Pet food and Procter & Gamble
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2001:
LONDON, CINCINNATI–Lon-don Daily Express health editor Lucy Johnston and the British activist group Uncaged Campaigns threw an apparent World Day for Laboratory Animals heavyweight haymaker at the pet food maker Iams on May 27, along with the Iams subsidiary brand Eukanuba, and their parent firm, Procter & Gamble–but as jarring as it appeared to be, the targets had already stepped away from the impact.
“Pet lovers will be stunned,” John-ston wrote, “by an investigation that reveals a sponsor of the Crufts Dog Show carried out horrific experiments on animals. The Sunday Express has uncovered damning evidence of gruesome tests performed on dogs and cats during the development” of Iams pet foods, mostly six to 12 years ago.
There was a blow: “Iams has been backed by the Royal SPCA,” Johnston continued, “but after being told of our finds, the RSPCA vowed to sever all ties. Crufts organizers,” Johnston added, were “considering removing a stand sponsored by Procter & Gamble.” But P&G gained statements of support from the American SPCA, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, Animal Medical Center, and American Kennel Club.
“Iams has granted permission for the ASPCA to review copies of the published scientific studies mentioned in the British tabloid story, inspect a current university research facility of ASPCA’s choosing from among all current Iams-sponsored research sites; and inspect the Animal Care Center of the Paul F. Iams Technical Center,” wrote ASPCA senior vice president Steve Hanson. “The ASPCA will provide an update to interested parties after completing these reviews and inspections. However, it is clear,” Hanson said, “based on direct inspection of Iams processes and extensive review of documentation, that Iams remains committed” to enhancing the well-being of dogs and cats.
The “damning evidence” that Johnston cited came from publications by Iams’ own scientists. Many of the publications were recent, but were based on earlier studies. None of the experiments were done since Iams adopted a new code of ethics for research, shortly before Procter & Gamble bought the company in September 1999.
“Since the recent acquisition of The Iams Company, Procter & Gamble has been aligning research policies emanating from our many research and development technical centers around the world,” P&G explained in a June 8 response to Uncaged Campaigns, with reference to the 17-year P&G commitment to phase out animal testing as fast as alternatives can be developed and approved by regulators.
“In the past,” the release continued, “P&G’s products have been for use by people. However, since the acquisition of Iams, it became necessary to recognise a new set of consumers and include cats and dogs in our overall global policy.” The new code of ethics, P&G continued, “reflects the decision made two years ago by Iams to start no further studies which required euthanasia of cats and dogs. It applies to all Iams research in the development of pet food, regardless of whether it is conducted by universities, our own scientists, or others.”
Since early 1999, Iams posted in a June 18 web site statement, the results of feeding studies “must help veterinarians and pet owners to nutritionally manage important health conditions. The benefits to dogs and cats must be genuine. The studies must be unique, relevant, and truly pioneering. In other words, no existing research could answer the questions raised. The care of animals is always paramount,” Iams avered, “and animal well-being is always our top priority. The Iams Company will not participate in any study requiring the euthanasia of cats or dogs,” Iams repeated, “nor will we conduct the veterinary equivalent of any tests on cats or dogs which are not acceptable in nutritional or medical studies in people.”
To animal lovers who find any experimentation on animals morally repugnant, the Iams studies were appalling, but they were not without evident value in developing dietary responses to common life-threatening dog and cat health problems. Some have apparently contributed to replacing surgical procedures with dietary amendments.
The Daily Express had barely hit the street on May 27 before Uncaged Campaigns amplified Johnston’s expose via Internet and World Wide Web–and reinforced it with journal citations pertaining to five sets of experiments, as part of an effort to promote July 14 as a day of protest against Procter & Gamble.
Johnston described how in the earliest of the Iams studies, “24 young dogs had their right kidneys removed and the left partly damaged to investigate how protein affects dogs with kidney failure.”Added Uncaged Campaigns, “After renal failure was inflicted, 22 dogs were studied for up to 14 months as their left kidneys slowly regained some lost function.” Four dogs were euthanized during the study due to the onset of severe uremia. “After seven months,” Uncaged Campaigns recounted, “eight dogs were killed so that the condition of their remaining quarter kidney could be examined. Seven months later, the remaining ten dogs were killed.”
Continued Johnston, “In another experiment, the stomachs of 28 cats were exposed so scientists could analyse the effects of feeding them fibre. The animals were operated on for at least two hours and then killed.” “Most of the cats may not have endured severe illness and suffering,” Uncaged Campaigns allowed, but condemed “the vivisection, killing and dismemberment of the cats.”
In the third experiment Johnston described, “The researchers sterilized 24 female cats, who were over-fed until they become obese. They were then starved on a crash diet. When they lost a third of their weight, their livers were examined to investigate the link between weight loss and liver disease.” Each cat endured three liver biopsies.
Part of the object was to rapidly simulate the metabolic changes that many sterilized female cats go through as they age, often over 15 to 20 years. Another goal was to find the safest way to bring obese cats down to a healthy weight. “Safe, rapid weight loss in cats can be difficult,” lead study author W.H. Ibrahim explained, “because cats have special dietary requirements that appear to make them more susceptible than other species to hepatic lipidosis,” a liver disease which three cats developed during the study.
Iams “also sponsored research in which 14 husky puppies were repeatedly injected with live vaccines and allergy-causing proteins for the first 12 weeks of their lives,” Johnston wrote. “They developed permanent illnesses in the test, which was designed to see how severely allergic they would become.” Iams Customer Services objected that in Johnston’s account,
“Giving an animal a routine vaccination was described as ‘injecting with live virus.'”
Uncaged Campaigns countered that the vaccinations, “were not ‘routine’ in the sense of being for the sake of those puppies’ health. Instead, they were administered specifically as part of a program to induce severe allergies.” The intent was to investigate the relationships of diet, vaccination, and allergic response, at a time when many petkeepers appeared to be rejecting vaccination because of an apparent rising incidence of seemingly healthy dogs and cats dying from adverse reactions to injection.
Diet turned out to have nothing discernible to do with the problem, which now appears to be related to the frequency of injections at particular body sites, and was diminished by developing vaccines that use a single injection to protect animals against multiple diseases.
In the final experiment that Johnston described, “Twelve huskies, 12 poodles and 12 labradors were regularly given chest wounds to see if diet could affect fur regrowth.” The “chest wounds,” Iams pointed out, were actually skin biopsies, “a common diagnostic test in both human and veterinary medicine.” Said Uncaged Campaigns, “One would imagine this would cause soreness and discomfort to the dogs.”
A potential application of the study would have been in helping shelter dogs to regain a healthy, adoptable appearance, after arriving with malnutrition and mange–if a difference in outcome could have been discovered among the dogs who were fed Iams and those who got non-premium dog food. No difference appeared.
Why test pet food?
The Iams controversy came as a reminder that animal testing in connection with pet food production is one branch of animal research that animal protection groups so far have scarcely looked at. Of the major national organizations, only the Animal Protection Institute has each done much recent work pertaining to pet food at all. The 1997 API publication What’s Really In Pet Food extensively discusses the content of commercial pet foods, and cites animal research findings, but never actually mentions that ongoing animal testing is a routine part of business for most major pet food manufacturers.
The $23-billion-a-year pet food-and-accessory business is keenly competitive. Even a 1% fluctuation in sales can have a multi-million-dollar effect on profits. Iams, for instance, ranking seventh in U.S. pet food sales, moves more than $500 million worth of pet food per year, and business has been improving, especially in Europe.
In February 2000, six months after aquiring Iams, P&G invested heavily in expanding the Iams manufacturing plant in Leipsic, Ohio. Expanding the workforce from 135 people to about 170 had two declared purposes: to produce enough pet food for export to 77 other nations, and to increase the production volume enough to be able to stock supermarket shelves, instead of just selling through specialty stores.
The ambition to export grew out of marketer awareness that pet-keeping is undergoing an unprecedented surge in much of the world, and whatever premium brand reaches those regions first will enjoy first claim on brand loyalty. Meanwhile, filling store shelves in effect is occupying an inviting habitat before someone else does. From a corporate sales perspective, even allowing retailers to discount below the break-even point is good business if it encourages brand loyalty and keeps the shelf space it would lose if unable to keep all shelves filled.
The most important factor in selling a premium brand pet food like Iams is maintaining consumer confidence. Even a rumor of a problem with a pet food can be catastrophic. Industry executives well remember the recall of 54 regional brands of dog food made by Doane Products Inc. of Temple, Texas, in 1998, because a deadly aflatoxin mold in some of the food killed at least 25 dogs. Purina Cat Chow, Hill’s C-D, H-D, and Science Diet, Blue Mountain Kitty-O’s, and the beef-and-liver flavors marketed by 9 Lives and Carnation Fancy Feast all took a big hit in 1987 when research published in Science suggested that taurine deficiencies in their formulas could be causing tens of thousands of cats to die prematurely from heart disease.
A similar panic over use of the preservative ethoxyquin hurt sales of Hill’s brand dog foods during the late 1980s and early 1990s, even though the weight of scientific findings accepted by the Food and Drug Administration suggested that the amount in pet foods–and many products made for human consumption–was well within safe limits.
Iams and Eukanuba protected themselves against a similar disaster in February 1998, after Consumer Reports claimed their products were low in potassium. Within days Iams and Eukanuba hit Consumer Reports with their own previously compiled test data showing contrary results. Consumer Reports promptly issued its first retraction of a recommendation in nine years, and retested all 39 pet foods which it had said were potassium-deficient.
The Iams/Eukanuba response demonstrated the importance of animal testing to the pet food industry, not only to prove the safety of new formulations but also to establish quality control–and, as important, to prove to the public that quality controls are observed. Most pet food industry testing appears benign: the animals chow down each day, are weighed, are observed for activity level and visible health effects, and produce stools which are checked to see which food ingredients are retained and which are passed. As many as 5,000 cats and dogs are reportedly involved in such studies on any given day.
Sometimes, however, the studies are invasive–as was much of the Iams work discussed by Johnston and Uncaged Campaigns. Uncaged Campaigns acknowledged that Iams’ involvement in animal research was not unique, listing 29 other pet food companies whose products are sold in Britain which have also had involvement.
Uncaged Campaigns gave specifics involving only one of the other companies, however: SmithKline Beecham, owner of several pet food brands, now known as Glaxo SmithKline. It was a partner of Iams in a terminal experiment using 15 beagles, similar to the study done on 28 cats. The findings were published in 1996.
But as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, a pet food study done for an unnamed client other than P&G was attracting national attention. Volunteers from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Laboratory Animal Resources department were reportedly trying desperately to find homes for 40 dogs and cats, who according to Des Moines Register staff writer Staci Hupp, “were used in taste tests as part of pet food research at APC Inc., which leases space in the ISU Research Park. Animal shelters and puppy mills donated the animals to the college, which gave them to the research company. The studies have come to an end.”
P&G pledged in 1984 to phase out animal testing as fast as alternatives could be developed and win regulatory approval, after negotiations with the late Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International.
Despite being the first and still the only one of the top eight consumer chemical and personal care product manufacturers to make a public commitment to ending animal testing, and despite having invested more than $120 million to date in the effort, P&G nonetheless became target of the longest boycott in the history of the animal rights movement.
As P&G was signing the agreement with Spira, word of it somehow leaked out to PETA, Animal Liberation author Peter Singer recounts in his 1998 biography of Spira, Ethics Into Action. Trying to claim a piece of the “victory,” PETA declared a last-minute boycott of P&G, joined by the Humane Society of the U.S. (which dropped out of the boycott in 1997), In Defense of Animals, Uncaged Campaigns, and many other animal rights and antivivisection organizations.
They were all ignored. During the first 10 years of the boycott, P&G tripled in size, and it has continued rapid growth, while reducing in-house animal use since 1984 by approximately 75%. In June 1999 P&G announced that it had ended all use of animal tests for current beauty, fabric, home care, and paper products, except as required by law. “This announcement covers roughly 80% of P&G’s total product portfolio,” P&G spokespersons Mindy Patton and Amy Neltner specified.
Interviewed by ANIMAL PEOPLE about subsequent progress, P&G associate director of human safety Katherine Stitzel on June 26, 2001 reaffirmed that, “Ultimately, Procter & Gamble is committed to eliminating animal testing. About 72-73% of the animal testing that we still do or contract to have done for us is in connection with our pharmaceutical product line. The rest is in connection with meeting regulatory standards for product safety,” Stitzel said. “We believe we have developed better ways to meet many of the regulatory standards that exist in different countries, including the U.S., and we are spending a lot of time trying to change regulations which no longer best serve their purpose of protecting the public.”
Stitzel and Lee Bansil, the P&G department head for European Union External Relations, cited as an example their effort to get the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a standard-setting body which coordinates standards among the U.S. and Europe, to not only accept toxicity test data other than LD-50 results, but also to stop accepting results from newly performed LD-50 tests, since better testing methods which use far fewer animals (or none) now exist. They hoped this regulatory change would come into effect by the fall of 2002.
Stitzel also cited legislation signed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in December 2000 which established on a permanent basis within the National Institutes of Health the InterAgency Coordinating Committee for Validation of Alternative Methods.
Stitzel said P&G had so far avoided having to do any new animal testing in connection with the High Production Volume Challenge program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The idea of this program is to produce testing data for all of the common chemical products which escaped various tests because they were classified “Generally Recognized As Safe” more than 40 years ago.
“We are the major suppliers of 10 or 20 of the HPV chemicals,” Stitzel said, “but it looks as if we already had the data that we needed to submit to meet the requirements. We are more concerned about a similar push going on in Europe to test or retest chemicals, since that could potentially involve having to meet a wider range of standards.”
P&G has been accused of refusing to disclose to activist groups the animal testing reports that it submits annually to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, but they were readily released to ANIMAL PEOPLE, and are summarized in tabular form above. Stitzel warned that the P&G reports do not cover testing done by outside laboratories, “because we would have no way of knowing how many animals they might use in trying to find something out. They would only report to us the number used in a final protocol.” Stitzel added, however, that P&G is not jobbing out more work than it does in-house, and jobs out procedures chiefly when they would require more human technicians than P&G has available.
“We have enough expertise within P&G to supervise whatever we might ask outside laboratories to do for us,” Stitzel explained, “but if a line of investigation is going to take a large number of specialists for whom we would not have other projects, contracting the work out makes better sense.”
Stitzel and Bansil agreed that P&G has not employed the controversial British testing firm Huntingdon Laboratories for anything since 1997, when P&G cancelled further dealings with Huntingdon after a PETA undercover investigation disclosed various abuses in work done for another company at the former Huntingdon branch lab in New Jersey.
APHIS Form 7023 data–
Report of animals used by or under control of research facility
Animal species 1991 1997 1998 1999
Dogs 494 238 156 155
Guinea pigs 1,817 1,165 841 601
Hamsters 872 375 68 31
Rabbits 571 49 84 326
Pigs (mini) 163 102 177 177
Other farm animals 30 2 0 0
Ferrets 538 474 250 184
All tracked species 4,582 2,395 1,671 1,474
Estimated mice/rats 30,664 28,740 21,221 19,162
Estimated totals 35,246 31,135 22,892 20,636
Procter & Gamble did no laboratory work involving either cats or nonhuman primates during the years 1991-1999. The 1991 estimated total of mice and rats used was supplied by P&G, as were the 1984 estimated totals of mice and rats (61,590) and all animals (74,991). ANIMAL PEOPLE projected the later figures [in italics] based on the earlier known ratios of mice and rats to tracked species.
The ratio of mice and rats to tracked species increased from 4.6/1 in 1984, before P&G committed itself to replacing animal testing, to 7.6/1 in 1991–mainly because alternatives to the kinds of testing that were done on the larger species were more easily developed. If the ratio continued to increase at the 1984-1991 rate, it would have been approximately 13/1 in 1999. If it remained as low as 7.6/1, the total number of animals used by P&G in 1999 might have been just 12,676, and if the total dropped back to 4.6, it could have dipped as low as 9,161.