I have very very very mixed feelings about Hill’s. On the one hand, they pour a lot of money into things that genuinely benefit vet students…not to mention the goodies they offer, like the sportin’ Hill’s backpacks and the student lunches and the pens. I love pens.
On the other hand, I don’t like the unholy alliance they seem to have with the nation’s vet schools–teaching nutrition classes, providing free nutrition textbooks authored by Hill’s scientists, etc.
Take this excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article** (note that Hill’s is owned by Colgate-Palmolive):
“I was struck by the similarity of our world-wide toothpaste business, with the endorsement of the dentists being so important,” Mr. Mark says. “I knew if we did the same thing with Hill’s, it could be an enormous global brand.”
So, similar to Colgate’s spadework in dental schools, Hill’s now funds a nutrition professorship in nearly half of the nation’s vet schools. Hill’s employees wrote a widely-used textbook on small-animal nutrition that is distributed for free to students. Hill’s also sends practicing veterinarians to seminars on wringing more profit from clinics and offers the only formal nutrition-certification program for clinic technicians. In a savvy marketing coup now being copied by other pet-food companies, Hill’s each year donates tons of free food for the pets of cash-strapped veterinary students.
There’s just something about that approach that ruffles my feathers. Perhaps, as a non-trad student, I’m just more of a skeptic than my peers, but I don’t like the idea of being bought.
My mistrust of Hill’s goes even further, however. Here I present “Ten Things I Hate About Hill’s,” in no particular order:
1. Subscribing to the idea that kibble = food. Kibble is convenient, to be sure, but it’s not remotely close to natural.
2. Suggesting that eating the same food day in and day out is healthy. If your doctor told you to feed your child the same baked crackers for every meal of his/her entire life, you would think your doctor was nuts. For some reason, not everyone carries over such logic to our pets.
3. Advertising their foods are “complete and balanced.” BS. We learn new things about the body every day, and we will probably never know what constitutes complete and balanced. Not to mention that it’s highly unlikely that any one foodstuff can contain every nutrient the body needs to thrive. Survive, maybe, but not thrive.
4. Claiming their food is high quality. If I can’t eat it myself, I don’t think it’s high quality. Is it organic? Humanely raised? Who knows?
5. Charging a premium (that is, ridiculously high) price for their food, even when it isn’t of the highest quality.
6. Asserting that corn is a good protein. Meat is a good protein. Corn is a cheap substitute. When that approach fails, they sometimes use the “Real meat is the #1 ingredient!” approach. Never mind that ingredients 2 through 7 may be corn derivatives.
7. The previously mentioned unholy alliance with vet schools.
8. Being unable (or unwilling) to source their meat/corn/etc. I like to know exactly where my food comes from. Can they follow their ingredients all the way from the farm to the dinner bowl? I doubt it.
9. Suggesting that a prescription be required for some of their foods. Does a dog with kidney disease really need a prescription for a kidney diet? Would a pet owner really opt to feed Fluffy a urinary food if Fluffy didn’t need it? Seems like a clever marketing idea to me.
10. Who likes carcinogenic preservatives? Ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT… Sure, Monsanto, the very folks who make Ethoxyquin, did a study and found that it’s A-OK to use in pet food. But if it’s not allowed at the same level in human food, it gives me pause…
11. (*Bonus Reason*) This one may no longer be valid, but Colgate-Palmolive has a history of animal testing. How ironic.
Granted, none of these issues is unique to Hill’s. Take #3, for example…making a food “complete and balanced” is something the Ivory Tower teaches us vet students how to do. I just think it’s a misguided notion, because it suggests that feeding a single foodstuff is perfectly healthy.
Also, I should point out that I don’t think Hill’s is the worst thing you can feed your pet by any means. But I certainly don’t believe it’s the best, either. So why do people come out of vet school recommending Hill’s if it isn’t the best? Am I just wrong? Should I really be less concerned about what I feed my pets? Or is something horribly amiss with the way vet schools teach nutrition?
The thing that really eats me is that some classmates who once sided with me in being Hill’s-wary have since rescinded their positions, so as not to rock the boat! Unfathomable! If we don’t question Hill’s involvement with vet schools, who will?
**By Tara Parker-Pope. (1997, November 3). For You, My Pet: Why the Veterinarian Really Recommends That `Designer’ Chow — Colgate Gives Doctors Treats For Plugging Its Brands, And Sees Sales Surge — Offering a Fat-Cat Bounty. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), p. A1. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from Wall Street Journal. (Document ID: 21688558).
May 18, 2010 | 3 | Miscellany