years after vet school of intense training in that particular field, then take a qualification test.  Depending on the specialty, this test will have a pass rate of somewhere around 20-40%.  So someone who is a specialist and an official member of the speciality organization has had more rigorous training and a greater amount of knowledge in their field than anyone else in the profession, and certainly anyone outside of veterinary medicine.  These doctors are the ones who have done and are doing the research that lets us know how foods are absorbed, how they are utilized by the body, and how they are manufactured.  We wouldn't have any true understanding of animal nutrition and its influence on physiology without these specialists and researchers.  It takes an incredible amount of hubris and blindness to believe that the large majority of veterinary nutritionists are merely lock-step with the food companies.  The food companies listen to them, not the other way around!  Pet foods are manufactured based on the research that has been done, not just because they want to throw some ingredients in.

Then there is the research.  Yes, much of it is paid for by various food companies.  But this is true in pretty much any industry.  There is certainly the risk of bias, but that risk is well known by the researchers and is carefuly watched for.  Government and private grants are often few and far between, so research necessarilly has to be funded by pharmaceutical companies, food companies, etc.  Research costs money and can't be done without sponsorship.  While I agree that we should look very closely at the results from a company's sponsored research, such sponsorship doesn't automatically invalidate the study.  Also, there are many studies that have show a particular chemical or drug to be ineffective, including studies sponsored by the companies making that product.

One of the main things we are taught in vet school is how to think critically and how to follow diagnostics and scientific research.  There is absolutely no way that any doctor can memorize the entirety of medical knowledge, so we are taught how to think through a problem.  Veterinarians are also by nature very independent, strong-willed people.  It's just the nature of the kind of people who can make it into and through such intense training.  These kind of people aren't easily fooled and normally don't simply take the word of anyone they talk to.  Saying that vets are merely blindly repeating what the food companies say without having investigated it is doing a great disservice to the intelligence of vets. 

Here's the gist of the argument from people like those whom I've quoted above:  Many thousands of veterinary specialists, researchers, instructors, and general practitoners are merely dupes of the food companies and have no ability to think for themselves or really investigate the issues.  Only the small handful of vets who are against these foods really know the "truth" and are the only enlightened ones.  And of course all of the breeders, pet owners, and people on forums know more about animal physiology and diets than the huge majority of the veterinary profession.  Also, all of the pet food companies could care less about our pets, don't really have an interest in quality nutrition, and are merely trying to market crappy food as cheaply as possible to the ignorant masses.

If this were true it would require an incredible conspiracy between food companies and veterinarians, as well as incredible stupidity among veterinarians.  Does this really seem likely?  Doesn't it make more sense that the nutritionists and research is valid and these foods aren't really bad?

Many of you may be familiar with Occam's razor.  To quote Wikipedia....Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor from William of Ockham, and in Latin lex parsimoniae) is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in logic and problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.  This principle is used throughout philosophy, science, and medicine and has applications to real life.  Essentially it is saying that the simplest explanation is most often the right one, and is certainly the one that should be investigated before going to more complicated ones.  Apply it in our current discussion.  Which fits Occam's razor best?  That the majority of veterinarians and researchers are right and are making good recommendations, or that the majority are deluded and wrong?

There is no great food conspiracy in veterinary medicine.