In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, acting on input from a group of veterinary researchers, began investigating whether the increasing popularity of grain-free dog foods had led to a sudden rise in a potentially fatal heart disease in dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy.
Four years later, the FDA has found no firm link between diet and dilated cardiomyopathy. Nor has it rejected such a link, and research is ongoing. Publicity surrounding this issue, nevertheless, has shrunk the once-promising market for grain-free dog foods.
Furthermore, a tangled web of industry funding and interests appears to have influenced the origin, data collection, and course of the FDA study, according to internal FDA records.
A six-month investigation by 100Reporters has found that veterinarians who prompted the FDA to consider diet have financial and other ties to the leading sellers of grain-inclusive pet foods. Additionally, agency records show that for the initial study, some vets were instructed to submit only dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases that implicated grain-free, “exotic” or “boutique” pet foods. Suppliers of ingredients used in grain-free dog foods have also exerted pressure on the FDA to protect their market.
Consequently, the conversation around DCM and grain-free food is deeply divided, with each side claiming the other is prioritizing industry relationships over scientific integrity and the lives of pets.
“This became such an emotional issue,” said Dana Brooks, CEO of the Pet Food Institute, whose members produce most pet foods in the US. “We’re scrambling to try to even determine what’s going on.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Grain-free pet diets became popular in the early 2000s, relying heavily on pulses — seeds from legume plants including peas, beans and lentils. By 2019,...