Cats Employed as Taste Testers by Manufacturer

An appetent cat food

When readers made comments on my most recent article about Cornell University and FIP, I knew I had to tell the readers about a facility in my area that manufacturers cat food. Why? Because cats are used as test subjects for the products they create.

SFP has been in the Hodges area for only a few years now. Their head office appears to be in France (F-56250 Elven) but they are an international company with facilities in many countries. The say on their website that they are

no. 1 in appetents

Example of use: “an appetent cat food”

SFP make food very tasty and which smell attractive “a strong craving or desire” (an appetence). SFP are committed to producing appetence, they say. Basically they appear to make liquid palatability enhancers for the pet food industry (pet food flavours). Basic pet food is tasteless (Michael added this sentence). The enhancers in the jelly and gravy are vital.

Location of head office:


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I drive by their Hodges facility daily on my way to and from work. It’s very easy to tell when I’m nearing the plant, as you can smell the food. I often wonder whether the employees who have pets are attacked by their cats and dogs when they return from work. I imagine the odor may become quite nauseating if you’re forced to endure it for hours at a time. On a bright note, stray cats in the area should always be able to find their way home simply by smell.

I had a friend who used to work at SFP. He told me there are about 30 cats there that are used as test subjects on the palatability of the food. The cats are kept in cages, and they also have a veterinarian who cares for the cats. That would be a necessity since that many cats would up the odds of upper respiratory infections and other illnesses.

What a sad life that must be for a cat. I don’t know where the cats come from. I wouldn’t doubt if they also have a few dogs, since dog food is also manufactured there. Perhaps the employees brought in cats they no longer wanted. I just don’t know. It would be a lot like prison. To be fed on a daily basis, but never be free.

SFP prides itself on many things. One comment I found on their website is “Close to our partners, we can better understand market needs, take cultural aspects into account and integrate the food habits of local dog and cat populations into our thinking.” They boast of having scientists and such, with their goal to improve the taste of their cat and dog foods and treats. Their website claims they rank #1 in worldwide palatability.

This is an interesting page on their website. SFP talks about how their foods are tested. I believe I can translate this comment on their page. SFP says about their manufacturing process:

“It allows us to experiment, validate and test all our palatability solutions for dry and moist foods and treats in a context that can be transposed to our partners’ factories.”

I think this means cats (and possibly dogs) are used as test subjects to ensure the foods produced taste good and look good.

In January 2011, SFP received the Global PETS Forum Award for 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. SPF is part of DIANA, a group dedicated to natural solutions for the food, pet food and feed industries. This award recognizes the firm’s commitment to innovation and corporate social responsibility.

Their website mentions nothing about test subjects. It also doesn’t say anything about the ingredients used in their enhancers or in the food itself. My daughter Laura used to know one of the employees there. I asked her to ask him if rendered animals were used. He hung up on her. I hope the company is wise enough not to use parts from dead animals in their food. They have a nice building (from the outside), and I hope they respect cats and dogs and customers enough to use only quality ingredients. Since reading up so much on animal rendering, I’m suspicious of most pet food manufacturers until they give me a reason to think otherwise.

Readers, do you think its right for companies involved with manufacturing pet food, whether it’s the total product, or just a flavor enhancer, to keep cats for this purpose? I hope if they do, that the cats are held for a very minimum time period then switched out for different cats. Is this practice really necessary to determine what a cat likes when it comes to food and treats? What other methods could be used to safely test a new product and get accurate and scientific results?

Your comments are welcome.

Elisa

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Comments

Cats Employed as Taste Testers by Manufacturer — 8 Comments

    • Wash away the jelly and eat some 😉 Just joking. The rendered mess is cooked at extremely high temperatures which kills all bugs etc.. “Ash” is an included byproduct listed in the ingredients. This kills taste which is put back in with strong tasting and smelling additives. This is one reason why some cats lick the jelly and leave the cardboard (the lumps of protein).

  1. I don’t think cats should be kept in facilities to taste test for commercial gain. It is wrong. That is fairly obvious. The better way would be for the company to visit local households and ask them to conduct taste tests and pay them. There are probably rules against that or it is impractical but it would be much more ethical I feel.

  2. Some pet food firms test various special diets on cats in labs, Iams is one of the worst
    http://www.iamscruelty.com/
    I was told that they actually damage cats health in various ways in order to test the special food for that illness.
    We would never buy their food but many vets and shops do sell it of course!
    I agree with you Michael, it would be far more ethical for firms to conduct their research by having people do taste tests at home. I think anyone with a poorly cat, for example with kidney disease would gladly take the chance without being paid, of trying out a food to help their cat.

  3. Elisa I’m sure you read about the Hills visit and Purina visit on the blogosphere if not through Robin Olson’s article.

    They keep the cats there for their lifetimes and retire them at some stage. They get what they need but not what they want. They don’t get enough human attention for a start. Robin wrote a very good article about that in the sense that she was there where it happens and reported on it well should I say.

    I don’t like it personally. At Hills it’s similar – they are kept and retired. Poor things. They need more humans per cat. They do get everything they ‘need’ otherwise though like vet care and food and cat trees and toys and some human attention but not enough.

  4. On a very, very small scale Walter and Jozef have been testers for cat food. I’m on a Tesco Home Panel and from time to time am sent various things to test, there is no payment for it, it’s just for the interest of testing and commenting on the products, most things are tested and used up straight away but odd times there has been bedding or a pair of jeans which I got to keep after the test. So Walter and Jozef have tried sachets of cat food a few times, sometimes they’ve obviously enjoyed it and sometimes they’ve ignored it totally(because they’re cats and that’s what cats do) but to me this is the best way to test cat food,by people volunteering, the cats not being forced to eat the food or go without and it just being one or two days testing during their normal, free, lives and preferred diets.

  5. Monty would be a poor taste tester since he eats anything put in front of him, except beef cat food three days in a row apparently. I threw it away and served him chicken, but not in his room, he wanted it under our bed. He purred his thanks from under there for my understanding him, while my husband just shook his head.

    • Your comment makes me think how they actually do the taste testing because cats will eat a wide range of things especially when hungry. It makes me a bit fearful as to how this company measures a cat’s like or dislike of a particular taste. It is probably done in a way that is not good for the cat based on my experience of business.

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