As you can see from these biographies, both of us have long careers in academic research. We approached this project as we would any other such project: we or our assistants went to libraries, read books and journals, and consulted Internet websites. We subscribed to Petfood Industry and other trade journals. Beyond that, we tried to obtain as much firsthand experience as the pet food industry would allow. We visited stores selling pet foods, bought products, collected their labels, and donated the foods to our local SPCA shelters. When permitted, we went to meetings of pet food and ingredient suppliers, and of animal scientists giving presentations on their research. We talked to pet owners but also to the owners of pet food companies and stores, ingredient manufacturers, and animal scientists. We visited every manufacturing plant that would let us in and spoke with their owners and managers. We toured veterinary clinics and hospitals. We talked to veterinary students, representatives of veterinary colleges, and practicing veterinarians.
Much of the opinion we now hold on matters discussed in this book is based on these experiences. But, as we later explain, the industry that
makes pet foods is unusually closed and secretive. We were refused many requests to visit and hardly any industry representatives agreed to talk to us on the record. We greatly appreciated the generosity of the companies that did open their doors to us and the many individuals who freely provided us with introductions, explanations, and information, and we acknowledge their contributions at the end of this book.
WHY PET FOODS COUNT
When we told friends and colleagues we were writing a book about foods for cats and dogs, we heard two kinds of reactions. Pet lovers told us: "Oh good. Get it done fast. We need this book." Others, however, gave us puzzled looks or expressed dismay that we would waste time on anything so unimportant to society as companion animals. As they put the matter: "With so many children in the world starving or without health care, it's appalling that people spend so much money on pets." One colleague sarcastically suggested that a better title for the book would be Eat Your Pet (we think she was joking, but we do discuss such issues in chapter 23).
Late in 2006, we did not have easy responses to such comments, but we had a hunch that there was more to the pet food story than seemed obvious. And then, in March 2007, Menu Foods, a manufacturer of "wet" (canned and pouched) pet foods based in Canada, announced that a few cats that had eaten its foods had become sick or died from kidney blockage. The company would be recalling 60 million cans and pouches of nearly one hundred different brands of pet foods. Suddenly, we no longer had to justify our interest in writing about pet foods. It was immediately obvious that pet foods were the proverbial canary (we prefer Chihuahua) in the coal mine. Pet foods displayed early warning signs of massive safety problems in the worldwide production and distribution of many other consumer products ranging from toothpaste to prescription drugs and, later, to Chinese infant formulas and American peanut butter.