Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Natural Cat Food Throwdown: Natura Pet Products Enters the Arena

Natura Pet Products brought out their star fighter for the Natural Cat Food Throwdown. Don Scott, President of Natura, answered my questions about the company’s green initiatives and also about the ingredients in their EVO canned cat food. He even included a little cheeky reference to the Throwdown in his email response.

In case you’re not up to date on the Natural Cat Food Throwdown, Furball’s holistic vet recommended a number of high protein natural cat foods to help control his struvite crystals. I decided to contact the manufacturers to ask them some tough green questions about their products and practices. Based on the results, I’ll shortlist contenders to make it to Round 2, which is Furball’s finicky palate.

Mr. Scott’s response was by far, one of the longest. Here’s the text of the letter, but if you only want to read  the Throwdown summary, you can jump straight to the Judge’s Verdict.

Dear Holly,

Thank you for your interest in Natura Pet Products and the EVO brand of cat food. We understand your concerns and are happy to answer your questions.

Could you please tell me where your product is manufactured in terms of the ingredients and the processing?
All Natura Pet Products dry cat foods are produced at our own manufacturing facility in Fremont, Nebraska. Under supervision by Natura quality control personnel and utilizing the same quality management standards as in our own dry food manufacturing plant, Natura’s canned cat foods are manufactured by Menu Foods exclusively at its Emporia, Kansas facility.

By controlling all aspects of our production processes, Natura can be sure each and every bite of our pet food is manufactured with the strictest standards for quality, safety, reliability and consistency.  Natura provides a virtual tour of our manufacturing facility at www.naturapet.com, showcasing our commitment to breaking the transparency barrier between the manufacturer and the consumer.

Where are your products sourced?
Recently, Natura announced that every ingredient used in our healthful formulas is sourced from trusted non-Chinese suppliers, including certain vitamins and supplements which had previously been available only from China. This pertains to all of Natura’s dry, wet and baked pet products. At this time, we are the only pet food manufacturer that we are aware of that can make this claim.

Natura also guarantees that every fresh ingredient used in our formulas are sourced from trusted U.S. suppliers that meet strict guidelines for safety and quality control. To ensure product safety, Natura has taken the extra step to validate the origin of each ingredient used in our formulas.

What quality control programs do you have in place? [I didn't actually ask this question, but can appreciate how they inserted it into the response]
Natura became the first pet food company in the industry to test and guarantee that all of its products are free from melamine and cyanuric acid, and our Quality Control Programs have received numerous certifications by the most respected food safety and quality control agencies and auditing firms in the United States, including a “Superior” rating from the American Institute of Baking, USDA Organic production certification, and registration with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Natura has received certification of conformance with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for Food Safety Management 22000:2005. Natura is the only pet food manufacturer in the United States to receive this superior distinction. Natura also previously achieved and retains its ISO 9001:2001 certification.

All of this is backed by a team of dedicated and highly trained professionals including two board-certified veterinary nutritionists: Sean Delaney, DVM, MS, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (DACVN) and Sally Perea, DVM, MS, DACVN.

Are any of your products outsourced to other companies?
Yes, all of our canned products are manufactured by Menu Foods in their Emporia, Kansas facility.

Are any of your foods made by Menu Foods?
Natura Pet Products canned pet foods are manufactured by Menu Foods at its Emporia, Kansas facility. Natural nutrition, ingredient selection, product design, quality, and food safety are essential tenets of all Natura products. Natura, together with Menu Foods, developed and follows a robust quality management program which fully mirrors the quality programs Natura employs in our own manufacturing plants. A Positive Release protocol including proof of full compliance with analytical guarantees and organoleptic standards, as well as confirmation of quality and production data are components of the program. Every production lot is approved by Natura prior to final release.  Members of Natura’s Quality team conduct monthly quality and food safety audits of Menu’s facility to assure Natura’s strict quality standards are met.

No Natura canned or dry products were implicated in the 2007 pet food recalls.

What are you doing to adopt greener business practices?
Natura is proud to be on the forefront of the pet food industry’s efforts to be eco-friendly. Within the last year Natura has engaged in many green initiatives.

  • One of the biggest changes included making the switch to hybrid cars for the company’s corporate and sales team. By using hybrids, Natura reduced our yearly gas consumption by 2,000 gallons – a decrease of 30% – which cuts automobile pollution and produces a measurable reduction in CO2 emissions, and smog, while conserving natural resources.
  • To reduce paper consumption, the company had moved much of our communications online to NaturaPet.com and NaturaVet.com. Other advances include the usage of PCW (post consumer waste) paper and vegetable-based inks in print marketing materials, along with the replacement of plastic trade show bags with re-usable bags made from recycled content.
  • By utilizing a large percentage of fresh ingredients, Natura’s ingredients involve less processing – resulting in a significant reduction in energy consumption. This also helps Natura ensure that not only are the ingredients safe, but that they deliver the all-natural nutrition animal companions require.
  • We have continued to reduce our carbon footprint by adding a state-of-the-art videoconferencing system to minimize air travel between our California and Nebraska offices, similarly cutting down on fuel consumption and pollution.
  • In construction of our new Davis, CA, office, we required the building be pre-wired for solar panel usage in the future. The facility also incorporates energy star equipment wherever possible, many bike racks to encourage bicycle commuting, lots of low E windows to allow for natural lighting as well as operable windows to allow for fresh air, motion sensing light switches to turn fluorescent lights off automatically when not in use, and employs many water conserving features including drip irrigation and a large bioswell to handle runoff water onsite.

As your veterinarian has recommended, a grain-free, high protein, low carbohydrate diet may be the correct nutritional choice for your cat. EVO Cat and Kitten dry kibble, EVO Cat and Kitten canned food, and EVO 95% meat canned foods can provide your cat with the benefits of a grain-free, high protein, low carbohydrate diet without the safety concerns of feeding a raw diet. Each bag of EVO Cat and Kitten dry formula contains an industry leading 88% protein-rich meat and dairy content plus 11% fruits and vegetables.

Thank you,

Don Scott
President
Natura Pet Products


THE JUDGE’S VERDICT

I had originally written off Natura because I hadn’t heard back from them and wrote a post about it.  However, their PR people are right on top of things because they contacted me within hours of the post going live.  They told me that Don Scott had written back to me, but if I hadn’t received his message, to let them know and they would resend it.  I dug around my spam folder and did indeed find his message.

I have to admit I was impressed with the lengthy response on letterhead (in PDF), organized by question, and finished off with a signature from Don Scott.  The large glossy JPGs included with the email also set the stage favourably.  The added touch was Mr. Scott’s reference to Furball and the Throwdown.

Setting aside aesthetics and first impressions, I read through the content and concluded that quality control and food safety is a priority for Natura Pet Products, and that they do care about being green.  Here’s the pros vs. cons summary:

Pluses:

  • All fresh ingredients are sourced in the U.S. and Natura validates the origin of each ingredient used in their formulas
  • Natura tests and guarantee that all of its products are free from melamine and cyanuric acid
  • Natura has made significant company-wide efforts to be more green such as:
    • Switching to hybrid cars for the company’s corporate and sales teams
    • Using marketing materials made from post-consumer waste, vegetable-based inks and handing out reusable bags made from recycled content at trade shows
    • Installing videoconferencing to cut down on travel between offices
    • New office in California is built to be eco-friendly: pre-wired for solar panel usage in the future, energy efficient equipment and windows, lots of bike storage to encourage bike commuting, motion sensitive fluorescent lights, and water conserving features including drip irrigation and a large bioswell to handle runoff water onsite.

Minuses:

  • Canned food is processed by Menu Foods in their Kansas facility.  This is one of those “mixed bag” items.  On one hand, the food is processed in the U.S. and this plant wasn’t involved in the pet food recall of 2007.  On the other hand, Menu Foods is a giant corporation that processes most of the canned pet food available in the U.S.

Conclusion:

My biggest concern with EVO is that it’s processed by Menu Foods.  However, once you do some digging, you’ll discover that Menu Foods is everywhere and most companies use them. Natura Pet Products is one of the largest natural pet food manufacturers.  Although I do tend to favour smaller, more local business, I recognize that the bigger players have a crucial role in greening the pet industry.  In some cases, they can actually be more green because the larger scale of their operations results in greater efficiencies (eg. efficient distribution networks).  They can also wield more influence by leading the way in eco-friendly practices and showing that going green is profitable.

Furball and I have the good fortune to live in California where there is a plethora of choice for green, earth-mother, tree-hugging, granola-y products and services.  However, if you don’t have this selection available where you live,  Natura Pet Products may be the best choice for you.  Because of its size, their products are  widely distributed.  There’s a handy store locator on their website at: http://www.naturapet.com/where-to-buy/default.asp.

Natura Pet Products is making genuine efforts to be more eco-friendly and not just giving lip service to being green.  Their EVO canned cat food comes in a couple of poultry flavours and since the only other contender, Tiki Cat, is all about the fish, EVO makes it to next round of the Natural Cat Food Throwdown.  Stay tuned to see who Furball declares the winner!

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The Natural Cat Food Throwdown: Are Natural Balance and Solid Gold Scaredy Cats?

About 3 weeks ago, I contacted six natural cat food manufacturers to ask them about the greenness of their company and their foods.  I emailed them a number of tough questions such as where their ingredients were sourced, where the food was manufactured and whether Menu Foods made any of their products.

I’ve heard back from four of them.  I’ve posted the responses from Petropics and Nature’s Instinct.  Wellness sent me an email asking me to call them, which I’ll be doing later this week. Also, I found a response from Natura Pet Products which accidentally got filtered to spam, so I’ll be posting it shortly.

However, not a peep from the following cat food manufacturers:

  • Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods
  • Solid Gold, makers of Indigo Moon

Both had prominent “Contact Us” links on their websites and Natural Balance even had a fill-in form to submit your questions.  Why bother pretending to have customer service if you’re going to completely ignore your customers?

I made a point to write a very balanced email and not to come across as a rabid environmentalist.  I mentioned that I was thinking of switching cat food brands, and that I wanted to know more about their ingredients and their company.  Is that unreasonable?

In my opinion, if a company couldn’t be bothered to answer an email from a potential customer especially during a recession when people are cutting back on spending on premium products, how are they going to respond if there’s a safety recall or another pet food crisis similar to the Menu Foods scare in 2007?

I just assume that they really don’t have answers to whether their company has a green policy and that they really would prefer to not disclose where their ingredients come from or how they’re manufactured. Do I really want to be feeding my cat food from a company like that?

I was debating whether to call their customer service number or to simply declare them out of the Natural Cat Throwdown by default.  However, given the accidental spam incident with Natura Pet Products, I’ll give each of these other companies a second chance and see what they tell me over the phone. Stay tuned…

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The Natural Cat Food ThrowdownOn the Stage: Nature’s Variety

Instinct by Nature’s Variety is the next contender in the Natural Cat Food Throwdown.  I emailed a shortlist of natural pet food manufacturers to find out how eco-friendly they are. The most thoughtful and eco-friendly company will be selected as Furball’s new food of choice to help control his struvite crystals.

I sent the emails on Friday, May 1st and a customer service rep from Nature’s Variety wrote back on Monday morning.  Here’s the email I received:

Dear Holly,

Thanks for emailing!

All the animals used in NV diets are raised and slaughtered according to government regulations of humane care and handling. The meat and organs in our raw do not contain any added antibiotics or growth hormones. The meat and organs are from animals inspected and deemed fit for human consumption. Moreover, the fruits and vegetables are the same fruits and vegetables sold in local grocery stores.

All poultry (organic chicken, regular chicken, organic turkey, and regular turkey) are raised in large, long barns with open access. They are free to roam about while still being protected from the elements. They are not in cages. The pigs are also raised in large houses with freedom to move about. They are not in cages. Beef, lamb, and deer (venison) are raised outside on large pastures. They are not confined to small corrals. The rabbits are housed in hutches because rabbits will fight and injure one another unless separated from one another.

All animals are raised on vegetarian diets. The organic chickens and turkeys are fed an organic vegetarian feed.

Our organic chicken diet is certified organic by a third party. It uses 100% organic ingredients.

Our manufacturers are considered proprietary information, we do not release specific information like this. We can tell you that all of our diets are manufactured here in the U.S. Our kibble in Texas, our canned in Kansas and our raw diet in Nebraska.

Sincerely,

Customer Service

THE JUDGE’S VERDICT

My first impression was that this was a mixed response of positives and negatives.  The organic ingredients were great, but I’m still a little unsure of the manufacturing process, which as an environmentalist, I believe is just as important as the ingredients.  As well, the issue of a green policy seemed to be skirted over and the response was more geared towards addressing animal cruelty.  Overall, this response left me with more questions.  I was rating responses in terms of pluses and minuses, but I need to make a new category for this response: Mixed Bag.

Mixed Bag

  • Meat used in Raw Diets product does not contain added antibiotics or growth hormones, but no mention of whether this holds true for Instinct canned food.  Looking at their website, Instinct does not tout “natural ingredients” like Raw Diets does.
  • Pigs and chickens are not confined to cages.  Cows and deer are raised outside in pastures.  Animals are “raised and slaughtered according to government regulations of humane care and handling”.  Well, I’ve seen Fast Food Nation and read John Robbins’ The Food Revolution.  Simply meeting government regulations doesn’t make me sleep soundly at night.
  • Manufacturing facilities are located in the U.S., but did not answer whether or not Menu Foods makes their products

Pluses

  • Human-grade ingredients
  • All animals are raised on vegetarian diets

Minuses

  • No mention of comapny’s green or environmental policies
  • “Our manufacturers are considered proprietary information, we do not release specific information like this.”  This makes me wonder if Menu Foods is one of their vendors.  My reasoning is that if a company had nothing to do with Menu Foods, they would say so.

I really had too many questions after receiving this email, so I decided to do a bit more digging.  I find the magic Google phrase to search for is the pet food manufacturer’s name PLUS the phrase “recall”.  This usually brings up any dirt, although you do need to take it with a grain of salt as not all information on the Internet is accurate or backed with facts.

I found some interesting comments to this 2007 post on the Gothamist where people claimed that Nature’s Variety was associated with Menu Foods, but that their products were not affected by the recall.  Nature’s Variety did tell me that their canned food was manufactured in Kansas.  Hmm, looking at the Menu Foods site, I found that they have a manufacturing facility in Emporia, Kansas.  I also know that they make a lot of the canned foods for many pet food brands, even the organic ones.

Another trick in the bag that I use to get to the bottom of things, is to trace the corporate lineage.  There are a lot of large companies portraying themselves as “ma pop” local businesses.  The smaller lines may have started out that way and then be bought out by a conglomerate.  One sign is that the website looks too slick.  Often, they’ll list the parent company in the small text at the bottom of the site.  In this case, I couldn’t find a parent company until I looked at where the email came from, which was miindustries.com.

There wasn’t much information on their website other than, “M.I. Industries offers a wide variety of protein based pet treats for the rapidly expanding natural market. We market our products under several of our own brands. M.I. Industries was established more than 25 years ago on a foundation of customer-driven quality, innovation, integrity and superior service. Today, these elements continue to define how we serve our customers.” Well, I know that natural pet food was definitely not considered an “industry” 25 years ago. Even natural people food was very grassroots back then.

CONCLUSION

For me, there were too many questions that went unanswered.  Instinct by Nature’s Variety is out of contention!

For more info on Nature’s Variety: http://www.naturesvariety.com/instinct_cat_can

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The Natural Cat Food ThrowdownFirst Contender: Tiki Cat by Petropics

Here’s the first contender in the Natural Cat Food Throwdown, where I sent emails to pet food manufacturers asking how eco-friendly they are.  The winner will be selected as Furball’s new food of choice (provided of course, he likes it) to help control his struvite crystals.

Out of the six companies I contacted, the first to reply was Petropics.  I received a very thoughtful email from the President of Petropics within five hours of my original email.  Here’s what she had to say:

Hi Holly,

Happy to hear from you. We have a “No Compromise Food Philosophy” defined as follows:

We are manufacturing our foods overseas in Bangkok, Thailand. All foods are caught wild in the Pacific Oceans where the waters are cleanest or are locally farmed. None of our food ingredients are outsourced. Because our original and core business is wild caught seafood, this is the most eco-friendly logistics scenario possible because we are canning at the source. Sadly, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium standards, fish caught off our Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are unsafe for human consumption and there is not enough supply/support for fishing off our immediate pacific coast to support our food. We have a symbiotic relationship with the human market in food supply, sharing the tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc… intended for human consumption. Because we already produce a considerable amount of wild caught seafood varieties, we share the load with our human USDA chicken formulas farmed locally and share the ocean containers.

We use a factory that provides much higher, stricter standards for manufacturing than any other pet food manufacturer in the U.S. including European Food Quality Control Standards. We wanted a human only cannery that does not handle any pet grade ingredients to produce our formula’s which sadly cannot be achieved in the US. We supply all the food safety standards that we currently meet in detail on our website at www.petropics.com

We were one of many natural food manufacturer’s that were not impacted by the food recalls, especially Menu Foods. Our business grew considerably during this recall period. We only use whole food ingredients, no fillers or manipulated ingredients apart from oil, which automatically removes us from the contamination risks that so many companies expose themselves to when they compromise with their ingredients. You could share a Tiki meal with your pet!

We have some of the most life altering testimonials from our foods. We use only human grade ingredients, we don’t use any fillers, they are all low glycemic index, low magnesium, and low phosphate and have been approved not only for healthy adult maintenance, but also serious wellness diets for animals with CRF, Diabetes, Kidney and Liver Diseases, etc… We haven’t come across one special diet we can’t feed and vets across the country are beginning to get into holistic foods and treatment because of their experience with Tiki Cat.

We are waiting for one viable US partner to expand her manufacturing capability and update her equipment to handle our quality control and volume requirements which will allow us to improve our US operation, allow us to maintain strict standards, and reduce the carbon footprint associated with poultry. We have been working on this since the start of our company in 2005.

We are very concerned about minimizing our environmental impact and operating in a responsible way.

  • Our business model reduces the amount of trucks on the road, fuel usage, etc….
  • We work political to push for improved rail systems for commerce which reduce energy/fuel usage considerably which was lost as we farmed steel and other industrial production overseas.
  • We work political to defund the oil market and support alternative fuel cars, trucks, and industry. It only cost $100 more per vehicle for the flex-fuel option which we are pushing to force upon auto makers. India and France have an “Air Car” and Delivery vehicles that literally run on AIR and have a positive, clean air impact on the environment. Of course, every Congressman in DC has investments in the oil industry, many in the auto industry, and many in Wall-Street and Air cars wouldn’t be good for their pocketbooks, however it would be a huge, positive impact on our economy and our security by eliminating our addiction to oil and the costs associated with it.
  • We work with only “Clean Trucks” to reduce smog/pollution.
  • We don’t work with beef products; Cow “emissions” is the world’s top destroyer of the environment and is the greatest threat to our climate, forests, and wildlife. Beef is not a good source of protein for any animal to consume with the least protein absorption out of all the protein sources which is not good for humans or their pets.
  • We strive to recycle all materials in our office/warehouse, purchase materials made from recycled materials, and are in constant evaluation of how to reduce waste, etc…

Please let me know if I missed anything. I appreciate your passion and responsible consumer spending, and careful feeding selection! I wish we had more people like you, because the health of pets and our environment would benefit and we would have a much greater market share!

THE JUDGE’S VERDICT

What’s a throwdown without a judge critiquing the results?  Obviously, Simon’s not here, but I’ll offer my two cents worth.  The ultimate judge, however, will be Furball.

Pluses

  • Bonus points for getting back to me the same day and for the President to be concerned enough to write back herself
  • Human-grade processing facilities that exceed U.S. standards
  • Human-grade ingredients
  • Politically active in supporting alternative fuel transportation methods
  • Aware that their overseas facilities is contributing to a larger carbon footprint and looking for options to reduce this
  • Appear to integrate green principles into company methodologies and processes
  • Don’t use beef because of its larger carbon footprint
  • Not affected by Menu Foods recall
  • Available from my local pet food store and comes in a variety of fish flavours, which is what Furball likes best

Minuses

  • Manufactured in Thailand
  • Local pet food store only carries the small cans, resulting in more packaging

On the whole, I thought the email was very thoughtful and that Petropics is mindful of their environmental impact.  It looks like they’re trying to find the best balance when making their business decisions and  looking to see how they can be more green. Plus, the logo is really cute!

If I decide to go with this brand, I could always ask the pet store to stock the larger cans.  Tiki Cat gets a pass and is moving on to the next round!

For more information on Petropics and Tiki Cat: http://www.petropics.com/

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The Natural Cat Food Throwdown

Blame it on watching late night TV on the Food Network, but I came up with the title for this series of posts after seeing a couple of episodes of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”.  It’s time to see which natural cat food manufacturer has the green muscle to go the distance.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been looking for a natural diet to help Furball control his struvite crystals. This came about after I learned that his current vet-recommended food is made by P&G and it uses an assortment of chloride ingredients to lower the pH level.

I took Furball to see a holistic vet and she recommended that Furball switch to a low or no grain diet of wet food with a high protein level. This is a tough choice to make as I have to weigh my cat’s health against the extra packaging used for wet food vs. dry food. I considered a raw meat diet too, but decided against it because we’re expecting a little one and the last thing I want right now is to have raw meat at crawl level on the floor and the chance that the cat may distribute some bacteria from the meat around the home.

Ultimately, I decided to go with a canned wet food and I’m now trying to choose the most eco-friendly option that will be best for Furball’s health as well as the health of my family. Going green isn’t easy and we all have to weigh our choices to see where we may need to compromise and hopefully green it up in other areas of our lives.

THE THROWDOWN

I sent out virtually identical emails to six different natural pet food manufacturers that were recommended by the holistic vet. The contents of the email are listed in my post on Tough Green Questions to Ask Manufacturers When Choosing a Natural Cat Food. The emails were all sent about the same time at 2pm PST on a Friday afternoon. Here are the contenders:

  • Natura Pet Products
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Natural Balance Pet Foods
  • Petropics
  • Solid Gold
  • Wellness

Will any of these manufacturers make the score when it comes to being green?  Will the cat food help Furball control his struvite crystals?  Stay tuned!  Results will be reported throughout the week.  One of these natural wet cat foods will be declared the champion to go head to head with Furball’s palate.

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The Inside Scoop on Soy Cat Litter

Here’s the scoop on a new eco-friendly cat litter called, Close to Naturenow from The Organic Farm Store.  Made from soybean meal and potato starch, this 100% natural and organic cat litter may be the  product you’re looking for if you’ve been on the search for an eco-friendly cat litter that also has clumping properties.

We caught up with Scott DeWaide, President of The Organic Farm Store to get the inside scoop on Close to Naturenow. The Organic Farm Store is a family-run business based out of Washington and it specializes in earth-friendly products such as organic fertilizers.  Close to Naturenow was actually developed rather serendipitously.  Mr. DeWaide tells us, “The litter’s origin was stumbled upon. We have used the soybean meal for quite a few years in the production of our Organic Soil Amendments/Fertilizers.  So it was a spin-off from that that it was created, we merely added the potato starch product to eliminate odor and assist in the clumping.”

Because it’s made from a food grade soybean meal, Close to Naturenow has a soft texture like a light flaky grain.  If you’re switching from a clay litter, your cat may prefer this type of texture over some of the other eco-friendly options that are pellet-shaped.  The potato starch in the litter causes it to clump as soon as your cat does his business.  Mr. DeWaide likens Close to Naturenow to the World’s Best litter in terms of its clumping ability.

Having cooked with potato starch before, I can certainly attest that it glues together as soon as any moisture is added.  It’s even stickier than corn starch.  I think that would be the main reason I would consider this litter inappropriate for Furball.  He had a blocked bladder a few years back and to help manage it, we give him lots of water, so he pees a lot.  I tried a clumping eco-friendly litter made from wheat and found with the large quantity of urine, the litter turned into heavy bricks.

If Close to Naturenow cat litter is locally available to you, you may still want to give it a try as I don’t think this litter would glue together as severely as the wheat and urine did.  Also, let’s be honest here — clumping makes life much easier when it comes to cleaning out the cat box.

Close to Naturenow cat litter is available directly from The Organic Farm Store at www.theorganicfarmstore.com.  Since we’re trying to be more eco-friendly, please factor in the packaging and shipping distance when evaluating if this is a the best green choice for your kitty.  The litter is also available from about a dozen distributors nationwide and also 250+ independent retailers.  Use the Where to Buy Map on The Organic Farm Store website to find a store near you.

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