Tough Love: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Snakes

Tough Love: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Snakes

This article originally appeared in Total Pet Magazine

We’ve spotlighted the snake as a pet, discussing its care and briefly touching upon a few of the sources for culture’s negative perception of the snake. We’d like to look into this negative perception further by exploring the history of the snake. Is that a little too broad? Absolutely. But we promise there won’t be any preaching about learning to love a snake or imploring you to go to your nearest herp-stocking pet store for a meet and greet. Okay, to be a little more honest, there won’t be much preaching. At best we’re asking you to consider the snake as a figure of historical and cultural significance, like Abraham Lincoln, Tattoo from Fantasy Island, or the guy that discovered gunpowder. Perhaps you’re seeking more relevancy? How about the use of a snake as symbol during the seeds of the American Revolution?

snakes in the american revolution

The snake was first used as a symbol for the united American colonies by Benjamin Franklin, who published this wood cutout as a political cartoon in 1754 during the French and Indian War. This snake would also inspire the 1775 “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden Flag.

Though the keeping of reptiles and/or amphibians may still appear to be a fringe or alternative hobby, there are more than two million families who dabble in herpetoculture; however, they’d probably just prefer to be called “herpers” for short. “Herpetoculturalist” sounds rather pompous, and all these herpers don’t particularly wear pompous well. They’ll also be the first to tell you that a snake’s skin is not at all slimy; rather, it is smooth and dry and composed of the protein keratin, which is found in human fingernails. File that one away for Trivial Pursuit. It’s guaranteed to impress.

The word herpetoculture comes from the Greek “herpeton” meaning “one which creeps.”

If you ask the average John or Jane on the street what they think of snakes, it’s more than likely that they’ll cringe, make an “ew” sound, or ask why in the world anyone would want to keep something like that as a pet. At this point you can at least refute the sliminess. If the naysayer goes after the whole fang and potentially poisonous issue, you might need to give them a concession or two, because many snakes have fangs and some are dangerous and/or poisonous. Do stress, however, that a few bad apples don’t spoil the entire crop and more often than not these poisonous/deadly snakes would rather slither and hide than ever confront a human. Unless of course you’re beating the Australian bush (for anything other than the betterment of scientific research!), and in that case you’re just bloody insane and probably deserve what’s coming to you.

Though the snake has made some headway into the mainstream, it still has a long way to go to convince the average pet owner of its usefulness as a domestic animal. Much of this distrust of snakes (and reptiles as a whole for that matter) stems from an ingrained cultural perception of snakes as a subversive species. Sure, snakes aren’t the perfect pet for everyone but maybe, just possibly, getting to the root of our ophidiophobia might make those snakes a little less scary and icky.

biblical snakes
.

A Stigma of Biblical Proportions

The majority of the Western World might cite Genesis, the first book of the Bible, as the beginning of the “snake is evil” movement. The story goes as such… a serpent appears before Adam and Eve as an undercover agent of Satan, tempting the pair with the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This they eat and you know the rest. The bottom line here is that you’re really kind of set up for a widespread blacklisting if you’re the embodiment of Satan in the first chapter of a book placed in every motel nightstand. So snakes have the Gideons to thank for that. The snake’s dilemma, however, didn’t start or stop with Christianity.

The snake also figured heavily in archaic Greek mythology. Snakes were often associated with antagonistic figures such as Medusa and her fellow Gorgon sisters defeated by Perseus, the nine-headed hydra defeated by Hercules, or Typhon, the enemy of the Olympian gods, who was described as a monster with a hundred serpents originating at his thighs. These kinds of visions make that deceitful snake of the Garden of Eden sound pretty harmless by direct comparison.

With these kinds of symbolic attachments it’s a wonder that snakes, and reptiles in general, ever made it into anyone’s good graces, but paired with each of these negative images there seems to be an opposing side that reveres the animal for some of the same reasons that it was feared.

Snake vs. Serpent

The word “serpent” derives from the Latin serpens or serpentis and was most commonly used in a specifically symbolic value. The serpent was not the earthbound snake of zoological concern but rather something of mythic or religious context. So the next time you speak highly of your “serpent,” please consider the context.

Throughout history the snake has enjoyed periods of reverence and worship as well as extensive use as a symbol of evil by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Ophiolatry, the practice of snake worship, originated from the snake’s relatively unusual behaviors and survival practices – graceful, low-to-the-ground stealthy travel; the swiftness and power of its bite; and the molting of its skin, followed by a kind rebirth or renewal, a skill which lends itself without much imagination to the godlike quality of immortality. Though there are dozens of examples of cultures that worshipped or revered the snake, we’re just going to stick to the highlights.

egyptian snakes

The Uraeus is the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian cobra, used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity and divine authority in ancient Egypt.

The earliest documented images of snakes date to around 9000 BC from the southeastern Turkish tribe called the Göbekli, a hunter-gather society. Sumerians also worshipped a type of snake god; however, the most pervasive image of the snake in the ancient world belonged to the Egyptians. The Ureaus; the symbol of the divine sovereignty of Ancient Egypt and representation of the goddess Wadjet, one of the oldest of the Egyptian deities and protector of all Lower Egypt; was worn by the pharaohs as a head ornament at all times during life and often still after death. The symbol, with which many of you might be familiar from watching Hollywood’s various incarnations of The Mummy, often depicts a stylized Cobra in its upright, rearing position. Once Upper and Lower Egypt were united, the vulture Nekhbet joined Wadjet on the Ureaus to maintain their individual importance (rather than merge, as with most other Egyptian deities whose comparable Upper and Lower incarnations were joined as one). Together they became known as the Two Ladies – the protectors of unified Egypt.

The most known and recognized example of ophiolatry comes from India – aka the Land of Snakes. It was named the Land of Snakes as much for their continued worship of the reptile as the general abundance. There are more than 270 species, 60 of which are poisonous. Snake worship in the subcontinent can be witnessed in cultural legend, daily ritual, and yearly festivals (Naga panchami). They are considered the protectors of springs, wells, and rivers. Sarpa Kavus (serpent groves) are sacred groves, isolated fragments of dense forests representing the tradition of worshipping plants and animals. The Mahābhārata, one of two major Sanskrit epics is an inextricable component of Indian culture. To summarize the roughly 1.8 million words in the Mahābhārata in one sentence would probably be a disservice to the text, but we’ll do it anyway. And this is where it gets tricky because we’re going use some backwards logic. Generally the epic discusses artha (human goals), dharma (duty), káma (pleasure), and moksha (liberation) and it contains frequent references and passages portraying the snake (or nāga – the class of deity depicted by a snakelike image) in a, stay with us now, negative context, including a reference to the snake as the “persecutor of all creatures.” If this text, as it is said, is one of the most influential works in the Hindu culture and it creates this image of the snake as the judge, jury, and executioner of the animal world, it provides an interesting starting point in the history of Indian snake worship because although the text tends to fear the nāga they are also no more frequently evil than most other major players in the text and often turn up in favor of benevolent causes. Admittedly we here at Total Pet haven’t read the text cover to cover, but for the purpose of this article, all you need to know is that, like the Godfather, though they were feared, these nāga were seriously respected. This same concept of fear breeding respect holds true for the real live corporeal animal inside our aquariums and roaming our forests and backyards.

And that is really what we’re trying to stress. Though many of us might fear the animal, we should fear and respect the animal. The snake is a complex animal with a fascinating evolutionary past as well as a spiritual importance to many varied religions, both on the good and evil side of the equation. Total Pet is not encouraging you to rush out and find your nearest snake worshipping sect or secluded Sarpa Kavu; we are hoping to instill a sense of the snake’s cultural niche: why it’s viewed as a type of monster by some and a god by others.

indiana jones snakes

Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes became a defining characteristic in the film series.

“Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?”

But how does any of this apply to keeping snakes as a pet? Whether we’re conscious of it or not, snake legend and rhetoric all factor into our perception of the animal. We may be afraid of being bitten. We may be afraid or distrust snakes because they’re scaly (but not slimy!) rather than furry, lack the charisma of a Welsh corgi, or hide in the shady, secluded corners of our backyard like some sort of shadowy grifter in a Richard Widmark movie. But we’re also cognizant, whether we’ve read the Bible or not, of the culturally supplied stigma of the snake as manifestation of evil. Just take a look at the list of cheap B-movies made with a snake as the featured baddy: Boa, Python, Boa vs. Python, Komodo vs. Cobra, Anaconda, Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Snakes on a Plane, Sir Hiss in Disney’s Robin Hood. Name one movie with a villain Koala bear. King Kong fought a snake. Indiana Jones crawled through troughs of insects as big as toy poodles and battled legions of Nazis, but what were the only creatures that ever made him shudder in fear? Snakes!

a little girl and her snake

This picture of a little girl with her California King Snake is a Total Pet favorite. You may notice it hanging in our stores. She was so happy with her pet that she would sit and talk about the snake to anyone that would listen.

All of these ideas and theories really do feed into our slow adoption of the snake as an animal that we can allow to cohabitate down there in the seedy underbelly of our backyard – never mind keeping as a domestic pet. Snakes in fact really didn’t even enter our homes regularly until the middle of the 20th century. And even then they were probably just Garter snakes trapped by young boys who’d yet to be influenced by the cultural snake-ism or just admired the perceived danger of keeping a dangerous pet. Of course, the Garter snake is no more dangerous than a Guinea pig, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince a mother of that fact. The modern appeal of snakes as pets also draws from this historically negative stigma. Reptiles in general appeal to an alternative type of pet owner that enjoys the shock and awe factor. “Check out my pythons!” this kind of owner might say, encouraging his guests to take a closer look at his beloved pets. We’re not pigeonholing the snake owner with the “alternative” label– snake owners come from all corners of life – even our already cited old-fashioned conception of the 1950s-era mother demanding her son “remove this snake from my house!” is receding. The most common thread connecting all these people is a fascination with the uncommon life of the reptile. Snake owners, more so than most other pet owners (except home aquarists), are home biologists who observe their animals and try to recreate its natural environment to the best of their abilities. Of course, they also might also just enjoy the way their friends take a step back from the aquarium glass when they see a coiled Burmese python looking back at them. And this too is a type of behavioral observation.

There is one obvious word of caution that needs to be said as we conclude this intellectual exercise. Keeping a pet is one thing, but with any wild-type animal, respect its space, and should you come across a snake in the wild, respect its role within the local ecosystem. The majority of snakes that appear in your backyards, sheds and garages are nonvenomous, harmless, and beneficial to man. However, in nearly every corner of the United States you’re likely to find a dangerous snake if you look hard enough, and in these instances, keep your distance whenever possible, allow the snake to do whatever it is that it needs to do, and call for Animal Control when necessary.

Now we’ll take some bonus questions from anyone still remaining in the gallery.

Can a snake be trained to sit up, rollover and play dead?

The short answer is yes it is possible. The long answer is you’d be wise to let the snake live as he chooses. The stress the animal would need to incur in order to learn any of these rote tricks is not worth the effort, should it even be possible with your particular snake. It’s likely all you’ll receive for your efforts is a good swift bite. A snake can learn routines such as feeding times; it can also learn your smell allowing it to respond with certain patterns of movement, but by no means is the snake trained. In most cases reptiles will just become more aggressive with any kind of behavior modification techniques. If you love a snake, you love him just as he is. Now you’re thinking but what about the snake charmers? Well, this is the snake responding to either the movement of the flute itself or the vibrations from the tapping of the charmer’s foot. Snakes are not influenced by sweet, sweet music – not even Barry Manilow. There are some species of snake such as the Hognosed snake and Grass snake, however, that can fake death to avoid predation by flipping on their backs, opening their mouths and expelling a foul odor from their anal glands. Let’s see Fido do that.

I want an Anaconda.

That’s not a question and no you don’t. Anacondas are probably the most aggressive of all snakes and because of their size you’d be hard pressed to provide enough space for the animal unless you turned over your entire house.

What is Snake Oil? And why is this guy trying to sell me some?

snakes snake oil

Snake oil originally came to us from China where it was a common remedy for pain and inflammations such as arthritis and bursitis. It is composed of the fat from the Chinese water snake, the richest source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – the material our bodies use to make the series 3 prostaglandins that inhibit the inflammatory series 2 prostaglandins. A prostaglandin, to further clarify all this science, is basically just a fat compound found in virtually all tissues and organs. And as you can see, come in both good and bad varieties. Since there was no regulation of snake oil in American until the 1906 Food and Drug Act, salesman and manufacturers exploited demand for the mystical remedy by creating secret formulas containing exotic ingredients paired with pseudo-science mumbo jumbo that only gave relief through the placebo effect. 19th century peddlers in the States then became linked with drifting and gave birth to the snake oil peddler stock character of the old Westerns. Even if the manufacturers of the bogus American snake oils had the technical know-how to produce real honest-to-goodness snake oil, no American snake could produce nearly as much EPA as the Chinese water snake, further promoting the stereotype.

Man, I really do miss the old WWF and Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Why was he called “the Snake” again? All I remember is that DDT finishing move of his.

The wrestler Jake Roberts earned his nickname because of his slender, wiry physique and to encourage this nickname would “slither” into the ring on his belly. When Jake made the WWF in 1986 he began bringing a large Burmese python called “Damien” into the ring in a canvas bag. After executing a successful DDT, Roberts would coil the snake around his opponents’ neck allowing Damien to slither around the fallen wrestler giving the impression of strangulation. Of course, this was all part of the theatrics and some wrestlers would twitch and foam at the mouth for embellishment (see George Wells’ pitch-perfect performance as Damien’s victim in Wrestlemania 2). It should be noted that we do not condone this kind of animal exploitation (or wrapping pythons around anyone’s neck), but Damien (the many different Damien’s actually) is part of the great snake canon and deserves his reverence as much as the next serpent. This same disclaimer holds true in the future should we ever discuss Jake Roberts’ arch-rival Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and his Komodo dragon.

Pet Food Storage and Spoilage

Burton's BlogAll foods spoil, though some degrade faster than others. This is a fact of life. Still, there are people who would disagree with this incontrovertible statement. We’re not sure, but these may be the same people that believe the world is flat. You’ve bought great food. You’ve done the easy part, but paying attention to handling and pet food storage at home is one of the most important ways to help maintain the long-term health of your pet.

We’d have to take a poll. It would probably even behoove the manufacturer to be more forthright in explaining how quickly food can deteriorate through oxidation because it would encourage people to buy smaller bags of food more often. Instead, food manufacturers push their larger bags of food by advertising new packaging and “natural preservation procedures” that claim to be better at preserving the food you buy. Most of the sales on pet food also occur on the 40 lb. bags. These sales are designed to look good in the accounting books but generally do not encourage better pet health. As a rule, you shouldn’t buy more food than your pet can consume in one month. For most breeds of dog, 40 lbs. is well beyond their consumptive capacity.

food bins - food handling and spoilage

Two examples of food container storage.

Air, moisture, temperature and chemical composition all play independent roles in food spoilage. Over time, there are thousands of chemical reactions that affect food, to both its nutritional detriment and benefit, and through this article we hope to offer a few simple explanations about food chemistry and the processes that most directly apply to pet owners.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS RELATING TO PET FOOD STORAGE

Life on earth cannot exist without moisture. It is therefore no coincidence that moisture breeds bacteria, molds and yeasts – all of which happen to be notorious agents of organic decay. The greater the moisture content, the greater the presence of organisms that accelerate spoilage. An open can of wet food spoils much faster than kibble. The proteins degrade rapidly; putrefaction can be detected in a matter of hours. Dogs, as we’re probably aware, will eat just about anything. Slightly rotten food? No problem. Bring on seconds! Cats, however, are much pickier about the freshness of their meals. This contrast in mealtime behavior is almost surely a result of their differing paths to domestication. Dogs first co-existed alongside man as scavengers surviving off the scraps of human detritus (but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them!) whereas cats have always been exquisite hunters employed by humans for activities such as rodent control.

People that buy large volumes of food because it is cheaper make a big mistake if the food is improperly handled after purchase. Dry kibble, left open, immediately begins to deteriorate. Proteins and fats oxidize to form free radicals which when consumed slowly, but persistently, wear down the body. Free radicals are highly reactive atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons which catalyze chemical chain reactions that can damage cells. In abundance and over time, these free radicals can attack every cell in our and our pets’ bodies. Antioxidants have become a health buzz-word and for good reason – they terminate these detrimental chain reactions and inhibit further cellular oxidation. Raw fruits and vegetables (yes, even for your dog! But make sure you know which ones dogs can and cannot eat) are especially beneficial in providing antioxidants. Since cats are obligate carnivores, the availability of raw fruit and vegetables isn’t really a relevant discussion; instead concern yourself with the quality and freshness of the meat they consume.

TYPES OF PET FOOD STORAGE AND PRESERVATION

Chemical

This type of preservation protects against a myriad of possibilities, but what chemical preservation has in common with all other types of preservation is that it prevents oxidation. Ethoxyquin (a quinoline-based antioxidant used to combat the rancidification of fats) is a chemical preservative that has fallen out of favor because of suggestive ties to certain health problems; however, it is still one of the most effective. Acid preservation of meat is common, but also a fading practice as evidenced by the disappearance of pickled pig’s feet and eggs at bars and saloons. (For this we have no explanation, but it is forever a part of our curious culinary history.) More natural antioxidants such as Vitamin E, rosemary extract, and Vitamin C are currently more popular for pet foods. The bottom line is that the use of increasingly more natural antioxidants has reduced the shelf life of pet foods. While this may be better for the health of our pets, it also places an onus on the consumer to take an active role in preventing food spoilage.

Even cats would confess to being pickier eaters than their canine counterparts.

Drying

Another method of preservation involves the combination of salt and other chemicals such as bisulfites and/or sugar along with dehydration to preserve fruits and meat. You can find examples of this technique in any grocery, corner, or convenience store. This is the process by which all kinds of meat jerkies and dried fruits are created.

Freezing

This method slows the process of oxidation but does not eliminate it. The colder the freeze, the more effective the preservation. This means that that really choice filet you’ve got stashed in your freezer from the Carter administration isn’t still edible. We’re sorry to break the bad news to you, but your Kenmore is not equipped for advanced cryogenics. When buying frozen raw diets at your pet store, make sure the pet food storage temperature is 0ºF or below.

Barrier Bags

Paper bags provide very little protection, yet manufacturers have used them for decades because they’re a cheap alternative to our modern barrier bags used to package better foods. But as more truth emerges about the relationship between packaging and food decay, manufacturers have been forced to create better bags. Even human cereal is protected by a wax paper barrier to keep the product fresh. Pet food companies have introduced new barrier bags made of petroleum products; these are very good at keeping air and moisture out while the product is stored on retail shelves. The paper bags used for cheaper foods are particularly oxygen-porous which greatly diminishes the longevity of the food. It is only in the last fifteen years that these oxygen and vapor tight barrier bags have begun appearing on shelves. These bags are expensive but are very good at their job; however, their effectiveness does not extend beyond the moment you open the bag. It should be noted that some of the best advancements in packaging techniques such as barrier bags, nitrogen packing, and vacuum sealing are taking place with small animal and bird foods. Don’t pass up those crinkled vacuum packed bags just because they look a bit odd. Vacuum packaging retains freshness. The consumer needs to look beyond the aesthetics of the bag; this is exactly the goal of companies that skimp on product quality but spend on excellent marketing and graphic design because the latter is much less expensive.

Canning

Canning involves the combined talents of a couple of preservation methods: heat and airtight containers. Extreme heat kills harmful organisms and an exclusion of air prevents re-inoculation. This technique has been around since the invention of the glass jar with a screw on lid in 1858 by John Landis Mason. Those that do their own canning know that acidic fruits and vegetables are easier to preserve than more alkaline foods. Improperly canned products of lesser acidity can result in botulism because the acidity negates the effect of the bacteria that produce the botulism toxin. This is why tomatoes are the perfect canning vegetable whereas the green bean, an acidic lightweight, is a poor candidate. Commercial canners add salt to many canned vegetables to compound the preservation, but they still have to be diligent about their methods. Botulism is bad news, and even though dogs are relatively impervious to the toxin, they can still contract dangerous maladies from spoiled and rotten foods.

Fermentation

Yogurt is milk acidified by bacterial action. Bacterial groups of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria produce so much acid during the fermentation process that other molds and bacteria find it nearly impossible to invade the culture. Fermentation is also a natural nutritional aid. Take for example the nomadic Mongolian warriors of Genghis and Kublai Kahn. This army conquered most of the known world while drinking the fermented milk of the animals they rode into battle. Now that is efficiency. There are numerous types of beneficial vitamins and enzymes produced in the fermentation process. In moderation, beer and wine are also good for us.

STORING PET FOOD AT HOME

Kibble has a shelf life of various durations for a few reasons: we allow food to be exposed to varying amounts of air, fluctuating temperatures, high temperatures, and moisture. Maintaining low moisture and antioxidant levels blocks the effect of incompletely oxidized fats and proteins (these are those pesky free radicals again). In cars, the incomplete combustion of gas results in certain nitrogen products and carbon monoxide emissions. This is why we have platinum catalytic converters – to provide an environment for chemical reactions whereby toxic combustion by-products are converted to less-toxic substances. The prevention of kibble oxidation involves a similar exercise in chemistry. And you probably never thought you’d read a conversation comparing kibble to car parts. You’re welcome.

When a bag of pet food is purchased, as we’ve said, don’t buy more than your pet can consume in a month. If you do make it a practice to buy foods in bulk, think about freezing all but a 30-day supply. Remember, the quality of the food begins to deteriorate rapidly the minute that bag is opened. Manufacturers like Eagle, Wysong, Merrick, Solid Gold, Wellness, Eukanuba, etc. all use vapor proof bags that preserve the food much better before it is opened.

Don’t take the food from the bag. It may seem like a sound pet food storage solution to pour the food from the bag into a plastic storage container of some kind; however, if there is a recall, it is important to know the lot number of your particular bag so the offending ingredient can be tracked and you can have the piece of mind knowing that your particular bag of food has not been implicated. If the food has been contaminated, holding onto the bag means you also know to whom and how to respond. This goes for both human and pet foods. Additionally, foods removed from their bags typically have increased rates of oxidation when in a plastic container that is opened every day.

We suggest you keep pet food, once opened, in its original bag and then place that bag and its contents in a plastic container. Ideally you would take a week of food out at a time so that you do not continually expose the stored food to air and moisture each day. The less often food is exposed to moisture and oxygen, the less it deteriorates. Also do not store food in areas with rapid temperature fluctuations such as your porch, basement or garage. These environments increase condensation. Bags left on the floor, especially bags that are not vapor sealed, inhale moisture and deliver it directly to the kibble. Moisture results in the formation of molds that we don’t always see; molds can be especially damaging because they can produce a toxin called aflatoxin that will attack your pet’s liver (and even your own, if you’re not careful). The deterioration of food, especially in low-density fats like chicken and fish oils that are so healthy when produced from quality sources, causes those nasty free radicals, rancidity and protein deterioration that put great stress on primary organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

FOOD FRESHNESS KEEPS A PET EATING REGULARLY

Think about what it would smell like if you let a stick of butter or a chicken breast go rancid on your countertop. Now think about how your pets can smell at least 100 times better than we can. Is it any wonder why pets sometimes turn their noses up at their food? The processes that destroy the makeup in that piece of chicken are the same at work on the freshness of your pet’s kibble. So if your pet suddenly refuses a food he’s eaten for months or even years, it may not be time to completely switch foods… instead, maybe it’s time to improve your methods of pet food storage.

free radicals - food spoilage

 

Burton’s Blog: Class Action against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish

Burton’s Blog: Class Action against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish

Burton's BlogRachael Ray’s pet food has hit the news. The media (not surprisingly) seized the wrong talking point. They said the reason for a class action suit against the brand is that Nutrish claimed that it was all-natural. It was also stated that the manufacturer used Roundup herbicide. I don’t believe that. The class action suit brought against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish confirms what we already know about manufacturers and their “all natural” claims.

There were some herbicide residues on the grains used in Nutrish. That is true of most grains going into all manufactured foods. I have long told people that there is no such thing as a truly all-natural kibble. Some kibble manufacturers just exaggerate their wholesomeness more than others. In the case of Rachel Ray’s Nutrish, some of their foods contain soybean meal. This is the real problem. I would not feed soybeans to dogs for a couple of reasons.

Soybean production relies on Roundup to clean the fields of weeds. Because soybeans are a low-lying crop, weeds easily overtake the fields. RoundUp has been used for decades. The chemical found in food grown with Roundup is glyphosate, which also happens to be the chemical popping up in analysis of Nutrish kibble. Any foods using Round are bound to show traces of the chemical.

As far as I know, we’re still not aware of the possible health hazards caused by residues of this herbicide. I believe the class action suit will find it hard to declare and prove damages, but in my mind that is not the issue. I don’t trust contaminants, which is why I wouldn’t feed an animal a food containing soybean meal as a protein replacement. Being wary of the potential hazards of contaminants and awarding specific damages in a lawsuit is an entirely different matter. We need to make it clear to manufacturers that we won’t tolerate the contaminants. The only language big manufacturers speak is money. It is time that people became familiar with misrepresentation in the foods they buy. You’ve got to question everything on the package. Speaking of which, I wonder if tofu has been examined for herbicide residues.

I do not take “residues” seriously (in terms of legal ramifications) until we have evidence of medical issues resulting from the contamination, but I don’t want them in my food or my pet’s food either. The conundrum is that herbicides are used to grow food more economically. The price of food will reflect whether they’re actually using more organic methods for growing. It’s up to us to determine how we respond. Do we pay a little more per pound for the assurance that we’re not giving our pets traces of herbicide in their daily dish? Buying cheap food grown without herbicides or pesticides involves risk and reward. The reward is a few dollars in our pockets. The risk is the potential ramifications in terms of the long-term health of our pet.

I wouldn’t feed pets Rachael Ray’s Nutrish for a couple of reasons. First, Nutrish is a grain-based food, and I do not believe in feeding a grain-based food to a carnivore. Second, I won’t feed anything made with soybeans. We’ve known for years that soybean meal is a poor protein replacement. Carnivores do not digest soybean very well. Plus, as we’ve learned from this individual case, soybeans are likely to retain traces of the herbicides use to control the inevitable weed growth in soybean fields.

It is inevitable that some herbicides or their metabolites will be present in our food. We’ve known it for decades. It is the reason organic foods have become more popular. Whether we take these herbicide and pesticide metabolites seriously depends on their effect on us. How will we know for sure? How can we gauge their long-term effects?

I don’t want them in my food or my pet’s food, but many people have fallen victim to the claims by some manufacturers that their food is “all natural.” Some foods claim “real chicken.” None of this means anything. Food labeling will never catch up with what we know about food because the manufacturers won’t let it happen. They need to keep people in the dark, keeping them buying food and thereby keeping their margins up so that they can continue to create new and innovative ways to lie to the public. Research into long-term food safety doesn’t pay. The best-case scenario is that they prove what we already know – that good food doesn’t come in a cheap bag. Let’s consider the biggest lie of all. If a food is processed, there is literally no such thing as “all natural.” Do you believe that dogs of yore wandered the fields and prairies in search of the elusive wild kibble?

Consider soybeans since they’re on my mind. In order to be put into a kibble as soybean meal, almost all of it is solvent-extracted to remove the oils. That is as far from “all natural” as you can get. Let’s look at the big soybean picture: Treat fields with Roundup, plant soybeans, harvest soybeans, process soybeans with solvent extraction. Anything left becomes the mean in our pets’ food, herbicides and all. As Rachael Ray would say, doesn’t that sound absolutely delish?

I believe Ainsworth (now General Mills) has done what all major brands do to sell their product. They blatantly misrepresent the quality of their food, and sometimes I think I’m the only one that thinks this needs to stop. Regarding the specific danger of Nutrish? I can’t begin to guess. We just don’t know what kind of damage this contamination could cause our pets. This is really an exercise for researchers. Even then we still need to question whether they’ve done a study to reflect the long-term exposure of ingesting trace amounts of herbicide day after day, year after year.

For now I’d recommend Ainsworth stop using ingredients grown using RoundUp. This would result in a price increase for the consumer or a lower margin for the manufacturer. The shareholders won’t like that, and you’re smart enough to know what’s probably going to happen in that case.