Who Will Stand Up for Rad Cat’s Ethical Standards, and Who Will Check the FDA’s Aggressive Tactics Against Raw Food Makers?
“It is the nature of this product to be contaminated and raw food is not consistent with the scope and values of this organization. The FDA doesn’t condone raw pet food because it’s dangerous and what you do is not conducive to public health.”
— FDA’s Seattle Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) programs supervisor Mikel Wright to Rad Cat owner Tracey Hatch-Rizzi.
Last week a truly tragic development confronted cat lovers around the country, invested in providing the best available species-appropriate food to their beloved friends, as the FDA, after a series of increasingly aggressive actions meant to put pressure on Radagest Pet Food, Inc. (a Portland, Oregon-based independent company that paid high wages and full benefits to its employees), finally succeeded in putting out of business the country’s leading provider of genuine raw foods for cats, sourced from free-range, pasture-raised animals and produced according to the highest standards of health and safety.
I know, because I have researched cat health issues and diet and nutrition for ten years, and have ventured quite deeply into the range of difficulties that typically confront felines who are not provided the diet they were meant to eat. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they need to eat meat, and their diet needs to approximate as closely as possible to what they would be eating in nature: a warm-blooded mouse, or something close to it. They need muscle tissue, bones, and organs, not carbs and fillers which do nothing for them nutritionally, and inevitably lead to the kinds of feline diseases, particularly late in life, we have all become used to accepting as a matter of routine. This doesn’t need to be the case because cats are highly resilient creatures who handle their own bodies very well, and if we only provide them the appropriate diet they are not likely to develop the costly and debilitating illnesses upon which the veterinarian-commercial pet food industry thrives to the tune of billions of dollars each year.
Where does Radagest, maker of Rad Cat, enter into this picture? Increasingly, over the last few years, it has been the only such company in America with widespread reach, while still adhering to the highest standards of raw food production, as myself, and those who have done research and practice in this area, can easily testify. Some years ago when my last cat Fu was sick, I turned to making raw food on my own—unfortunately not being aware of Rad Cat’s existence at the time—and I can categorically state that while I was using the highest quality ingredients—human-grade, pasture-raised, organic meat and organs—and making it at home with meticulous attention to safety, there is no way that I could ever reach the standards of perfection Rad Cat has attained with its dedicated team of professionals.
No matter how much I love my cat, I cannot duplicate Rad Cat’s consistent standards at home. Rad Cat has a rich red muscular yet moist texture, and achieves the correct balance between nutrients like calcium and phosphorus to ensure the long-term health of a cat; I would never be able to attain that precise balance. When your cat eats raw food, you will notice that he drinks little or no water, because a cat is designed to get all his moisture from a complete food.
You only have to open a jar of Rad Cat to be able to instantly tell that it is the real thing: real venison, lamb, chicken, turkey, or beef, whatever suits your cat. For anyone who has tried to make their own raw food, or researched the pale substitutes available on the market, the difference is startling and immediately visible. There is much discussion on cat health forums about the process of transitioning to raw food, if your cat has unfortunately been eating species-inappropriate kibble or wet food, but in my experience cats take immediately to Rad Cat, without any period of transition, because right away they recognize that it is the correct food for them.
Cats know what’s good for them, so we must not ignore their instincts. When Fu was sick and in his last year of life, once I introduced Rad Cat to him he looked at me as if to say,this is the food I’ve been waiting for my whole life. A big part of his diet had been cooked human food, the best-quality pasture-raised chicken I could find for example, but cooked food does not provide the nutrients that cats need. I think of the sad moment in the vet’s office where Fu was being treated for IBS/IBD, and she said, with regard to my queries about what nutrition would be best for his ailing digestive system, “Let me set up an appointment with a nutrition counselor to see how you can balance the foods you cook for him. It will cost you $500.” All she had to say then, was, “Hey! You don’t need to cook special foods. Do you know about Rad Cat? Just rush to your local Kriser’s or other natural pet foods store and get a jar! That will solve all your problems.” But this vet, who advertised herself as holistic—and she was, to an extent, compared to other vets I encountered—never even mentioned this option.
As for Fu’s successor Foolittle, when he was a baby I took him to the veterinarian for vaccinations, and as is typical of veterinarians in this country, he was totally uninterested in, and even against, raw foods. “You know that’s not safe, right?” he said cynically. This tends to be their fallback attitude, without investing any time in trying to research and understand what is after all the single most important component of a being’s health: diet. I ignored him, and said I knew what I was doing, sad that a man responsible for cats’ health would advocate feeding them the disgusting dry and canned foods commercially available, which inevitably cause illnesses over the long run, and certainly deprive cats of their natural liveliness, athleticism, happiness, and playfulness, which one notices as soon as we put them on a raw diet. “How much of this raw food are you going to feed Foolittle anyway?” the skeptical vet went on to ask. “As much as he wants to eat, of course!” I shot back. The vet had visions of an obese cat dancing in his head, but in the last three years of eating only raw venison, Foolittle never put on an extra ounce, and was the most athletic and energetic being I’ve ever known. You can take a guess if I’ve taken Foolittle to a vet since then or if I ever plan to.
I relate these incidents because most cat lovers who are invested in their friends’ well-being have probably gone through some version of stressful encounters with the veterinarian-pet food industry. If cats never developed diabetes and kidney problems, or other even more serious issues, how would the entire industry survive? If humans, likewise, fed ourselves species-appropriate diets and as a result had the energy to exercise and be playful and happy, then how would we ever get sick, and especially at the end of our lives become cash cows for an industry very little interested in preventive care or even regular maintenance?
I am sure that around the country there have been tens of thousands of relieved cat lovers who could at last count on a steady supply of raw food of the highest quality, produced according to exacting specifications of what best suits a cat’s nutritional demands. As I said, I have in the past made raw food according to the proportions that have been arrived at by common consensus, but Rad Cat produces it with the kind of consistent accuracy and delicious texture that I am not likely to ever attain.
Here is what the Rad Cat pasture-raised venison recipe consists of: “Venison trim, venison heart, water (sufficient for dry ingredient hydration), venison liver, gelatin, organic dried egg yolk, organic dulse powder, egg shell powder, organic psyllium husk powder, vitamin E supplement, manganese gluconate.” No junk, no filler, no pseudo-meat (other manufacturers use mechanically separated meat, something disgusting which can pass as “raw meat,” and something you should get acquainted with, if you think there are any real substitutes available on the market), no 4D meat (from dying, diseased, disabled, or dead stock, which apparently is quite okay with the FDA). The other stuff that passes for raw food in America’s pet stores, whether in freeze dried or nugget form, simply cannot hold a candle to Rad Cat’s jars of real raw food, which do not consist of various meat and bone substitutes. Every time I open a jar of Rad Cat, I tell myself, “Hmm, I could eat this stuff myself.” And of course I could, it is actual food completely similar to the well-chosen food I put into my own body.
So it’s all the more ironic, yet somehow fitting, that the FDA is making a fuss of Rad Cat’s safety, putting all kinds of unfair pressure on the company, as the owners have documented in their blog postings. I hope the company will provide even more information in the days to come, so that the cat lovers’ community is alerted to the actual resistance we are facing when it comes to supplying our friends with the food they need, yet even from the information already provided certain very distressing questions can already be raised about the government’s whole attitude to raw food in general and to this highly successful and popular provider in particular:
1) What does “zero tolerance” mean in the context of raw food for cats, animals whose entire biologies are designed to consume raw food, which will inevitably have some form of bacteria? The company’s owner explains this very well in her blog post, and we all understand that the issue should be tolerable levels of pathogens in an animal’s food, because cats handle this very well.
Should live food be judged by the standards applied to dead food? What would happen to a human body if all one ever ate was cereal and McDonald’s burgers (which is what kibble and wet food essentially amount to)? How should the lifelong health benefits of raw feeding be assessed against the government’s zero tolerance policy with regard to levels of pathogens not likely to harm a cat?
In the fourteen years of the company’s existence, have there been any instances of cats getting sick from eating the raw food? Does the FDA have any such documentation? Of course not! And if the company has such a long record of complete satisfaction (and safety) from tens of thousands of satisfied cat lovers, then at what point can the question of arbitrariness and sheer prejudice legitimately be raised?
By comparison, how many instances do we all know of epidemic illnesses spread from compromised commercial food, and the frequency of vast recalls, which is quite aside from the ongoing weakness being built into our cats and dogs from consuming those toxic foods on a daily basis?
2) Should an agency like the FDA, and those that put pressure on this company such as the Colorado Department of Agriculture, not adhere to standards of due process and fairness, especially when a company has an impeccable track record of safety and health standards over more than a decade of production?
The owners’ blog post states that they have plenty of documentation of having passed rigorous safety standards from independent safety auditors(of course, any Rad Cat consumer knows this just by looking at the food, having experienced it first-hand). Should the FDA or state agencies not take such proven documentation into account before initiating drastic and terminal measures costing the life of the company?
It seems that the FDA can arbitrarily threaten to issue public health notices, which would be devastating for a company, or trigger total recalls, as seems to have happened with this company, rather than limit actions to a specific problem found. Who can hold the aggressive enforcers responsible in such cases, what form of accountability and counter-action can there be?
3) What should be the government’s overall attitude toward such things as raw food for cats and dogs? Should they be allowed to enforce biased standards that favor manufacturers that might make so-called “raw food”—heavily compromised because it is not really raw food, and it is not even food in many senses of the word, but can more easily pass FDA standards, because the food is actually dead and therefore will not have the kinds of pathogens the FDA is looking for in its one- size-fits-all criteria—at the cost of producers who make “live” organic food, offering it as an invaluable option to customers?
If you examine a piece of spinach or chard from an organic farm, grown according to the most rigorous standards, and compare it with the same type of vegetable grown commercially and on a mass scale, you will probably find, microscopically, different things than on the deader, more commercial produce. But which is healthier?
Should this not be an opportunity for adherents of raw food to engage in an urgent dialogue with the FDA, so that some degree of fairness gets built into the system? If not—if the natural foods and health and wellness community doesn’t make a fuss of this very important provider being shuttered down with such impunity—then we can say goodbye to the whole idea of raw and natural foods, as the fight will escalate, one-sidedly.
Make no mistake—I have felt this and the owners of Rad Cat suggest it too—they are making an example of this company, to ward off other entrants into this incredibly popular market, because cat owners who care are increasingly realizing that raw food is the only ethical option. Who will dare to enter the raw food market after the kinds of aggressive, non-responsive, and blatantly unscientific “protocols” documented by the Rad Cat owners in their blogs? Of course, the government has no problem with the far more expensive—quite unaffordable, really—pseudo “raw foods” still available from better known producers.
After this tragedy affecting a company that was trying to do the right thing by cats and their owners, what can we cat lovers do? We can try to make our own raw foods, and we must at home, because nothing else on the market, from my extensive research and experience, comes even close to the actual raw food experience. We should not accept the veterinarian industry’s received wisdom that it is natural for cats and dogs to age ungracefully, and acquire such debilitating diseases as diabetes, kidney and other organ failure, heart disease, cancer and tumors, arthritis and bone issues, and allergies and respiratory illnesses. Just as it is not natural for human beings to age and decline in such a torturous manner, if we take care of ourselves.
We, as believers in health and wellness, need to understand what we are up against in terms of institutionalized forces actually preventing us from being healthy and therefore happy, because it is in no dominant institution’s interest to keep us away from physicians and hospitals. We see this in the perverse and unwelcome use of aspects of the 2011 FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) as in this instance. When we do become proactive and take charge of our and our pets’ lives, then we face new kinds of institutional pressures, such as the FDA’s hyper-aggressive attitude with regard to enforcing recalls and threatening public health notices against Rad Cat.
The mainstream newspapers—one in particular—have been on a campaign for some years discounting alternative and natural treatments, the effects of diet on chronic conditions, and even the benefits of rigorous exercise! Coconut oil is poison, we are now told (I know from experience its value, particularly for patients with dementia, as long as you use the virgin, unrefined kind). Any model of health, which resides outside institutional parameters beholden to perpetuating states of illness, has become a mortal threat.
That’s what’s illustrated in the FDA’s “zero tolerance” policy against tiny amounts of listeria (which didn’t come into contact with food anyway) in what was the safest, healthiest, most organic and natural food available to our cats. Our cats knew this, otherwise they would not have taken to it and thrived on it as they did in such a massive vote of approval around the country, and we their caretakers and friends knew it, because we could see it in their eyes and in every expression of their being that we were giving them the right food at last. From years of experience I know that even when I leave raw food outside for hours at a time, though one would think that it should be eaten immediately, there has neverbeen any health problem; so there is obviously a degree of tolerance built into an animal’s system when they eat the food that’s intended for them (despite the FDA’s overt prejudice against the very idea of raw food for pets).
Nothing in my life has made me sadder than losing control over my cats’ well-being. It happened when I lost control over Fu’s health, finding myself in the clutches of veterinarians who, at every stage, should have known better. With Foolittle I promised to do absolutely the right thing for his whole life, because I had learned so much about cats’ biological needs, through sorrowful trial and tribulation over the years. And now this is under threat too, which makes me truly sad, as I’m sure countless other pet owners have been feeling this week when confronted with this level of blatant bias against the providers of health.
The Rad Cat owners do state that perhaps someone with a heart of gold can step in to pick up the torch. Perhaps the venture can continue in some form. Will someone with the right resources and clout look into this, and try to make something good still come out of this tragedy?