Below is the transcript of Dr. Karen Becker's interview with Chelsea Kent.
The full text of Dr.Becker's article with a summary and video of the interview can be seen here on the Healthy Pets by Mercola site: CLICK HERE
Food Regulation Facts: Ensuring the Quality of Your Pet Food Products:
A Special Interview With Chelsea Kent
By Dr. Karen Becker
KB: Dr. Karen Becker CK: Chelsea Kent
KB: Hi, I’m Dr. Karen Becker. Today I have a very special guest joining me from Colorado. I have Chelsea Kent, who started her organization called Food Regulation Facts. Chelsea, welcome and thanks for joining me.
CK: Thank you. I enjoy being here.
KB: I appreciate you taking some time out to tell our listeners, readers and viewers a little bit more about why you decided to start this organization. Back up and tell us a little bit about who you are and what you’re doing with this organization.
CK: Yeah. Food Regulation Facts is actually something that I started after attending a couple of Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) meetings, and really realizing that there are a lot of people in the industry who don’t have a voice for what’s going on in regulation.
What I really specialize in is collating and distributing information that is really difficult to find and really difficult to understand if you do manage to find it, and distributing that information in a way that is relatable and meaningful to other people. I really have a focus on consumers, for one, but also for independent retailers and the staff who work in those stores. Because those are the people who distribute the most information. They have the biggest access to the most people.They’re a huge focus of mine also, because I own my own retail store.
KB: Yeah. I can only imagine, Chelsea, that your learning curve – I’m sure when you started your retail store, you already knew that you were going to be selling better-quality foods, and foods that were clear with transparency and that you trust it. However, I can only assume that your – I don’t want to say learning curve – but your educational curve on just how dirty the pet food industry is– The more that you have dug, I know the more that you have discovered.
I guess my question is when I say, “Why is this platform or mission so important?” I know why it’s so important, but why don’t you share with us a little bit about what you’ve learned about your journey so far? Because it’s been eye-opening for everyone.
CK: Yeah. I think that what I’ve learned the most that’s the most impactful, and in some ways depressing, but also empowering in the sense that if you know it, then you can do something about it, is just the importance of understanding regulation and how that applies to the products that you’re actually looking at. Because sometimes it’s not actually about whether or not a label reads really well. It’s more about the fact that the company is capable of getting away with things without you ever knowing what those things are.
Sterilization is a really good example. A lot of people are looking for sterilized products right now because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has this huge focus on, “Raw food is dangerous. Kibble is not.” Kibble sterilizes through the process of cooking. If you’re going to buy raw, buy a sterilized, raw. But that also actually creates a lot of freedom for a company to take a product that is contaminated with something and run it back through the machine to re-sterilize it.
Obviously, the better way of going would actually be for a company to just not use that or to source well enough that they don’t have to do something like that and lose money if they aren’t doing something like that. That’s just one example of a million of why looking at regulation and the loopholes and what companies are actually doing behind the scenes and how it is that that’saffecting the products that are available on the market.
KB: Chelsea, what do you recommend for pet parents who are maybe just learning that they were feeding a food that was tainted with phenobarbital? Or they just realized that the quality of the food that they‘re feeding isn’t up to par? It can be overwhelming to know even what questions to ask. Where do you recommend people start when it comes to educating themselves? Or what questions do they ask their manufacturers and how do they go about getting that information?
CK: There are so many online blogs these days that provide a basis for getting those questions.You’re a great resource. I think that what’s really important is going around and learning from other people what questions that they’ve been asking. Because like every time that you learn one thing, it opens the door to learning more things. The more things that you learn, the more questions that you know to ask.
As an example, I had a raw food company tell me one time that the vitamin E that they use is sourced from Kenya because it was the only place they could find the vitamin E source that wasn’t made from genetically modified soybeans and preserved with propylene glycol. I never would have thought of that. I never would have known that. That is just something that the company offered. Now, it’s something that I can ask every company. “Where do you guys get your vitamin E? What is it made from? Are you preserving it with anything?”
Just the more questions that you ask, the more questions that you learn that you need to ask. You can start really basic and you can grow your knowledge pretty quickly, even if you don’t know what questions to ask. It’s almost impossible to say, “Just ask these questions,” because there are too many things.
CK: There’s so much knowledge that’s available if you just feel comfortable getting started with
any question whatsoever.
KB: The key is just start digging. Just start educating yourself. Just start the process, which I think is really good advice. When you started your platform, were you caught up with the melamine issue? I mean was there an underlying reason? Or were you just fed up as an independent retailer with poor-quality products? Was there a reason behind you deciding that you needed to have a platform to be able to share this information with?
CK: You know, when I started my store, I had been in the industry for several years, but I had actually started working in holistic vet supply stores, so it was an extension of that. But my store opened about two months before the melamine recall really blew up. It obviously became a huge platform for me of educating people, including myself, about what was really going on behind closed doors.
Over time, it’s progressed into just a deeper understanding of what that looks like. It’s not easy to really stick to your guns and continue to provide the things that you think are the most ethical. Because a lot of times, even the products that I really like, the things that have been my favorite for a period of time, those companies change. A company can sell. A company can have hard financial problems and decide to cut a corner. You always have to stay on top of everybody to say,“What are you actually doing?” And then you can make decisions on them.
As a retailer, it’s pretty common that I’ll drop companies that are even my personal favorites, because they just really aren’t in alignment with my values anymore. That’s something that consumers need to take away as well. It’s that just because you’ve always loved the product, or it’s always worked for you doesn’t mean that that product that you’re buying today is the same thing that you got six months ago, six years ago or 10 years ago. People all the time are like, “My dog was fed X Brand for 15 years and had a pretty good life.” Yeah, but 15 years ago that product was a different product than it is now.
KB: How do pet parents or owners – How are they aware that some of these issues could be going on? Sometimes I think there could be a change in the quality of the raw materials. Ownership can change. Manufacturing facilities can change. How do you – Are you just asking those questions directly to the manufacturer? How do you become aware of this information?
CK: Taking a step beyond the label and looking at where is the product available and how widely distributed is it is a really good way to have an idea on what’s going on with the company. Because if you’re only looking at a label, you can compare two different things. They can look very similar, but the sourcing is really different. If you go beyond that and you say, “Well, this product is only available in these small stores, and this product is available everywhere, how is the company capable of supplying enormous amounts of people without having questionable sourcing, at least to some degree?”
Taking that into account. And if you are looking to buy a product that is pretty well-known, call the company and ask them questions about their sourcing. “Where are you getting this?” “Are you getting it from the same place every time?” “Are you using meat brokers?” “How do you manage the quality control on mass production?”
KB: Yeah. Those are all great questions. I think the average consumer does not think about picking up the phone and calling the customer service number. But me, having done that, I don’t know about you, but I have been shocked at the number of consumer specialty whatever, the customer service people, who can’t answer a single one of those questions, not a single one. And then they tell you, “I’ll get back to you,” but of course they never do. That probably is a pretty good idea
right there. If you’re calling customer service and they can’t answer any of your questions about sourcing, that probably is a tip-off right there.
CK: I had a company one time that I called that I just was asking, “Where do you get your chicken?” The woman said, “Well, I don’t know where we get it, but I know it’s good.”
CK: How do you know it’s good if you don’t know where it comes from?
KB: Yeah. Actually, that’s really good. For everyone who’s listening or watching, if you’re like, “You know what? I’m just going to do a little investigation and see if the customer service people know much about their products,” that’s a great question to ask. “Where does your meat come from? Where is it sourced?” That’s a great step number one question.
I just have to ask, because I know that you are a research sleuth of all sleuths. In fact, you have done more digging than anyone I know into the dark corners of the pet food industry. What do you think are some of the most shocking things that you have personally discovered, that the average pet parent maybe doesn’t know about? Is there one or two things that come to mind where you think you know, and that if people just knew that this was going on, they would have an entirely different opinion about the foods that they’re feeding?
CK: Yeah. Distressed and salvaged pet foods are ingredients that are horrifying. The fact, like I have mentioned, where a company can take a product that’s bad for some reason and they can just manufacture it into a new product, that’s horrifying to me. I can’t believe that that’s allowed.
Another one that really gets me are bio-diesels. A lot of people tend to think – I’d say most people – tend to think that pet food in most cases is the byproduct of human food waste. In some cases,you might be getting something really fresh, but in kibble, they’re not putting in fresh steak into a product along with all these whole food ingredients that you’d get at the grocery store. But what they don’t know is the source of that stuff generally is from other industries, like biodiesel and oleochemical and rendering.
Biodiesel, in particular, that one, corn gluten meal, just is mind-blowing to me, because I was like 15 years into being in this industry when I realized that corn gluten meal is actually not even from the same industry as corn meal. Corn meal is like ground-up corn. Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of ethanol production.
For it to become corn gluten meal, they extract all of the starch, which is a fermentation and chemical process. What that leaves is a high-protein residue. The majority of the nutrients that are left in there are actually from the fermentation, not from the original product itself. For them to do that, the chemicals actually make it, so that corn gluten meal is classified as a toxic chemical substance by the EPA.
So that and it has multiple antibiotics, there are so many things about it, where that’s just one of several ingredients, but that one in particular was the first one that I came across where I was like,
“Okay. I’ve heard that stuff comes from biodiesel before. But to look at a specific product and say, “Not only is this horrifying that this trash, literal trash, is being used in pet food, but this particular ingredient is actually in a lot of prescription pet foods.”
KB: Wow. Yeah. And these people will say to me, and I’m sure that you get this all the time, “How can this be legal?” I think some people think that passionate people are sensationalizing some of these topics, because I think people’s statements are like, “How come we don’t know about this? How come the world isn’t talking about this? How come only a few select individuals know about these things? That corn gluten meal is this toxic byproduct?” Actually, I think it has some herbicidal properties as well. I think that corn gluten meal can be used as an herbicide.
But I think people’s biggest shock is why are so few people knowledgeable about this and why aren’t more people talking about it? I think the next question is, “Well, if it’s so unsafe, why is it being used in pet foods?” Those are all logical questions. But I think that the average consumer also doesn’t know about how some of these AAFCO ingredient definitions aren’t even made public. We’re not even aware of these AAFCO ingredient labels. Maybe you could touch on that.Explain to people why you know this stuff after digging that most pet parents don’t know about these things, and why is that?
CK: The primary reason that it continues to be legal is because dry kibble is so heavily processed and canned as well. If you take something that’s pretty toxic and you cook it and process it long enough, it does eliminate the majority of the toxins, but it also creates other toxins and things that we know to cause cancers, things that we just know for a fact can cause endocrine disorders. In the mind of regulators, I guess, it’s just like, “Well, it’s not a horrible issue, because we got rid of the first thing that was in it.”
The next thing that makes it legal and not well known goes back to money and politics and looking at the bigger picture. So when a consumer is buying a product, they’re actually looking at, “Is this going to be something that’s going to benefit my pet?” But when a regulator is looking at an ingredient, they’re thinking, “Well, the country produces a lot of this, and we don’t have a place to put it. The landfills cost a lot of money, or they won’t accept it because it’s toxic. It would cost us a lot of money to do these other things with it, like compost it, enzyme treatments, all of these things. But rather than spending money on putting this ingredient somewhere, we can actually put it into this industry where it can make money and just burn it down until nothing is left.”
I do see the difficulty from the bigger picture, where some of these regulators have come up with these ideas. I don’t think that they’re ethical, but I can see how they came to those conclusions. They’re really not going to resolve themselves until they’re given a solution or until consumers are knowledgeable enough to say, “Well, I’m just not going to use that,” and it’s not profitable anymore.
KB: Yeah. It’s true. Chelsea, if people wanted to learn more about your Food Regulation Facts,where do they go? Because I think that what you’re providing people is education that could be shocking and alarming, but it’s going to hopefully empower them to do more research. Where can they read more about some of these facts that they probably aren’t aware of? Where do they go to learn more about your organization?
CK: Yeah. FoodRegulationFacts.com, and then I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram page. I also work with a lot of other amazing people in the industry. Going to TruthAboutPetFoods.com, or a lot of the blog pages, like I mentioned, KetoPetSanctuary. A lot of my information actually gets spread to those places. Those platforms are really good, places where the information is really applicable to what they’re doing. So, just shop around. Look up my name,Chelsea Kent. If you just look me up online, a lot of times you’ll find articles in a variety of different places.
KB: So then, one last burning question, if you could relay one thing to committed pet parents who maybe are just now figuring out that they trusted brands that they maybe should not have trusted,or they’re feeding a food they haven’t thought of where the ingredients are coming from, if this is brand new information for a pet parent, what would be that one thing that you would want them to know?
CK: I would say that you should probably shop small and rotate often. If you’re getting stuff from smaller companies, it’s usually better sourced and safer. If you’re rotating really often, even it here’s one or two things that aren’t perfect, then you’re probably covering your bases and preventing issues for most things.
KB: Yeah. Very good advice. I appreciate your commitment not just to helping other consumers identify healthy foods for their pets, but I appreciate your commitment to the entire industry in terms of pushing for transparency and helping pet parents become better educated so that they can make better decisions. You’re doing a great job. Thanks, Chelsea.