One of my favorite podcasts is Science VS, by gimlet media. It’s a science show headed by Wendy Zukerman, who delves into the science of things like vaccines, climate change, essential oils and…. in September this year Veganism!
Today Anna is working from a temporary office outside the council offices in Preston, joining in with the last-ditch attempt to stop fracking in Lancashire. Tomorrow, the council will make their decision.
To celebrate Organic September, and our exciting new involvement with Yarrah Organic pet food, we are publishing a series of detailed blogs about the in’s-and-out’s of Organic food production. The blog series will follow closely the structure of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 – the European Union regulations on organic food production. We aim to bring this rule-book to life, with examples, videos and ideas to show just how important the Organic Food revolution is – and to make you proud to be a part of it. This week, in part one, we will discuss the Objectives of Organic.
One of our favourite books, How Bad are Bananas? By Mike Berners-Lee, has some sensational cycling facts. This month, subscribers to our newsletter get the chance to win a copy! You need to sign up for your chance to enter. When you get your newsletter, there will be a question in it, simply reply with the answer, and winners will be picked out of the hat! 🙂 Good luck!
Our favourite fact is that it would be greener to drive a hummer than to cycle after eating air freighted asparagus! Checkout our cool graph below comparing a few bike fuels (food) to some other forms of transport.
Cycling to work
Another interesting fact is that a congested commute in an average car comes in at 2200g CO2e per mile. This is much much worse than normal driving – almost as bad as your air freighted asparagus mile. So, the lesson is that cycling to work is a serious planet saver… so long as you don’t eat asparagus out of season for breakfast!
Food and Carbon Footprints
The carbon footprint of food is always interesting to us at Ethical Pets, with folk claiming we should eat our pets to save the planet, we think its important to show pets can be green too.
In the graph you can see that veg isn’t always greener, but that in general, meat is much more carbon heavy that veg. The same trend is clear in the rest of the book, for example, we learned that a 4 ounce steak makes more carbon than a 6.5 kg bag of carrots! Or, for the same carbon as a 2 kg leg of lamb, you could eat milky porridge every day for 4 whole months. Oats, wheat and even naughty old rice are much lower in carbon than any meat.
We are starting to bring pets into hospitals and nursing homes because we know that they make us happier and healthier (1). So, why not bring pets to work? Barker et al (2012) (2) have done some preliminary research to see what happens when the dog comes to the office.
The study aimed to examine levels of stress during the work day and job satisfaction. They compared between dog owners who brought their dog to work, dog owners who didn’t and people who had no pet at all.
Who gets to take their dog to work?!!
The study took place at Replacements Ltd who have allowed dogs to come work for over 15 years.
The study used three groups, with about 30 participants in each group. One group bought their dogs to work, one did not, and the last group had no pets. To be extra clever, they also measured what happened to the dog group on a day when they didn’t bring the dog to work. Last of all, they took a saliva sample each morning from all the participants, to check for the stress hormone cortisol.
The dogs had no effect on “how valued” by the company the employee felt, however, the group with the dogs reported much lower levels of stress. The group who had no pet reported the next highest levels of stress, and the group who had a dog, but left it at home, were the most stung out of the lot.
The people with no pets, and the people who took their dog to work had a consistent amount of stress throughout the day (be it lower or higher). The people who left their dog at home, however, became more and more stressed as the day went on. Interestingly, on the days that the dog-group left the dog at home… they got more stressed as the day went on too!
The cortisol test showed that the group without a pet were more stressed at the start of the day than the two groups who had pets – however, there were too many other complicating factors to be sure of a correlation.
The most interesting thing we see in this study is the effect of having a pet, but not bringing it to work. The stress levels start off low, but get higher and higher as the day goes on – and they end up even higher than those who have no pets. Why is this? Is the stress-busting effect of the pet wearing off? Do people pine for their pets and worry more for them as the day goes on?
Also – while the dogs didn’t effect how valued the employee felt by the company, this may be because the company makes all their employees feel valued already – perhaps just being allowed to bring a pet to work (even if you don’t have one) can make you feel appreciated.
Don’t the dogs get in the way?
The study also looked at this – and found that most people had a neutral response to the dog. Then, about 20% felt that the dogs made them more productive, and about 20% felt they harmed productivity. Despite this, many positive comments were made by people in this 20%: it seems a lot of concern revolves around poor behaviour, hygiene and allergies rather than a dislike of the dogs.
This is the first study of its kind – and it was quite small. Future studies would include larger numbers of participants. Also, they could measure more things. Do dogs make us late? Do they make us more or less productive? Also, a comparison between pet owners who work from home and pet owners who commute with their pet, could be really interesting.
(2) Preliminary investigation of employee’s dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions, by Barker, Knisely, Barker, Cobb and Schubert. From International Journal of Workplace Health Management, vol5. No1. 2012 page 15-30.
Why did Europeans have all the “cargo” – axes, umbrellas, factories and shops, when other cultures, such as those of the Native American Tribes, maintained more traditional lifestyles. How much could this disparity have to do with Animals, and what can we learn from it.
Summarizing 15 years his research about “all of human history” into once sentence, Jared Diamond says: “The differences among the histories of people on different continents is not due to biological differences between the people themselves, but instead down to differences in the continental environments: especially differences in the wild plants and animals that could be domesticated.” He believes that this one sentence summarizes human history.
One example of the effect of geography on development is that, despite California having the lushest farmland in the world, Native Americans never cultivated it – and so never had the benefits of “early and productive agriculture.”
Diamond claims the reason for this is that the native animals in California were Deer and Grizzly Bears – animals not prone to domestication. The vegetation did not lend itself well to domestication either – and so California was never farmed until plants and animals were “imported” from Europe.
While his ideas are disputed, even considered to be unsophisticated, I think is a wonderful lesson for us in what Diamond says.
I have read many times about how tribes from Papua New Guinea and per-colonial America lived in harmony with Nature – without mass farming, a sustainable lifestyle was vital. If Diamonds theory is correct, then it wasn’t genes, religion or lack of imagination that prompted this wonderful way of life: they lived sustainably because they needed to. Their survival depended on it.
Perhaps this shows that we are just as capable of living sustainably – in harmony with the natural world – when our survival depends on it. And it does so now!
In the past few weeks two very different organisations have reached something which feels like a consensus. An ethics journal and a testing lab have both stated that: specific details about animal tests should be released to the public.
The Journal of Animal Ethics, who hold “that all sentient beings have intrinsic value and should be treated with respect” have called for full disclosure on animal testing. They say that when you are prescribed/buy a drug, you should be told in plain language if it was tested on animals, how, on how many, and how many died/suffered and how badly. If this were the case, you could actively support humane research as a consumer, just as we do with cosmetics at the moment.
Meanwhile, The Leicester Central Research Facility, a new centre who test on mice, rats and frogs, have vowed to be open and honest about what they do. They propose that other testing facilities should follow suit. They say that they respect those opposed to animal testing, and that the general public should know more about what their work entails.
At Ethical Pets, none of our foods or medicines are “tested” on animals in labs (we try out our products on our own menagerie of course though!). We propose that the level of openness suggested by The Journal of Animal Ethics should be demanded by pet owners too: if our pets are offered a prescription diet or medicine from our vet, or if we want to buy a product of the shelf, we should be told exactly how it has been tested so we can make an informed choice.
Today is the last day of National Pet Month 2012, so we are running a special edition of our Science Spot blog about how animals improve our lives and health. This edition features a review of scientific papers, entitled “Health enhancement and companion animal ownership,” published in 1996. The writers were Alan M Beck and Marshall Meyers.
Beck and Meyers said: “Pet ownership is neither rare nor random: it is an integral part of society” – they therefore question why most research, in science and medicine, focuses only on the possible harms caused by companion animals, for example, allergies, bites and diseases. Research into the positive effects, they say, is under funded and infrequent: this represents a golden opportunity missed, because “interacting with companion animals may well be one of our more successful strategies for survival.”
Animals and Children
Beck and Meyers describe research into the effect of animal interaction on children’s learning and behaviour: for example, a 1993 study by Katcher & Wilkins, found that the use of animal contact in educational programmes for children with ADHD produced a significant reduction in levels of antisocial and violent behaviour. The studies described in this review span about 30 years and, when taken together, dramatically highlight the importance of animals for the healthy emotional and social development of children.
Children can, for example, learn important values and attitudes from animals – often at times where their interest would otherwise be diminished: young children learn about the role of mummy animal as carer for baby animal during a time when their interest human babies is developmentally lower. Boys in particular may learn a lot about nurturing behaviour from animals, when, perhaps, there are fewer human examples aimed at them. Also, while only half of adults “confide” in their pet, nearly 70% of children do so: a companion-animal can be best friend as well as teacher.
Animals and Violence
Aggression against living creatures is shown to be generalised: people who are aggressive towards non-human animals are likely to be aggressive towards humans too. This is something which Freud was insistent upon – though it apparently took another 80 years for cruelty towards animals to be added to the Diagnostic Manual for Mental Health. I feel that this is typical of a culture within science which is slow to see the life of a non-human animal as equivalent to the life of a human.
The contrary effect is also apparent: one study found that children who are exposed to humane education programmes, where they learn to be kind to animals, also show more empathy towards humans too (compared with children not educated this way). Animals can teach us to be peaceful people.
Animals and Adults
For older people “animals may replace children who have grown and moved away, or perhaps those who were never born. They may afford opportunities for an increase of human-to-human social interaction and, finally, they may permit older adults to live alone without being lonely.”
Animals can be especially important for adults who are marginalised in some way; pet ownership can be helpful for homeless people and also, interestingly, for wheelchair users – who are more likely to find positive social interaction when accompanied by a doggy friend. Bizarrely, having a pet has been shown to make politicians seem more attractive – so Obama’s new puppy was a clever move politically! (Let alone Cameron’s Cat!) The social component of human-animal friendships is powerful: it has long been accepted that, like the research monkey rocking in his cage, humans deprived of contact do not thrive well. This contact can be found in a companion-animal.
Animals and Health
Animals improve your health directly, by affecting physical functions (for example lowering your blood pressure) or indirectly, by influencing your psychological well being (by improving mood and lessening risky behaviours). These effects don’t just relate to companion animals however, those who feel a general attachment to Nature, for example, to the countryside or gardening, also seem to have a lessened risk of disease. Beck and Meyers believe that “Preserving the bonds between people and their animals, like encouraging good nutrition and exercise, appears to be in the best interests of those concerned with public health.”
Cardiovascular disease: prevention and healing
Not only are pets shown to keep us generally more healthy – pet owners also have reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease too – even in pet-people who eat takeaway/junk food regularly, the correlation is strong. Also, when talking to animals, your blood pressure is likely to fall: while this dip in blood pressure is partly due the use of a calm and relaxed voice, this isn’t the full story. Even passing by a stranger’s dog, for example has been shown to have a soothing influence. Animals have also been shown to effect a 2-3% improvement in survival/recovery after a heart attack: while 2-3% seems small in common terms, medically, it’s pretty impressive – and cost effective! Companion animals: they keep you healthy and help you recover.
It’s not just talking to “responsive” mammals which can calm you down: the iconic fish tank in a dentist’s waiting room is designed to soothe – and it works! Birds have also been shown to relax patients, specifically in group therapy settings. Animals in therapy is a growing area of interest – both in “outpatient” and institutional settings. Pet ownership has also shown to help university students by alleviating anxiety: this is quite important as anxiety and even suicide can be a problem for this group of people – who are mostly either forbidden or unable to keep pets during their studies.
Animals in Research
We are all well aware of the ongoing plight of animals used in medical research. One of the reasons animals are used in this type of research, aside from an apparent social belief in their inferiority, is that animal disease has a “shorter latency” than human disease. This means that, after exposure to a harmful environmental factor, animals can become ill much quicker than humans.
Beck and Meyers believe that animals in the home could, like the canary in the coal mine, be used to detect health threats to humans. There have been stories about pets “saving the lives” of humans when suffering from, for example, carbon monoxide poisoning, by alerting the owner to danger and giving them vital extra time to seek medical treatment from themselves. According to Beck and Meyers, the veterinary community should be part of the human research team, feeding information back to the medical community and helping to pinpoint unknown and known threats to human health. It seems, however, that while many vets are willing, there is little interest medically – therefore “Companion animals are an unrecognised alternative to study many of the health problems facing people today.”
“Interacting with companion animals may well be one of our more successful strategies for survival” – and yet, typically, medical research talks of infections, bites, allergies and zoonotic diseases. It’s time to recognise that companion animals are not only cute and fun, but good for us: mind, body and soul. Despite all of the evidence above, there is still a lack of funding and research – perhaps our scientists and clinicians can’t face the thought that an animal could be worth much much more to medicine than a subject for lab tests. Laughter and humour are now recognised medical interventions – and what could bring us more joy, or more laughter, than our wonderful animal friends.
Send us a photo of your pet doing something which makes you laugh and win a free cat or dog treat! (to the right is a photo of our cat Ivy sitting in a post bag! teehee! Perhaps she wants to get sent out to a customer!)
In 2003 Tina M Gray sent a sample of two American vegan cat food brands to a lab. She found that both were deficient in some of the specified/required levels of nutrients. She concluded that these specific foods “could not be recommended as a sole source of nutrition for cats.”  Andrew Knight argued that the results were caused by poor quality control during feed manufacture, but that cats can still be vegan safely [1b]. Three years later, Wakefield, Shofer and Michel took blood and plasma samples from several American vegan cats to look for likely deficiencies. They found most had normal results, a few had poorer than normal results but none were critically deficient .
These two studies represent the bulk of research into the effects of vegan cat food, therefore a) decisive answers are impossible and b) debate amongst scientists is polarized and based more on opinion than data. Because of this, the pop-science web chatter is often oversimplified, assumptive or inaccurate. This article will address some of the assumptions about both meat and vegan cat foods.
First of all, are the brands you sell “nutritionally complete?”
So what does that actually mean?
The term nutritionally complete generally means “does the food fulfil the criteria recommended by the appropriate authority.” Something to consider about this: some, possibly most, of the data used to set these recommendations will have been gathered in an unethical manner. I actually started looking into this by following up references from the Gray 2003 study, but quickly decided I couldn’t face the horror after the first thing I read was “Scott and Thompson (1969) found that the vitamin A concentration in the diet of the [mother cat] influenced the concentration of vitamin A in the liver and kidneys of the unsuckled newborn kitten.” 
Please see the tables below for an overview of recommendations and levels across various foods. Diet A and Diet B, refer to the nutritionally incomplete foods discussed in the Gray study; the results for the Benevo vegan food are from a lab analysis .
Thats a lot of variance, how do we know what’s best? For example, what do cats eat naturally?
Dr Andrew Knight, a vegan Veterinary Biologist, makes some interesting (and humorous) comments in his 2008 article in LifeScapeMag about about which foods are commonly considered to be natural for cats. He asks if we have ever seen cats “swim 10-20 miles out into the ocean, hunting blue-fin tuna weighing up to half a ton, which they engage in underwater battles to the death” or feral cats in Africa “stalking and hunting large game, notably cows, sheep and pigs.” . Put in this light, even the simple premise “cats eat meat” is not so simple after all; vegan cat food may seem unnatural, but then again, cats certainly wouldn’t naturally “garnish their meals with… species such as salmon, prawns and whitebait.”
The Campaign for Real Pet Food suggests that “good quality natural pet foods only use identifiable, named meats, such as chicken, fish and lamb” and that they should be “free from artificial additives such as colours, preservatives and flavours.”  While this great campaign calls for honest labelling, education and the removal of chemicals (all important and worthy aspirations) I am not especially convinced that the cat products certified by them are are “real” or “natural” in any biological or behavioural sense: for example, they contain ingredients such as salmon, prawn, herring, chicken, egg, rice, oats, barley, lactose reduced milk and pork digest . The very fact that they need to reduce the lactose in the milk, for example, suggests it is not a natural food for the cat.
Then we have the Pork Digest: Dr Kight talks about “digest” in a particularly scathing manner, claiming that it is a disgusting result of industry greed and that the word is a “euphemism for a soup of partially dissolved intestines, livers, lungs and miscellaneous viscera of chickens (primarily) and other animals, produced using various enzymes and acids”  – the specific recipe being a “closely guarded trade secret.” It’s the thing that makes dry cat food smell that special way when you open the bag.
“Natural” isn’t just about the ingredients either, even the way we feed our cat is totally unnatural – constant access to dry food and identically sized portions of meat delivered at the same times every day. So, the idea that “commercial meat-based diets allow greater expression of natural behaviour” is also a fallacy. 
I have been quickly convinced that the world “natural” is close to meaningless when it comes to food for the domesticated cat; in fact, I will go as far as to say it would probably be cruel to try and feed them in a truly natural way and on what would truly be their natural diet.
But surely meat is still better than no meat?
Not always, and this is where the situation gets a little grim really: both Dr Knight and the Campaign for Real Pet Food (CRPF) would agree – there are often all sorts of nasties in pet foods. CRPF focus mostly on the ingredients disguised with phrases like “EC permitted additives” and “derivatives of vegetable origin” whereas Dr Night talks about contaminates too. Meat-based pet foods have been known include, most shockingly, the euthanasia solution Sodium Pentobarbital, which is specifically designed to kill dogs and cats . This was found in 43 randomly selected brands and product lines of (American) dry dog food: the FDA suggests this is because dogs and cats killed in animal sanctuaries were/(are??) “rendered and used in pet food.” 
Thats sick…. but cats are obligate carnivores right?
Yes, cats are categorized as obligate carnivores.
So if they didn’t eat meat they would die?
Actually, that’s not what the term obligate carnivore means. In the (very critical) paper by Gray, there are a lot of quite complex factors cited to explain this term. These factors range from a “shorter gastrointestinal tract length” and “fewer premolars and molars” to the need for ready made Lycine, Taurine and Arginine in the diet .
So what does this biology tell us?
These biological/biochemical factors tell us that cats are a) more physically suited for the consumption of meat, relative to omnivores and b) dependent, in the long term, upon nutrients needed in concentrations or ratios most likely to occur in meat, rather than in concentrations or ratios most likely to occur in plants. However, this does not therefore mean that a cat requires meat to survive, it means that the cat requires specific nutrients to survive: this can be said of all species.
“For cats, as for all other species, they key requirement is that their diets be nutritionally complete and balanced.”  In “the wild” a cat who ate only grass and berries would be unlikely to survive in the long term: it would become very ill, and could die from those illnesses.
But my cat isn’t in “the wild” right?
Exactly! And vegan cat food does not consist of grass and berries either!
If being an obligate carnivore doesn’t even mean that meat is obligatory, are the associated biological features even relevant in a domesticated cat?
Yes, this information is still very important. Take the example of “fewer premolars and molars” – with molar coming from “mola” which is Latin for “millstone.” These types of teeth are important for chewing/grinding food – because a cats have fewer of these they will find it harder to eat fibrous plant material: and so we can prepare the food accordingly.
Another important aspect of “obligate carnivore” is the well cited Taurine issue: humans and dogs, for example, can use Taurine OR glycine to make bile salts (which are later used to emulsify fats). Cats, however, can only use Taurine for this, and because theysynthesize Taurine in the liver “at a relatively low rate”, it is important that they attain Taurine from their food. Because Taurine “occurs at low levels in non-animal tissue”, cat food made using only plant ingredients must be supplemented with artificial Taurine. However, meat pet food is very definitely supplemented with artificial Taurine too , presumably because meat foods are also often plant based anyway and because Taurine is lost during meat processing . It’s important that the nutritional needs of your cat are met, no matter what kind of food you buy.
It’s all so complicated!
I know! Scientists will be sporadically discussing the relevance of “obligate carnivore” to vegan domestic cats for a long time to come, however, even those who are opposed to vegan cat food cannot find a concrete scientific basis for dismissing vegan cat food entirely. In Gray’s (frankly rather antagonistically written) paper, the most definitive statement made is “When animal tissue is eliminated from the diet of an obligate carnivore, the potential for nutritional deficiencies increases. Various nutrients essential to cats are of potential concern in a vegan diet due to their scarcity in plant material.”  Potential. Potential! We should be careful, but not afraid.
So what is the conclusion?
Personally, I am resolutely convinced of only one thing: no more animals should suffer for research in animal nutrition. We all love our pets, and want to give them the perfect diet, but brutalizing other animals in search of the best recipe is just not on. As for the rest? We should all calm down a little bit really – if you feel that the moral and health issues surrounding meat warrant a trial of vegan foods, have a go, take it slowly and see how your cat responds. If your cat is happy on a vegan diet then you will be saving the lives of many other animals and reducing your carbon footprint in the process – I would suggest that it is worth a try… but that is only my opinion. What is yours?
 Nutritional adequacy of two vegan diets for cats, by Christina M. Gray, DVM Rance K. Sellon, DVM, PhD, DACVIM Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN from The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2004, Vol. 225, No. 11, Pages 1670-1675. I have only read an unpublished version of this paper; there is a good summary here.
[1b] As above and also, see 
 (2006) Evaluation of cats fed vegetarian diets and attitudes of their caregivers, by Lorelei A. Wakefield, Frances S. Shofer, Kathryn E. Michel from The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2006. 229:1, 70-73 Freely available to download here.
 The Gray paper states that “kittens fed a taurine-deficient diet exhibit poor growth” – referenced as 7. I searched for this reference (“National Research Council. Nutrient requirements of cats. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1986.”) and then searched within the book for references to Taurine and kittens. This was the first study which I read about; the kittens were killed before they had even taken milk.
 The Benevo levels were sent to me by email on request, the Yarrah levels are available here. Due to the low level of Taurine described, I rang them to ask some questions; the levels described are what are added into the food, so there will be more occurring naturally in the meat. AFFCO, diet A and diet B levels are from the Gray 2003 paper, FEDIAF are available here and Purina told me the ProPlan levels when I called them on their hot-line, but would not disclose the go cat levels. Yarah were very help full, but I found both Benevo and Purina to be stubborn about disclosing some of the information. I suspect there is some kind of “common knowledge” in pet food manufacture that a) levels will fluctuate from batch to batch and vary depending on storage and b) most foods are supplemented with similar/identical premix. That is my deduction anyway. Also, please note that I removed two very large levels from diet a/b to make the graph easier to read. The graph isn’t really very valid scientifically, please look at the original data for the best information.
 Article from Lifesapemag.com, May 2008: available to download here. Well worth a read.
 I found the original article by the FDA here, which is where I got the quote.
 From Knight, A. In defense of vegetarian cat food. J. Amer. Vet. Medical. Assoc. 2005, 15 Feb.; Vol. 226 No. 4 pp. 512-513. – available here.
 I have head this but not seen it referenced. However, According to a well researched wikipedia article “In 1993, approximately 5/6000 tons of taurine were produced for commercial purposes; 50% [of which is] for pet food manufacture” – the AAFCO required level stated in the Gray study is only 0.1% of each meal… that’s 0.05g of a 50g serving… so sixty thousand million (or 60 Billion in USA speak) 50g pet meals are supplemented a year. That’s certainly not just the vegan foods!! Yarrah have explained that their foods have a supplement added, but I bet you would find it hard to get most companies to even admit this: this really just continues the myth that cats get everything they need from meat based foods.
 This is again only from my own understanding and from the non-referenced sources I have read.