In October 2010 my local newspaper dropped my syndicated Animal Doctor column and replaced it with a new column by a writer with no veterinary or animal-behavior science background -- only the media touted title of Martha Stewart’s “Resident Pet Expert.”
So I made my first visit to Martha Stewart’s website and immediately found and read the lead article on her pet section, “Pet Food Basics.” But the article (dated 1994) was seriously outdated, and my interest in what kinds of pet foods and pet supplies were being promoted by Ms. Stewart was piqued.
I found that Martha promotes just one mega brand of manufactured dog foods that contain such ingredients as animal digest, poultry byproduct meal, sugar, propylene glycol, Red Dye 40 (as well as Yellow 6 and Blue 2); with even wheat flour, soy bean hulls, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate and soy bean meal in the cat kibble. This kind of manufactured diet for cats and dogs is not endorsed by informed veterinarians. (See Not Fit For A Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food by veterinarians Fox, Hodgkins and Smart, Quill Driver Books, 2009.)
All the pet-care products bearing her branded name, from dog beds to toys and grooming equipment, are MADE IN CHINA, and most are made from non-biodegradable synthetic petrochemicals. They easily could and should be Organically Certified and include recycled materials where appropriate. They should have been made by cooperatives in the U.S. with a little in-country networking rather than outsourcing and supporting China’s economy. This would surely give additional value of the MADE IN THE USA cache to conscientious consumers. There are many such pet products on the market (See Whole Green Catalog, Michael W. Robbins, ed. Rodale Press 2009).
Ms. Stewart’s “Omnimedia” Special Offers section on her main website says it all: An omnimediamarketing strategy which, in the pet sector, includes her own product displays in Petsmart Stores across the U.S., and an 11- city, and coupling with Purina’s nation-wide tour to give 63,000lb of cat and dog food away to local animal shelters to set up food-banks for rescued dogs and cats, and to give away with every pet adopted.
This feel-good omnimedia strategy includes television shows on pet care and exotic pets, and pet columnist advice in local newspapers via Newsday syndicate which now includes the Minneapolis based Star Tribune, my home-town newspaper. The new pet care column is by a pet shop owner and exotic animal dealer Marc Morrone. It is heavily slanted toward giving basic advice on the care of exotic captive wild animals and domesticated cage and aquarium animals, which indirectly condones and encourages such ownership---and the kinds of animals that he sells. I would call this a conflict of interest.
On his website his animals for sale include hedgehogs, sugar gliders, pygmy possums, tarantulas, tortoises and ferrets, African Grey and Amazon parrots, Macaws, Cockatoos and a variety of other terrestrial and aquatic species. From one Internet source I read that in 1978, this “longtime animal lover Marc Morrone opened up Parrots of the World, Aquarium and Pet Center an importer and exporter (and later breeder) of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles from Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. From his Rockville, N.Y., shop, Morrone became a real-life Dr. Doolittle, dispensing advice on how to train a cockatiel, care for a hedgehog, or raise a ferret. Soon, he was hosting a local cable show on pets. Eight years ago, Morrone caught the eye of Martha Stewart, who invited him to be a guest on her nationally televised show. And in 2003, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia gave him his own twice-weekly, half-hour syndicated program -- Petkeeping with Marc Morrone, boasting more than a million viewers nationwide”.
The wild animal import-export business is a worldwide assault on biodiversity, rife with corruption, animal cruelty, suffering and death, which I have witnessed in Africa and India, pushing many species to the brink of extinction. So captive breeding is now in vogue with its conservation claim of “Helping the wild by not taking from the wild. “ ** But these animals are not domesticated and not adapted to live their entire lives as captives in artificial environments. It is often cheaper to replace them than to invest in veterinary care. But they are not disposable commodities. The same is true for domesticated cage and aquarium animals, from guineapigs and rabbits to parakeets and goldfish, the commerical breeding facilities for which are often deplorable, unispected and unlicensed.
This element of commoditization has moved me to investigate and report on the intolerable “puppy mills,” the pure-breed dog (American Kennel Club registered) production sector of the pet trade, where the cruel methods of mass production result in much animal sickness and suffereing, regardless of U.S. government inspections.
Mike Fry with Hastings MN Animal Ark writes to me that:
“Missouri used to be the top state for puppy mills. However, that state just passed a voter-approved referendum that prohibits breeders from having more than 50 dogs on their property. Missouri will no longer be the puppy mill capitol of the world. Other top states include Virginia, but they also recently passed a very comprehensive bill. Pennsylvania, another of the top states, did so as well.
Minnesota has typically ranked in the "top 10" states for puppy mills, an "honor" no one is celebrating. USDA inspects the mills that sell directly to pet stores or to brokers that sell to pet stores. However, there are serious problems with their inspections. The Inspector General for the USDA recently published a report suggesting these inspections are worth nothing. USDA claims to NOT be an enforcement agency. As a result, they simply write up the violations and walk away. Puppy mills where large numbers of starved dogs on site during USDA inspections continue to operate with USDA licenses, according to the USDA's own Inspector General.
As bad as that sounds, it is not as bad as it gets, because a large number of breeders are not even inspected by USDA. If a breeder sells direct to the public, a practice made easier via the Internet, they need no licensing whatsoever in many states, including Minnesota.
As a result of other states passing regulation and Minnesota failing to do so, we anticipate more puppy mills will be moving into our state.”
I have raised these concerns in my Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column with United Feature Syndicate, New York, for over 30 years. Complaints from readers and from various animal industry sectors were always forwarded to the syndicate office, often by a newspaper ombudsman, for me to address. But not so with the Star Tribune, which suddenly replaced my column in October of 2010 with animal dealer Marc Morrone’s column.
I heard three different reasons from the Star Tribune regarding why this was done: They had received some complaints from readers; they wanted a greater variety of animal species other than dogs and cats addressed in my column; the Morrone column was cheaper, and the paper has financial difficulties.
.Surely every newspaper has a professional duty and ethical obligation to inform their columnists, be they local, national or international, of any and all reader complaints. Perhaps where I live it is “Minnseota nice” not to do so. That is certainly not so with the other newspapers that carry my column like the Washington Post which has been publishing my column for many years and always gave me readership feedback, be it from the National Pork Producers Council, an annoyed veterinarian or a know-it-all cat owner.
Whatever the truth, the fact remains that many excellent newspapers have either gone or are going under because of the kind of ‘ominmedia’ domination by multinational congromerates. Their economies of scale give them a competetive market edge, along with their consumer-choice reducing monopolies (like our Big Box pet stores and associated veterinary franchises), closely linked to the commodity price fixing oligopolies of agribusiness and the hegemony of transnational pharmaceutical companies. The main-stream pet food industry, a multibillion dollar sector of industrial agriculture with its publicly subsidized, genetically engineered corn and soy beans, and cruel, disease-spreading farmed animal factories and feedlots, includes such multinational corporations as Nestle’s Inc. (that owns Purina) Proctor and Gamble Inc (that owns Iams and Eukanuba), and Colgate Palmolive (that owns Hill’s Science Diet).
The calls for full cost accounting, food quality and safety, are being joined by calls for environmental stweradship and animal health and welfare accountability. The continued exploitation of wildlife by the pet trade, and loss of habitat due to non-sustainable agricultural practices in both developed and undeveloped countries alike are of particular concern. The expanding commoditization of more and more animals and species for our own consuption as food; as enjoyable pets, or for their fur and skins for us to wear, to hunt and kill, and even as genetically engineered and cloned novelties, has to be stopped if we are to continue to consider ourselves civilized.
Bioethics and economic sustainability go hand in hand as the antidotes to corporate imperialism and industrial anarchy: But it is the power of informed consumers voting with their dollars, and enlightened venture capitalists backing greater market choices, as per organically certified, ecologically sound and socially just products and services, that can stop the juggernaut of this consumptive monoculture of mass-marketing though monopolistic media and outlet-market control. The China strategy, that gave China a world monopoly on Vitamin C among other products and resources, is to underprice to beat all competitors: The way of the juggernaut.
Supporting your local farmers’ market, local newspaper, public radio and TV, and independent health food and pet stores and food co-operatives are part and parcel of civil society initiatives. They should not be undermined by some marketeers importing cheaper and often inferior produce, and editors doing no less with what they decide to publish in their newspapers. Becoming incorporated into the monoculture is at best a short term survival strategy for farmers, newspapers and other business enterprises in the face of what some economists and environmentalists correctly predicted decades ago to be the nemesis of a globalized economy.: Only the localized can guarantee sustainability.
Perhaps Martha Stewart Living can help turn the tide, Go Green, and help bring to our market place U.S. made products, including pet toys and accessories, and capitalize on the nascent organic pet food and certified nutraceutical supplement market.
* Veterinary Consultant, Bioethicist,
Animal Doctor syndicated columnist
** The Tiger may soon be bred in captivity for commerical, body-part products for the Chinese market, where it can mean a death sentence today for trading in ‘medicinal’ tiger parts. Captive breeding is rationalized to save the few thousand remaining tiger populations in India, China and Russia where poaching continues because the market is so lucrative, and where these wild populations may never recover because of human encroachment. (See Star Tribune, Nov.27th 2010, Opinion page A13, reprint from The Economist). But surely, stopping human encroachment and declaring all medicinal tiger parts and products illegal would negate the need for captive breeding except for reintroduction purposes in habitat conservation and restoration. . The commoditization of the Tiger through large-scale commerical breeding for its body parts is yet another sad reflection of our degenerate condition, and should be opposed by all concerned.