The American Veterinary Medical Association House of Delegates is meeting August 3 through 7, 2012, in San Diego, Calif. Among the items on the agenda is a proposed policy on the feeding of “raw or undercooked animal-source protein diets” for pets.

The new position statement, drafted by the AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine, states, “The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”

The proposed policy is based on the fact that studies have shown that raw or undercooked animal protein might be contaminated with pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, among others. According to the AVMA, if raw foods are not cooked to a specific temperature prior to feeding, pets may be contaminated with these organisms, which can lead to illness or possibly death. Although animals that have ingested these harmful pathogens may not become ill, they can harbor the microorganisms and transmit them to other animals or humans.

The AVMA’s proposed policy on raw diets includes feeding of beef, pork, poultry, fish and other meat and bones from domesticated or wild animals. Photo ©

The organization’s “Facts on AVMA’s Proposed Policy on Raw Pet Food Diets” has received almost 850 comments on the AVMA website, many that take the issue of pet foods and feeding well beyond the initial proposal.

Dave Chico, chair of the CPHRVM, noted in a lengthy comment regarding the controversy that members of the council include veterinarians that are employed fulltime in the field of public health. These professionals “felt that it was important to acknowledge that ‘raw’ or undercooked protein sources carry some risk of disease development for the animals fed them, as well as for the people in contact with animals fed these diets.” He went on to say, “Certain segments of the human population, including the immune compromised, the elderly and the young, may face greater risks when exposed to pathogens potentially found in ‘raw’ or undercooked protein. … The intent of the policy was not to dictate a specific diet type for all companion animals. It was developed to acknowledge that there is some risk presented to both animals and humans when companion animals’ diets contain ‘raw’ or undercooked protein sources, just as there are risk for humans that eat ‘raw’ or undercooked protein.”

Numerous comments on the website address past recalls of commercially prepared pet foods and the fact that the AVMA does not currently have a policy statement regarding the safety of these products. Chico responded with a promise to bring this before the house of delegates when he said, “I will make those concerns known at our next scheduled council meeting in August, and will discuss potential policy development on this topic with the CPHRVM members.”

Advocates of raw food diets for pets cite improvements in skin issues; absence of allergic reactions; clean, healthy teeth; and better overall health as just a few of the reasons that a raw diet is superior to commercially manufactured pet foods.

In a statement posted on the AVMA website on July 18, 2012, the organization states, “This proposed policy is about mitigating public health risks, not about restricting or banning any products. … Our policies are based on a thorough review of the scientific literature and are drafted by veterinarians with expertise in relevant fields (in this case, public health).”

Studies cited by the AVMA were reported in the “Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association” and the “Canadian Veterinary Journal,” as well as one published in ”Clinical Infectious Diseases,” the official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. The study was entitled

“Human health implications of Salmonella-contaminated natural pet treats and raw pet food.”

The AVMA was established in 1863 and is a not-for-profit association that represents more than 82,500 veterinarians who work in private and corporate practices, government, industry, academia and the military.