Feeding your pets in the modern day can be so complicated. Just like for humans, trying to find the best, healthiest lifestyle for your pet involves many questions and a lot of research. If you are vegan, which of your pets can also be vegan? Is it better to home-make your food? Can you trust commercial pet food to be fully nutritious? Is organic cat food better? We like to tackle these kinds of questions – one answer at a time. So, let’s get to grips with organic cat food!
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What is Organic Cat Food?
Organic food makes us think of food that has been grown naturally, without chemicals. But, as we have discussed in a previous article, the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ have subtle legal differences. Understanding what is specifically meant by ‘organic’ will help us to pin down exactly what you can expect when you buy organic cat food.
Organic food is food produced without the use of pesticides. Pesticides are chemicals that are used on crops to kill pests, like insects and weeds, that would otherwise damage the crops. While they seem like a useful tool for an efficient harvest, they can cause a lot of damage to the environment and beyond. Criticisms of pesticides include:
- They are, by definition, toxic, which can devastate local biodiversity by endangering local species, and affecting the balance of the food chain.
- They often reach water sources, spreading the toxic effect to other areas beyond the intended pasture.
- Their toxicity may be a risk to humans and other consumers, such as our cats.
The extent of the problem that pesticides pose to humans and the environment is hotly debated. Many studies have found that non-organic human foods, while having more traces of pesticides, do not usually have enough pesticides present to be harmful.
The rules and definitions for organic food are determined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They have determined that organic food is:
- Crops grown in a field that has been free of pesticides for a minimum of three years
- Livestock that is fed on organic crops, are reared with access to the outside, and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Farm produce that meets this standard can be labeled ‘organic’, however, there is also the question of how many organic ingredients are needed for an entire product to be given this label. For cat food, the Association of American Feed Control has created four distinct categories of organic food. These are:
- 100% organic.
This is food that is, unsurprisingly, 100% organic. None of it should have had contact with pesticides during the growing or rearing process.
Slightly more surprisingly, you cannot assume that an ‘organic’ product is 100% organic. However, as only foods that are at least 95% organic can be given this label, you won’t be far off.
- Made with organic
This very vague label is given to food that uses more than 70% organic ingredients, and less than 95%, which is still reasonably high, depending on how organic you wish to be.
- Less than 70% organic
Finally, other foods can describe themselves as ‘less than 70% organic’, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It is worth noting that, technically, this means that a food that is 1% organic and one that is 69% organic can have the same label, so watch out.
What are the Benefits?
While understanding the legalese of the term ‘organic’ is useful, ultimately, you most want to know why you should consider making the switch. There are essentially two key arguments for switching to organic cat food:
- The moral argument
Pesticides are bad for local biodiversity. Unfortunately, current alternatives, such as handpicking, are time-consuming and costly. This a a thorny issue with passionate voices on both sides. But, regardless, a major benefit of buying organic cat food is that you know for certain that you are not contributing to the destruction of wildlife through the introduction of toxic chemicals. Organically-reared animals are also often more ethically treated, with access to the outside for fresh air and exercise.
- The health argument
As the major motivation for most cat owners, the issue of the health benefits of organic cat food are often disputed. Many articles argue that your cat will have a longer life, a shinier coat, and better digestion once they are free of the chemicals in normal cat food, but recent studies have brought into question the extent that pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics can be passed along in food. It is also often argued that industrial heat treatments are sufficient for killing off any and all dangers in cat food during production, from E.coli to pesticides.
Regardless, it has been scientifically proved that there are significantly fewer pesticides found in organic food than non-organic food, so if you have concerns about the effects that these chemicals may have on your cat, you should try to switch to organic cat food.
So, is Organic Cat Food Better?
The truth is, there is really only one definite down-side to switching to organic cat food – the cost. Organic pet foods are known to be a lot more expensive than ordinary pet foods at $3.66 per pound, rather than $2.28 per pound. Interestingly, natural pet food is $2.64 per pound. For many pet owners, this means they can’t afford to provide their kitty cat with organic food.
What would really settle this debate is the creation of a cheap, 100% organic cat food that is a little kinder on our wallets. Then, it would be easy to justify switching to organic to help support biodiversity and for the potential health benefits to our cats.
As it is, you have to weigh up the options on your own. Do you think pesticides pose a risk to your cat? Are you concerned about their ecological impact? Or is it too much to ask of your monthly budget?