The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) just released its first ever dog food, Humane Choice. Launched in February 2010, the dog food does not contain animal-based proteins (it is a vegan, soy-based formula) or support the factory farming industry. HSUS is largely known as the nation's largest animal protection organization -- not a petfood manufacturer-- and has recently come under scrutiny by the Center for Consumer Freedom. The group, represented by blogger David Marosko, recently took out a full-page ad in the New York Times , accusing HSUS of failing to allocate a significant amount of donations to needy pet shelters.

In a blog post, Petfood Industry editor-in-chief Debbie Phillips-Donaldson voiced the thoughts of many industry insiders: "I have to confess surprise that an organization like HSUS would even enter this marketplace. Think about it: HSUS has consistently pursued an activist agenda targeting significant segments of the economy, including agriculture and even petfood in the wake of the 2007 US recalls. Is HSUS following the cliché, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em-convinced it can do better?" With a marketplace that has somehow remained incredibly resilient despite a worldwide recession and recent legislation like the petfood tax in California aimed at establishing a statewide animal abusers registry, one thing's for certain, HSUS has made a very strategic move.

"It was largely because of the 2007 recalls that we decided to look into producing our own brand of petfood," explains an HSUS spokesperson. "Pet owners lost confidence in the petfood industry, and we wanted to make sure there was a safe, organic, natural choice available in the marketplace." HSUS also advocated for federal legislation that passed Congress in 2007, requiring FDA to set ingredient and processing standards for petfood, strengthen labeling requirements, establish an early warning system for contaminated food products and improve communication with the public and veterinarians during recalls including a searchable online recall list posted on the agency's website.

Humane Choice is  a dry kibble that is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of adult dogs and does not contain corn, dairy, artificial coloring, wheat, wheat gluten, animal-based protein or ingredients produced by genetic engineering, according the society. "Our product is certified organic and does not contain any animal-based proteins or fats," according to an HSUS spokesperson. "It is a complete and balanced, natural, formula made with fresh vegetables and grains."

Another representative for HSUS states the organization employed the services of a two different veterinary nutritionists, both members of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, to evaluate the formula and ingredients as well as the specific forms of the vitamins and minerals used in Humane Choice to ensure that the vegan dog food would meet all the requirements established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials for adult dogs.

Currently, Humane Choice is available on Petco's website and at select Whole Foods Markets in New York and New Jersey, USA. According to an HSUS spokesperson, the dog food will be in select Petco stores and additional Whole Foods Markets in the spring.

Humane Choice is  produced by a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic-certified grower and manufacturer in Uruguay. "The family-owned and operated business has been growing grains and vegetables and making and exporting organic and vegetarian dog food for many years," HSUS explains.

Susan Thixton, the voice of TheTruthAboutPetFood.com, dug a little deeper and asked Sarah Barnett of HSUS to explain using an offshore manufacturer. "We sought a USDA-certified organic manufacturer with years of experience producing quality dog food and facilities that met our safety, sanitary, and environmental expectations," says Barnett. "The selection of such a partner means that we can supervise harvest, production and packaging of Humane Choice in one location, through a single-source supplier committed to local, sustainable agriculture."

But why has HSUS  suddenly decided to throw its hat in to the already flooded petfood arena? "HSUS developed this new dog food to give consumers an additional choice in the marketplace for pet lovers who want a safe, natural, organic and nutritionally complete food for their adult dog that doesn't support the factory farming industry," explains the HSUS spokesperson. "It's an opportunity to support our work confronting animal cruelty." An all-natural dog food may not seem like an obvious avenue for spreading animal cruelty awareness, but HSUS attests that's precisely why it released its petfood line.

"Every bag sold helps HSUS accomplish its mission to celebrate animals and confront cruelty," states the society. "HSUS receives 6% of the wholesale price to help fund our critical life-saving programs to rescue animals from disasters, provide spaying and neutering and other veterinary services, conduct undercover investigations of animal cruelty and more."

Does HSUS have more plans for the petfood market? "We are exploring the opportunity to produce a canned adult dog food under the Humane Choice brand and also exploring a cat food that meets the unique nutritional needs of cats," the HSUS spokesperson confides. "Pet lovers want not only a healthy and nutritious food for the animals in their families but also to know that they are making a difference for other animals around the world. With Humane Choice, we provide animal lovers an opportunity to make a difference."

See for yourself

To view a full package label and in-depth Q&A with HSUS, visit its website.