A new raw dog food certification scheme can help to address veterinary and scientific fears about the dietary program, leading producers have claimed.
The RawSAFE accreditation, which has been developed with the support of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (RFVS), has already been awarded to two UK-based pet food manufacturers.
Three recent studies have found that Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant forms of Escherichia coli are more commonly found in raw-fed dogs than in those that are not.
In one case, academics from the University of Bristol argued raw-fed dogs were at greater risk of carrying bacteria capable of causing infections in humans and warned the practice posed “a significant zoonotic threat”.
But Tony Ottley – co-founder of Bella and Duke, one of the producers to receive the accreditation – believes the scheme and the work being done at its factory in Rosyth, near Dunfermline, are both addressing those concerns.
He said the accreditation was “a huge step forward for the pet food industry”, and should reassure both vets and owners that high standards are being upheld.
The company says it uses measures including the use of approved suppliers, freezing meat after slaughter and equipment of the kind seen in top-level human meat factories to ensure its products are as fresh as possible.
All bases covered
Mr. Ottley continued: “We are leading the way to raise those standards and mitigate against the endemic Salmonella and E coli.
“The RawSAFE standards cover all bases from farm to pet food bowl in the same manner as the human food manufacturing industry does. We will be audited against these standards twice a year, with one of those audits being unannounced.
“We have also welcomed vets and veterinary academics to visit our operations to get a better understanding of the stringent controls in place here.”
RawSAFE officials say its standards match those required for human food production, with some modifications to reflect the nature of some ingredients commonly used in pet foods which are rarely part of the human diet.
However, the BVA, which represents the UK itself, remains deeply concerned about what it sees as the dangers of the approach.
President Justine Shotton said: “Raw food diets pose a significant risk to the health of both pets and owners. Pet owners who choose to go with a commercially prepared raw food diet must take full precautions to mitigate these risks when storing and handling the food.
“Bacteria such as E coli and Salmonella can cause significant gastrointestinal disease in animals. Pets can also shed potentially harmful pathogens present in raw food into their environment, which carries a wider public health risk.
“The BVA advises any owner wanting to try a raw meat-based diet for their pet to first consult a veterinary surgeon. We do not recommend making a raw food diet at home without veterinary guidance due to the potential for nutritional deficiencies in homemade diets.”
However, Tyler Daly – chief executive of the Hampshire-based producer Paleo Ridge, which has also received the accreditation – said: “Our focus is always on the health and well-being of dogs and the accreditation is testament to the high quality of our food and manufacturing processes.
“Manufacturing standards can differ greatly from business to business – it’s very important that there is now a standard which oversees and regulates the manufacture of safe, healthy pet food that consumers can buy with confidence and that vets can stand behind.”
RawSAFE’s directors added: “We are acutely aware that our colleagues in the veterinary profession need to have reliable sources of information about raw food and they are often very concerned when their clients tell them they are feeding a raw food diet.
“The RawSAFE accreditation will mean that they can feel confident with their client’s choice for their pet and maybe even begin to recommend accredited products.”
Although research has shown owners perceive several apparent benefits to their pets from a raw diet, critics have previously called for firm evidence to support the health claims made.
RFVS director Brendan Clarke, who is also Bella and Duke’s chief veterinary consultant, said independent verification of standards was necessary for both the public and professionals. But he also argued that the perception of danger was not borne out by clinical experience.
He said: “Although many proposed risks of raw feeding dogs and cats have been claimed, very few have been seen by vets in practices that recommend raw feeding.
“I’ve worked in a practice that has advised on raw feeding and had a significant number of clients feeding raw biologically appropriate foods and have not seen any reports of increased outbreaks of disease investigated by Public Health England.
“As the desire for raw feeding continues to increase there needs to be clear standards for those producing quality raw food for the general public and veterinary profession alike to be confident they are feeding their pets a quality meal.”