By Rosemary Newman
Certified organic pet food is an emerging sector of the growing Australian organic industry and will in future likely reflect the growth of the vast overseas market.
People are increasingly buying organic food for health, ethical and environmental reasons and some realise the same benefits apply to their pets. A healthy pet is easier to care for, less expensive and may have an increased life expectancy.
Terms on pet food labels such as ‘natural’ and ‘organic ingredients’ are no guarantee a product does not contain ingredients that may compromise pets’ health. A product certified with a body such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is subject to a stringent auditing process and is guaranteed to be grown and processed free from GMOs, toxic herbicides and pesticides, synthetic hormones, antibiotics, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives – all of which may compromise pet health and life expectancy.
Dogs and cats can become addicted to harmful additives such as preservatives in conventional pet foods, setting up a cascade of fussiness, brand exclusivity and deteriorating health.
Certified organic foods are also not subjected to irradiation. Often used on imported foods, the irradiation process eliminates disease and prolongs shelf life but destroys vitamin content, produces toxic byproducts such as formaldehyde and is known to be carcinogenic. Between June 2008 and March 2009, 87 cats in Australia developed paralysis and related conditions in association with eating an imported, irradiated dry pet food.1
Lismore based holistic vet Douglas Wilson recommends for pets raw food, which mimics the diet of a wild carnivore. ACO certified company Organic Paws produces a range of fresh and frozen meat meals for cats and dogs that require a raw meat diet. The recipes come in packs of 3 x 750g portions and include Lamb, Chicken, Beef, Roo and Fish & Chicken.
If people want to feed their pet dry food, choosing certified organic avoids the unhealthy additives found in conventionally produced products. “Many conventionally produced pet foods contain 4-D (dead, dying, disabled or diseased) meat that is categorised as ‘unfit for human consumption’,” Douglas says.
ACO certified meat processor Arcadian Organic & Natural Meat Co. does not supply to pet food processors but the company’s Alister Ferguson says, “If an animal presents in the 4-D category, it’s not allowed into the organic processing system, but is instead downgraded to conventional product and may be processed into meat and bone meal.”
A year ago stock feeds supplier Country Heritage Feeds launched its ACO certified dry food range with Virtue Organic Petfoods Adult Formula (8kg) and has just released a Puppy Formula. With no established supply chain, the company had the challenge of product development and ensuring the products met the dietary requirements of dogs. Virtue Organic complies with the nutritional guidelines set out by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Country Heritage’s Monique Krause says, “We believe in the products and after noticing slow recognition in the marketplace the company is rebranding and repackaging so the products are differentiated from conventional lines at a glance.”
BIOpet’s ACO certified Bio Organic is Australia’s first certified organic dry dog food range, which includes Dog Bone, Puppy Food and Dog Food in 500g to 8kg packets.
Certified organic canned dog and cat food is a segment that has not been realised in Australia’s small market.
While dogs are the key market for organic pet food, Country Heritage Feeds – a market leader in certified organic chicken feed – is looking at producing smaller 10kg bags of the Backyard Layer range in the coming months for pet chickens, turkeys and ducks. The company is considering a relaunch of its rabbit and guinea pig mix, which has been off the market for a few years.
Where to buy certified organic pet food
Organic Paws: pet feed suppliers, organic and health stores, veterinary clinics, pet groomers and breeders. organicpaws.com.au
Country Heritage Feeds: organic stores, pet and stock feed suppliers, garden centres. organicstockfeed.com
BIOpet: online, independent pet stores and supermarkets, veterinary clinics. biopetonline.com.au
1 Ataxia and paralysis in cats in Australia associated with exposure to an imported gamma-irradiated commercial dry pet food’, Australian Veterinary Journal, Vol. 87(9), pp. 349–351, Sept 2009