» The Facts About Grain-Free Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Part Two — The Scandal - The Optimal Dog

The Facts About Grain-Free Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Part Two — The Scandal

The Facts About Grain-Free Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Part Two — The Scandal

I wrote part one of this two-part series in August 2018. At the end of it I told readers to expect part two in “about a month.”

That was about a year ago.

So why’d it take so long? In short, I’ve come to believe there’s a scandal at the heart of the matter and it has taken me longer than I expected to develop the evidence documenting everything. Sorry for the delay, but once you get through this post, I hope you’ll be understanding.

In the course of discussing this issue with journalists, scientists, veterinarians, and everyday pet-owners over the past few months, one problem I’ve repeatedly encountered is that it takes a long time to explain it all. There’s a great deal of material to unpack. So, if you’re time-limited, there are three pieces of writing you should consider:

1) This short op-ed I wrote for CrossFit. CrossFit has fought back (and won!) against an industry-funded scientific misinformation campaign very similar to the one that appears to be underlying the FDA’s DCM investigation. The company’s founder, Greg Glassman, recognized the FDA investigation for what it is and was good enough to invite me to publish on their website so I could explain everything to their readers.

2) This Medium article. It distills the primary information down into ten key take-homes for pet owners.

3) This website. If you want to read and support my request that the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association retract a hugely popular but highly misleading article that is creating a false narrative about DCM, go there.

On with the facts.

 

The FDA’s investigation was initiated by a group of American veterinarians with financial ties to three pet food companies, Nestle-Purina Petcare, Mars Petcare, and Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Those three companies (which I’ll call “The Big Three” hereafter) all have something in common: they primarily sell grain-based, kibble-style pet foods and have a profit incentive to depress sales of the grain-free products with which they compete.

In addition to prompting the FDA investigation, this same group of veterinarians also co-authored an article about diet-associated DCM which was published in JAVMA last December. Their article has been wildly popular–over the past twelve months it has been the most widely-read article in the most widely-read veterinary science journal on the planet. At more than 80,000 downloads as of July 2019, it may be the most widely-read veterinary science article ever written.

Which is a problem, because I firmly believe that the article should be retracted. It grossly mischaracterizes the evidence surrounding its subject, it relies on anecdotes and conjectures instead of evidence, it misrepresents studies that were unpublished at the time it went to print, it was written by veterinarians with financial ties to the Big Three, it defames dozens (if not hundreds) of other pet food companies, and (perhaps most striking of all) its authors managed to cleverly avoid the peer-review process that ordinarily works to ensure that bad science writing isn’t published in academic journals.

It took me the better part of the year to develop all the evidence associated with these allegations. The investigation involved public records disputes at both the state and federal level, novel biochemical analyses conducted by an independent laboratory, statistical work, and more than a dozen interviews with veterinary nutritionists and animal scientists.

I condensed all of this into a draft report and presented it to Dr. Lisa Freeman (the corresponding author of the JAVMA article and a leading proponent of the supposed link between DCM and “BEG” pet foods) at the 2019 American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Conference. She laughed at me. And, to date, she has offered no response.

But I also passed out a couple hundred copies of the report to the other attendees at the conference. And in the month that followed more than 200 veterinarians, animal scientists, representatives of “BEG” pet food companies, and other stakeholders co-signed it and endorsed the call for JAVMA to retract its problematic article.

Last Friday I finally delivered the retraction demand package to JAVMA‘s editor-in-chief, Dr. Kurt Matushek. Here’s a link. For the most part the materials speak for themselves. But a few items require some elaboration.

In two different cases, the JAVMA article cites studies conducted by its authors that were unpublished at the time the JAVMA article went to print. Both of these studies have now been published. And they both have problems of their own. Those problems are described in detail in my letter and summarized in the Medium article. One’s a mysterious case of disappearing data. The other is a glaring methodological abnormality.

A second issue is the accessibility of relevant governmental records under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and its various state-level analogues. As part of my investigation, I filed public records requests with a host of state offices and federal governmental agencies, including the public universities where several of the relevant veterinarians are employed, as well as with the FDA itself.

Thus far, the FDA has refused to produce any of the documents associated with its investigation into canine DCM. I believe this stonewalling to be unlawful. So I recently filed a federal lawsuit against the FDA, demanding that the records be produced to me in accordance with FOIA. You can read the lawsuit for yourself — I included a copy with the retraction demand package.

Some of the state universities have been more forthcoming. I have uploaded the e-mails, financial records, and other documents they produced to this online repository. I intend to continue updating these files as more relevant documents are produced to me over the months ahead.

And that gets to my final point: this is an on-going story and I’ll continue to update it. I’ll let you know when JAVMA makes a decision. I’ll let you know if any notable records get produced to me. I’ll cover any new science that gets published. And I’ll do my best to weigh-in when any relevant news drops.

Thanks for reading.

7/31 UPDATE: Just a few days after I published my retraction demand package, Ryan Yamka PhD, one of the most well-regarded and high-profile animal nutritionists in the country has also called for the JAVMA article to be retracted.

3 Comments

  1. Jackie says:

    Thank you so much for all your research. My Vet tried to give me the lecture about “Grain Free Dog Foods”. I told her about your website. Now I can tell her about Ryan Yamka PhD jumping on board.
    If she tried to lecture me, then she’s told every client she has, 1000’s.
    All my dogs are on grain free and have never been healthier.
    I look forward to reading additional information you provide.
    Thanks again,
    Jackie StCyr

  2. Patricia says:

    And you, sir, of course have “no financial ties” to a grain free dog food company.

    • Yes (and I haven’t tried to hide it — although I am on the record as saying that I don’t believe there’s any compelling evidence that grains are any more harmful for dogs than any other source of starchy carbohydrate). And you should definitely hold that against me when evaluating this work.

      That said, I’m not hearing you find fault with any specific aspects of my work. The financial conflicts of interest I cite in my retraction materials are evidence of the motivations for all the various problems I highlighted. They’re not de facto evidence of problems. The data scrubbing by Darcy Adin et al., failure to test for amino acids by Josh Stern et al., evasion of the peer review process, mischaracterizations of the existing evidentiary record, and failure to disclose certain financial conflicts of interest all stand, regardless of whether I have a financial conflict of interest too. Those aren’t minor issues and I’m surprised you think ignoring them is the best way to get to the truth about DCM.

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