Feeding the First Puppy

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In case you were wondering about my thoughts on what the Obamas should be feeding their new First Puppy, I did an interview with Obama Foodorama on that very topic: "The Obamas get a new puppy and policy issues get unleashed."

Obama Foodorama: The Obamas have been urged to use the White House kitchen as a "bully pulpit" to guide America's eating habits. What's your opinion of the The Bull (Doggy) Pulpit? Should America be privy to these details about the First Dog, too?

Marion Nestle: The Obamas made an enormously important symbolic statement about the importance of sustainable food production when they started planting an organic garden at the White House. It would be great if they carried these same values over to pet food. Remember: We just have one food supply. And we want that food supply to promote the health of people, pets, and farm animals as well as the health of the planet...However if the Obamas do start talking about how they are feeding their puppy, they will be asking for big trouble--more than trouble about what they are doing about the economy, Afghanistan, or climate change. Nobody is more passionate about food choice than a dog lover.

Obama Foodorama: Given the recent fairly poor food safety history in commercial pet foods, should the Obamas feed the First Pup a commercial pet chow product?

Marion Nestle: I don't see anything wrong with feeding commercial pet food to the First Dog. If the Obamas want to open a can or scoop out some kibble, they will be doing what 90% of American dog owners do every day. All commercial dog foods are required to meet certain nutrition standards and for the most part they seem to. The canned ones are less likely to be contaminated than the kibbles but the overall risk is low. It's just that when something bad happens, it's truly awful.

Obama Foodorama: Is it just absurd that pet foods aren't regulated the same way as human food? What are a few changes that would make a huge difference for pet owners?

Marion Nestle: As I mentioned earlier, we only have one food system and one food supply. This means that pet food and human foods are intermingled. We saw this during the pet food recalls when surplus pet food and ingredients were fed to pigs, chickens, and fish. At FDA, separate agencies regulate animal and pet food (Center for Veterinary Medicine) and human food (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition). This really doesn't make any sense any more. The labels on pet food resemble those on animal feed. This also doesn't make any sense. Pet owners need to be able to read pet food labels. I'd like to see Pet Food Facts labels that look just like Nutrition Facts labels.

And for my latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Full plate for Obama's new FDA administrator," I deal with the question of what the new FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, needs to do to fix the agency's problems. She will need all the support we can give her.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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