A Concerning Pet Industry Monopoly?
Mars – the privately owned largest manufacturer of pet food in the world – just purchased a second chain of veterinary hospitals staging them as the largest owner of veterinary hospitals in North America. Is this a monopoly and how will it effect pet owners?
Bloomberg Business Week just published a scathing story about the corporatization of veterinary medicine outing some serious concerns of the two largest veterinary chains – Banfield (owned by Mars) and VCA. Days after the story, the announcement was made that Mars has purchased VCA veterinary clinics. When the $70 billion (with a ‘b’) deal is done, Mars will not only be the largest manufacturer of pet food in the world, they will be the owner of the two largest chains of veterinary clinics in North America (along with one of the largest veterinary laboratory chains that even non-corporate vet clinics use).
Investopeida.com explains a monopoly as “a market containing a single firm that has or is close to total control of the sector.” They continue “With a large market share, companies use pricing power to create an unfair market.”
How much ‘control’ does Mars have?
In pet food they own…
Cesar, Eukanuba, Iams, Natura brands (California Natural and Evo), Pedigree, Royal Canin, Sheba, Temptations Whiskas. Over $17 billion in pet food sales in 2015.
Mars also owns over 1,000 Banfield and Blue Pearl veterinary clinics, and with their new addition of VCA, this adds another 750 veterinary hospitals under their control. With the VCA purchase, Mars also gains control over Antech Diagnostics, “the industry’s biggest laboratory. Antech does bloodwork and other tests for more than half the country’s animal hospitals.”
Do human food corporations own similar monopolies with human medical clinics?
No. There are laws that prevent corporations from owning medical clinics/hospitals. But like many things pet related…the pet industry is provided a ‘work around’ the laws. From Bloomberg.com regarding corporations owning vet offices…“This is all happening despite laws in most states banning corporations from owning veterinary practices. As old-fashioned as it may sound, the idea behind the laws was that doctors employed by corporations might have a harder time exercising independent judgment on behalf of patients; commercial interests could intrude. Nonetheless, there’s a reason states allow complicated ownership structures—called management service agreements—that get around these laws: It’s what the doctors want. When it’s time to retire, vets expect to be able to sell their practices at the highest possible price, and these days that typically means selling to a corporation.”
The statement of ‘doctors employed by corporations might have a harder time exercising independent judgment on behalf of patients’ is almost word for word a complaint of one veterinarian whose Banfield clinic was taken away from him.
Dr. John Robb’s story that is featured in the Bloomberg.com post is suing Banfield/Mars for ‘stealing his clinic’. One of the claims Mars is attacking this veterinarian over is his admission of giving small dogs half dosage vaccinations. “Today, vaccines are the only pet medications that aren’t scaled to body weight. Whether it’s a 120-pound Great Dane or a 3-pound Chihuahua, one size fits all.”
Dr. Robb disagreed with the ‘one size fits all’ Banfield protocol and claims Banfield/Mars took his clinic away from him because of it. And it seems Banfield/Mars has done the same to many others. Since Mars purchased the Banfield clinics, the number of veterinarian owned franchise clinics went from 205 to “fewer than 10 today, leaving behind a lot of angry veterinarians.”
Banfield veterinary clinics depend on/work from a software program called “PetWare” “that guide veterinarins through the process of diagnosing medical problems and prescribing care.” An example provided from PetWare was “the book shows a checklist of therapies for a dog with atopic dermatitis, or itchy skin. Doctors are encouraged to recommend a biopsy, analgesics, topical medications, antibiotics, a therapeutic dietary supplement, an allergy diet, and a flea control package. (bold added) They’re required to recommend antihistamines, shampoos, serum allergy testing, lab work, a skin diagnostic package, and anti-inflammatories. It’s a treatment course that might run $900 for symptoms that, in a best-case scenario, indicate something as prosaic as fleas. In bold print, the manual reminds doctors: “You cannot change items that were initially marked Required. They must remain required.”
In other words, veterinarians at these corporate owned clinics cannot stray from company treatment protocol – they cannot think for themselves or provide treatment for a particular pet that should not follow corporate treatment protocol (such as the vaccination issue).
And now…thanks to more laws that are not enforced with regards to our pets…Mars will own even more veterinary clinics and quite concerning the nations largest veterinary laboratory. All pushing a reported one size fits all treatment plan that could cost unknowing pet owners thousands of dollars in additional fees.
The Mars corporation boasts of “The Five Principles” the company follows. Quoting two of the five…
“We use resources to the full, waste nothing and do only what we can do best.”
“We need freedom to shape our future; we need profit to remain free.”
“Waste nothing” comes to mind when thinking about pet food. ‘Waste’ is a mainstay ingredient in many pet foods including some of the Mars products; waste that violates federal and state laws but allowed by FDA. And with their principle of ‘we need profit to remain free’ – I think of pet food and now thousands of Mars owned veterinary clinics. Does that “profit to remain free” go to law officials to ensure they and others are ‘free’ from enforcement?
It does make you wonder. Be wary pet owners.
One more excerpt from the Bloomberg.com article…
“The individual ownership of veterinary hospitals in America? It’s got one more generation,” says Bill Folger, a former board member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “Maybe two.”
This is truly frightening to consider. Please share the Bloomberg.com story with every pet owner you know – everyone should be alerted to the many concerns of corporate veterinary medicine. Do we want a future of corporate owned veterinarians? If not, we all need to be aware now – and stop supporting Big Vet. Here is the link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-01-05/when-big-business-happens-to-your-pet
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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