Commercial Reptile Food Development: Two Scenarios
©2000 Melissa Kaplan
Through the years, I have been appalled at what pet product manufacturers put out into the market place. From "reptile-approved" bark litters and hot rock boxes with iguanas pictured on the packages - despite the fact that both products are harmful, often fatal, to iguanas, to freeze dried crickets, "liquid sunlight" and motorcycle jackets, it becomes painfully clear that the most important thing to both the manufacturers and pet stores is their own bottom line, not the health and welfare of the animals for whom they are producing products. I have through the years been contacted by individuals who are developing commercial food products. In talking with them, it was clear that my assessment of profit over animal welfare was all too accurate.
The subject of commercial food products frequently come up in discussions about green iguana diet, green iguanas being the most widely kept herbivorous lizard. While the more scholarly article Evaluating Commercial Diets, by reptile veterinarians/nutrition researchers Susan Donoghue and David Dzanis, addresses many of the concerns, I sometimes feel that some iguana keepers, especially those overwhelmed with what it takes to put together a healthy iguana diet from fresh plant foods, just aren't getting it.
To help illustrate the problem, I wrote the following as a post to the Iguanas Mailing List in 1999-2000. Since it first appeared, I have had the occasion to repost it, so I decided that it would save time and bandwidth to put it up at my site. While this is tongue-in-cheek, it is a cautionary tale, one that can be retold over and over again by those whose iguanas have been stunted in growth, development, suffered the painful side effects of advanced metabolic bone disease, and who just generally failed to thrive because of being kept on marginal commercial diets.
Commercial Food Development In A Less Enlightened Company
Marketing Director: Say, Bill, lookit this! Pet Product News says reptiles are a fast growing segment of the pet market. Millions are sold in the US every year!
Bill: Gross. What kind of weirdos would keep skanky reptiles as pets, fergawdsake!?
MD: Now, Bill, who cares what kind of idiots and weirdos keep 'em - if they got bucks to burn, let's give 'em something to burn those bucks on!
Bill: <grumpily acknowledging MD's wisdom> Okay, so what do you have in mind?
MD: Well, all animals gotta eat, right?
Bill: Oh, so, like we should just rework some of our old discarded cat and dog food formulas for these guys?
MD: Sure, why not! Those weird reptile owners aren't going to be able to tell the difference.
Commercial Food Development In A More Enlightened Company
MD: Well, all animals gotta eat, right?
Bill: Yeah, but what do they eat?
MD: Well, bugs and things I guess... I dunno - the closest I ever came to one was the time I killed that wild and vicious corn snake in my driveway... <MD leans head out of office doorway> Hey, Susie! C'mere!
Susie: Yeah, chief?
MD: We're going to start a line of reptile food product. Go find information on what they eat.
Susie: Sure thing...when d'ya want it by.
MD: How 'bout by lunch time.
[Susie goes off to find out what other reptile pet food manufacturers are using in their products, and compiles a list of corn, wheat middlings, soy, preservatives, chemicals and animal by-products. She is actually more motivated than most in her position, and so hits the library to do a little research. She picks up the TFH pet care book from the 19__ (pick a decade, any decade, they all say the same thing) that says they eat crickets and mice, and lots of lettuce. Cool. Just to double check her facts, she does a little Internet websurfing to do a little searching - very little. Comes across a 12-year old kid's website on Geocities that talks all about how good his hot rock is and how all of his iguanas have done so well on lettuce and grapes and worms and ain't it too bad that igs die of old age by the time they are 12 months old. Cool.]
Susie, reporting back to MD: Okay, I got it. Snakes eat rodents, so we can do some freeze dried ones - Company XYZ does pretty good selling dried ants and crickets, so these "Snakestix" oughta be okay. Some animals eat plants and animal stuff, so we can make a monitor-tegu-turtle-tortoise-iguana-salamander food - just think of the colorful label and ads we can make with all those reptiles on it! Now, iguanas are a big market segment, so maybe we come out with some special food for them...We can throw a bit of flower and leaves in there and call it something like Tropical Flower & Fruit Formula!
Bill and MD, nodding sagely: Y'know, I think we got next year's bottom line nailed down! Yeehawww!
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