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Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine

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Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine [Hardcover]

Marion Nestle
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 15, 2008
Marion Nestle, acclaimed author of Food Politics, now tells the gripping story of how, in early 2007, a few telephone calls about sick cats set off the largest recall of consumer products in U.S. history and an international crisis over the safety of imported goods ranging from food to toothpaste, tires, and toys. Nestle follows the trail of tainted pet food ingredients back to their source in China and along the supply chain to their introduction into feed for pigs, chickens, and fish in the United States, Canada, and other countries throughout the world. What begins as a problem "merely" for cats and dogs soon becomes an issue of tremendous concern to everyone. Nestle uncovers unexpected connections among the food supplies for pets, farm animals, and people and identifies glaring gaps in the global oversight of food safety.

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Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine + Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. For author and public health professor Nestle (Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health), the March 2007 pet food recall was the canary in the coal mine that would lead to a blitz of questions regarding the safety of imported food and goods. Begging comparison with Sinclair's The Jungle, Nestle begins with a real-life whodunit, tracing an outbreak of kidney failure deaths among cats and then dogs. A major pet food manufacturer had recently switched wheat gluten suppliers, paying 20 to 30 percent less to a broker importing from China (natch). Soon, it's revealed that two Chinese suppliers were passing off cheaper, toxic additives as gluten. As Nestle demonstrates, it's the tip of the iceberg; unraveling the links among "food safety, health policy, international trade, and the relationship of corporations to government," Nestle examines continuing food scandals, as well as the Chinese toy scare. Nestle finds most fault with the FDA; "still operating under food and drug laws passed in 1906 and modified in 1938," it's a systematically underfunded organization with an ever-increasing mandate and ever-shrinking powers of oversight. Though informative, this quick, clarifying read might easily make you sick to your stomach.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A detective story that identifies plenty of perpetrators as well as victims. . . .[Warns] that the problems wouldn't stop with animals”
(Atlantic 2008-09-29)

“Informative. . . Begging comparison with Sinclair’s The Jungle.”
(Publishers Weekly 2008-08-25)

“Fantastically readable.”
(Food & Wine 2008-09-30)

“Iluminate(s) the connections between the food supplies of humans, farm animals and pets. . . . Highlight(s) the broader failings of food regulation.”
(The Economist 2008-09-06)

“A serious investigative tome.”
(Financial Times 2009-04-19)

“A call to action that we can all hope the new Obama administration hears before there's a repeat of the tragedy.”
(Casper Star Tribune Sunday 2009-01-25)

“Nestle is one of the best writers on the general subject of the food industry. . .. Guaranteed to get you thinking.”
(Booklist 2008-09-01)

“Like a good novel, the book is a quick, even entertaining read. The message, however, is one that demands paying attention.”
(San Francisco Chronicle 2008-09-10)

“A call to action that we can all hope the new Obama administration hears before there's a repeat of the tragedy.”
(Sacramento Bee 2009-01-20)

“The information and its implications are eye-opening. It’s a call to action that we can all hope the new Obama administration hears.”
(Gina Spadafori The Daily Citizen 2009-01-23)

“Reads like a gripping murder mystery.”
( 2008-09-10)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (July 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520257812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520257818
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003. She also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

She has held faculty positions at Brandeis University and the UCSF School of Medicine. From 1986-88, she was senior nutrition policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health.

Her research examines scientific, economic, and social influences on food choice and obesity, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing.

She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (California Press, 2002, revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (California Press, 2003, revised edition 2010), and What to Eat (North Point Press, 2006). Her latest book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, was published by California Press in 2008. Feed Your Pet Right, co-authored with Malden Nesheim, will be published by Free Press in May, 2010.

She writes the Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and blogs daily (almost) at and for the Atlantic Food Channel at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story of the pet food recall of 2007 August 21, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Marion Nestle's book "Pet Food Politics" is about the pet food recall of 2007. For those of you who don't remember, there was a massive recall of pet food last summer. The recall began with cat food manufactured by Menu Foods (but sold under many other brand names including Iams, Nutro, and Hill's), but expanded into a large number of cat and dog foods under many different brand names. It became clear after the recall that the problem occurred because an unscrupulous Chinese supplier sold a mixture of wheat flour, cyanuric acid, and melamine as wheat gluten. As a pet owner, the recall inconvenienced me (I had to change my cats' foods). As a parent, I became greatly concerned about what I was feeding my daughter and began seriously looking at where the food I bought was produced. I bought this book because I wanted to better understand what happened.

I knew the basic story here, but did not know about the total number of pets who died (likely in the thousands), the reasons why melamine was substituted for the wheat gluten (cheap melamine looks like expensive protein when tested using standard industrial tests), nor what happened to the contaminated pet food (it was fed to livestock and made it into the human food chain).

This book is a fast read and is clear, well written, and very interesting. Unfortunately, it is too brief. I wish that Ms. Nestle had taken this opportunity to explain more about the pet food industry: its history, the major players, the processes used to make pet food. The story is fascinating, but it feels more like a New Yorker article than a book.

I would recommend this book to someone who was interested in the pet food recalls, though I think that most readers should start with other books about food production.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A BRILLIANT JOB OF UNTANGLING A COMPLEX WEB September 8, 2008
This book is a page-turner - and not just because it shows all the twists and turns that went on behind the scenes in the pet food recall. It is an eye-opener about the lack of government oversight or pet food company responsibility for what goes into pet food or how it is made. Just as the title makes clear, this is not a book about pet food manufacture and ingredients - that is the book the author was working on when the pet food recall happened. THAT book is forthcoming. This book is exactly what the title says: it's about the politics of pet food manufacture and sales and how our chihuahuas have been the sentinels as a wake-up call that our human food industry is no better. The author is neutral and balanced and generously gives benefit-of-the-doubt to the various players in this dangerous food drama, a fiasco that still haunts many of us with dogs and cats. Nestle's lack of judgmentalism is actually great because it allows you as the reader to discover how it all worked and bring your own moral indignation to the table, as it were. This book is like following a detective looking for an explanation of the economic,business, political and social elements that conspired to bring about a horrible Perfect Storm of tainted food. I was absolutely riveted by the meticulous research that went into unraveling the mystery and uncovering the obfuscation by many of the participants. As the author of "The Dog Bible" I can attest how hard some information is to come by, especially in nutrition, so I was so impressed by this book that I invited the author, Marion Nestle, onto my live NPR radio show DOG TALK on September 27th. You can sign up for the free podcast or listen live online and decide for yourselves. I say she's done a brilliant job and given us a really significant heads-up for ourselves as well as our pets. I will wager that you'll click on "buy now" once you've heard her talk.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book! November 2, 2008
Marion Nestle presents an insightful, disturbing analysis of the recent contamination of many popular brands of pet food by melamine, an industrial waste chemical. She prints a list of affected brands at the back of the book and I was horrified to discover that the "high quality" mail order food I was feeding two of my dogs was on the list (although I have not had any problems). Even more disturbingly, she discusses how the globalization of food distribution has put not just pet food but human food at risk. Just after I finished reading this book, reports of melamine-laced milk products sickening thousands of babies in China appeared in the major news outlets. Everyone, not just pet owners, should read this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Investigation October 2, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This short book provides a competent overview of the China melamine pet food scare of two years ago. As a dog owner who lived through it and searched for updates on what was safe and what wasn't, I was very interested in Nestle's investigation and findings after the fact. While I was reading it, the news broke about the same kind of poisoning in baby formula in China. Had I not seen that, I might have believed that once the perpetrator of the pet food poisoning was executed!! the poisoning would stop, but no. As Nestle expertly explains, despite the lack of safely involved with worldwide food production, the United States is woefully short of regulatory and safety inspectors for these products as they come into the country and are combined with other ingredients and then distributed to companies who make food of all kinds and specifically pet food. Maybe, pet food companies will take more care in their formulations, however, all pet owners should take the time to investigate the manufacturer of the food they use and pay extra for the better brands of pet food. Nestle lists the brands that had to be recalled for both cat and dog food in the back of her book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing yet important for pet owners
I just got the book, although it is a few years old now. This book is a serious yet important book about one of the largest recalls in the food industry. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kenny Coogan
4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely Done
I enjoyed this book slightly less than Ms. Nestle's other books, but only because there was so much she couldn't tell readers - through no fault of her own. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Burgundy Damsel
5.0 out of 5 stars Pet Food Politics
Really informative read. Points out the complexities of the food distribution system - how it is really a global system.
Published on November 28, 2011 by Nifty Fifty
5.0 out of 5 stars scary, and not just for our pets
When my cat was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, I started taking an even greater interest in the food she was eating. Read more
Published on July 30, 2011 by J-J-J-Jinx!
5.0 out of 5 stars That's why we feed RAW to our dogs
This books tells you whats wrong with our system. Dog food you buy these days is full of "by-product" and filler. What is by-product? Read more
Published on March 9, 2010 by Sheila Coffield
4.0 out of 5 stars Lindsay's review
An eye-opening novel about weaknesses in the food industry and the organizations we count on to regulate food safety. A great read.
Published on October 5, 2009 by Lindsay M. Petersen
5.0 out of 5 stars Human Food Beware
The full title's second part, "The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine" was the underlying point of this non-fiction story. Read more
Published on July 14, 2009 by Naomi M. Sundalius
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! This book will change you.
Not only did this book change the way I look at the pet food supply system, it gave me an awareness of the politics of pet and human food and how not being aware can cost you and... Read more
Published on February 17, 2009 by Lionwoman
5.0 out of 5 stars Get the scoop on melamine, China, and the FDA
This book provides a knowledgeable and well-written examination of the scandal resulting from melamine contamination of U.S. pet food by Chinese processors. Read more
Published on December 14, 2008 by jpandjf
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent information for all animal lovers
I found the information in this book very interesting. It is packed full of information that kept me turning the pages - I finished this book in a little over a day and am still... Read more
Published on September 15, 2008 by S. Look
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