Since it’s that time of year again when pumpkin spice everything reigns supreme, we’d like to present a seasonally appropriate ingredient feature. Pumpkin seeds, which we include in Evermore, are loaded with protein, amino acids, fiber, iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, folic acid and niacin—all important nutrients that contribute to your dog’s health.
Here’s the rub, those little green powerhouse pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, don’t usually come from the big orange pumpkins that adorn our stoops at Halloween. The USDA actually classifies quite a few closely related squashes as “pumpkins.” Most of the pumpkin seeds sold in health food stores are actually from the “Chinese Pumpkin,” which is also known as the “Japanese Pumpkin” or “Kabocha Squash.” These are widely cultivated in China, making it very difficult for us to find a domestic organic source of this seed. In fact, if you see certified organic pumpkin seeds at Whole Foods or your local co-op, they most likely come from China. It took some serious ingredient sleuthing to find an organic non-Chinese source of what is now among our most expensive ingredients.
There was a brief period when it seemed unlikely that we would be able to find a truly clean pumpkin seed source. This would have left us with the choice of purchasing either USDA organic seeds imported from China or non-organic seeds grown in the USA. As pet food makers, the answer is pretty clear. Educated pet consumers are emphatically against using any ingredients from China. Between the tragic melamine deaths of 2007 and the ongoing reports of illness and death from Chinese jerky treats, pet products from China have a record and a reputation of being tainted. In theory, the organic food production in China is meeting USDA organic standards, and human consumers are eating up imported Chinese organics for themselves. Normally pet food trends follow human food trends, but in this specific instance educated pet parents are ahead of the curve on the choices that they are making.
While organic certification strictly regulates what is allowed in crop cultivation, it does not take into account pre-existing or surrounding environmental contaminants. There is currently no requirement for heavy metal testing in organic or conventional foods. Given the pollution levels in China, imported organics are potentially much more hazardous than local conventional product. Additionally the lack of regulatory oversight means that the opportunity for fraud is rampant. There are simply not enough USDA inspectors to oversee the massive organic production from China, and much of this work is outsourced to third-party certifiers—and this is for food intended for human consumption, sold at health food stores with exceptional reputations! These problems are not unique to China.
Even domestically we have our fair share of heavy metal contamination and questionable regulation. With every aspect of sourcing, we must therefore learn all we can about where our ingredients come from and make educated decisions about what we are buying. Upon further investigation, it now seems that the best option for us is the Styrian seed, grown either in its native Austria or, more recently, in OR (quality being similar, the difference between them comes down to availability).
One thing we can say with certainty is that calling dog food (or any food for that matter) “human grade” is not enough. In order to safeguard the health of our families, human and non-human members alike, we must go above and beyond.