Raw food firm wants to work with vets to address concerns

A leading producer of raw pet foods believes the dietary programme will become more mainstream in the coming years, despite the fears of some vets and scientists.

Bosses of Bella and Duke have urged veterinary industry leaders to take a closer look at their work, which they estimate is now serving more than 200,000 pets across the UK.

The BVA, which has previously warned of a “significant risk” from a raw diet, is expected to review its position in the coming months. But the Fife-based firm said it wants to engage with vets to understand their concerns as it anticipates continuing growth in demand from owners.

RawSAFE accredited

Co-founder Tony Ottley said: “Raw has been out on the periphery and now it’s coming more to the centre.

“It’s not core yet, but it is coming more to the centre and as every year goes by, more owners put their dogs on to raw, and more are buying it and more are getting involved.”

Formed in 2017 after Mr Ottley and his co-founder Mark Scott both lost dogs to cancer, Bella and Duke is one of the producers that are already accredited under the RawSAFE scheme, which was unveiled earlier this year.

The company, which employs around 130 staff, also invested more than £5 million during the coronavirus pandemic on developing a new factory at Inverkeithing, around a mile from its head office in Rosyth, near Dunfermline.

From there, it is producing around 250,000 packs of food for cats and dogs every week, and has the capacity to more than double that.

‘Significant zoonotic threat’

Much of the academic concern about raw feeding relates to concern over the greater reported prevalence of Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant forms of Escherichia coli among raw-fed dogs.

Earlier this year, scientists from the University of Bristol argued the practice posed a “significant zoonotic threat” because of the greater risk of raw-fed dogs carrying bacteria that could cause infections in humans. But the company is working with some universities on research projects and hopes to have studies published next year.

Many of its senior staff joined the firm from roles in human food production and its approach underpins both their process and the RawSAFE programme.

Through measures including the use of approved suppliers, keeping its meat frozen throughout the production and delivery process, and the use of high-grade equipment of the kind used in human food plants, the firm believes it is doing all it can to tackle the issue and wants the industry as a whole to do the same.

Mr Ottley said: “RawSAFE came about because of our food background. Because we were involved with human food, we understand the processes and accreditations that need to be put in place.

“We’re happy for anyone to come around our factory at any time. We want to raise standards in the industry. There’s a lot out there doing it. We need to make sure they’re doing it properly.”

Many studies of raw feeding have shown owners reported perceived health benefits from the diet, including improved faecal consistency, oral hygiene and coat condition.

The company’s own customer surveys reflect those ideas, with 91% reporting an overall improvement in their pet’s health within eight weeks of switching to a raw diet and similar numbers reporting improvements in relation to issues such as weight, skin itching and irritable bowel syndrome.

But, at a time when many owners are worried about the cost of looking after their pet amid the current economic gloom, the suggestion that 58% of owners have seen a reduction in vet bills after turning to raw bolsters bosses’ beliefs that their approach is making a real difference.

BVA working group

The BVA has said it is “scoping” a working group to examine current issues relating to pet diets. It is likely to begin work either before the end of this year or during the early part of 2023.

The organisation has previously opposed a home-made raw diet because of the risk of nutritional deficiency and has urged owners using commercially prepared products to take precautions before doing so.

But supporters of the practice insist far more significant factors exist in the spread of bacteria. Asked what their message to the association would be, Mr Scott said: “We have to do right by them. All we’re asking the BVA is to re-evaluate if they’re there for the pet, pet parents or both.”

Representatives of the company will also be at the London Vet Show later this month as they look to step up their engagement with the profession.

They said they want to hear directly from vets what their concerns are, and enable them to visit the factory, so that they can be addressed, for everyone’s benefit.

Mr Scott added: “We’re not vet bashers in the slightest. We want to work with vets.”

This content was originally published here.

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