Rocks in Natural Balance Cat Food?

40 Comments

Here is a picture – sent to me by a pet food consumer – of what appears to be rocks/pebbles found in three separate cases (all different lot numbers) of Natural Balance Cat Food.   This has been reported to FDA, State Department of Agriculture, and Natural Balance.  As well, the consumer has shared what Natural Balance has told her and I had a couple of insiders look at the picture – here’s what they said too.

First the picture…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe objects on the left were described as soft/chewy when found in the can, they dried hard.  The objects on the right (two rows) were described as hard when found in the pet food.

This pet food consumer – that found the above in various cans/cases of Natural Balance Cat Food is located in North Carolina.  She shared that she found some of this material in the first case of canned Natural Balance Chicken and Liver Pate Formula Cat Food.  As directed by Natural Balance, she returned that case of food to the pet food store in exchange for another case.

Problem number 1.  Natural Balance and the pet food store (not identified) should know that FDA and Department of Agriculture cannot investigate a pet food problem if the ‘evidence’ is gone.  In my opinion, it should become regulation that pet food manufacturers and pet food retail outlets are required to give a consumer proper instruction to hold a product (pet food/treat) until a full investigation is performed.  The consumer should get a prompt refund, but law should require all commercial entities involved to participate in an investigation.

The consumer was also not instructed by Natural Balance or the pet food store to document the lot numbers and best by dates of this first case of pet food.

Problem number 2.  Similar to problem 1; without a consumer being given proper instruction by the manufacturer and the retail outlet – to document a potential adulterated pet food…how can a prompt recall (if necessary) occur?

The pet food consumer then was provided with a replacement case of pet food – same food (Natural Balance Chicken and Liver Pate Formula Cat Food can).  And she found similar hard rock like substances and chewy like substances in this case of cat food.  NBCCL  08:50 Best By Jul  22, 2016.

She then returned to the pet food store for yet another case of cat food – NBCCL  06:04 Best By Sep 22, 2016 – and found more chewy chunks and rock like pieces in even more cans.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture told the consumer “they didn’t have labs with the ability to test things but he would send out this report across NC to notify others and see if there were any other complaints”.  As well, NC Department of Agriculture told the consumer to ‘let him know if Natural Balance was not providing the information’ she needed.

Problem number 3.  I do not understand…how can a State can sell a product (earning income from sales tax), yet not provide the consumer with any type of protection that the product is safe.

Once, in a rather heated conversation with a State Department of Agriculture representative (different State), I was told that States don’t have the funding to investigate many problems – that some states have only two or three employees doing everything (meaning all approval of products for sale in the state and investigating all reports of problems – pet foods and animal foods).  I told this person…”well, if you don’t have the means to protect consumers, then you shouldn’t allow the products to be sold.”  And shockingly – this particular State Department of Agriculture representative told me it is the consumers responsibility – I was told “then people shouldn’t buy the products if they aren’t safe.”

Just yesterday I received the following update from this (wonderfully determined) pet food consumer…

“FDA finally called me on 1-15-14 and took down some information. I thanked her for getting back to me and she said they have so many complaints coming in each day. She told me that if I did not hear anything back from them in six months that I could throw the unopened cans out. She then asked me to please call her if I did hear anything back from Natural Balance and gave me her number.”

“NC Dept of Ag emailed me today 1-16-14 and said….
I spoke with the Customer Care center today at Natural Balance, and they are going to notify both you and I of the status and results of the sample.  Hopefully we will hear from them by next Monday. If not, please let me know and I will call them back.  Could you please confirm for me that you have sent the sample of product back to Natural Balance and on what day did you do so.  Thanks.”

And she told me…”As I was typing this I got a call from Stephanie at Natural Balance and she said they had received the pebbles that I sent and referred them on to their quality control department. She then started to tell me that birds sometimes eat pebbles when they pick for food and stopped and said, just a minute I will be right back. When she came back she just went on to, I should hear something back from them by the end of the month if not sooner. I said you were mentioning birds and she immediately said, that really is of no concern to our investigation and we just need to forget that comment and focus on our investigation instead. I pursued it and asked if bird stomachs were ground up in the cat food and she replied with we put muscle meat in our food, so I asked if the stomach was considered muscle meat and she answered yes. Then she said again that she had just mentioned birds to explain them which has no bearing on the investigation and that is what we need to focus on.”

More problems.

FDA stated “they have so many complaints coming in each day”?  Whether these complaints are people food or pet food, ‘so many complaints coming in each day’ is alarming.  Again, if FDA and States do not have the budget to properly investigate potentially dangerous foods (human or pet or animal) – why aren’t these people screaming to the media that this is a huge problem?  Why isn’t FDA and all States that don’t have employees to investigate and remove dangerous products from store shelves knocking on federal and state government’s door each day saying there is a problem?  Must we wait for another massive recall and countless pet deaths for any change to occur?

Natural Balance’s explanation that chickens eat rocks…is (so to speak) difficult to swallow.  Though perhaps Natural Balance sources chicken from free range birds that might be in a pasture that has pebbles on the ground…I personally find it unlikely.

I spoke with two insiders – showed them the picture.  One stated that the chewy chunks that dried later found in the food were – his guess – skin of an animal.  Referred to as ‘cracklin’.  This person also felt the other objects were indeed rocks (again, his guess).  The other insider felt the objects on the right side of the image were rocks too (his guess).  But his explanation of how this could occur is even more concerning.  I was told that truck drivers that haul ingredients to pet food manufacturers also haul other things…including gravel – in between their deliveries to the pet food company.  This insider shared that he’s seen gravel many times in pet food ingredients because many of the truck drivers don’t clean out their trailers from previous loads.

There must be a huge overhaul of pet food regulations.  Ingredient definitions need to be clearly defined to tell the consumer exactly what they are purchasing (as example – right now the definition of ‘chicken’ could mean nothing more than chicken skin and bone is in the pet food – no meat).  Regulations should require pet food manufacturers, veterinarians, and pet food retailers to assist a pet food consumer in properly reporting a tainted food or sick pet (due to a potential tainted food).  Pet food manufacturing safety requirements need a massive update that includes ingredient suppliers and those that transport ingredients.  Perhaps if stricter laws were in force – with financial penalties in place for those that violate the law – FDA and States wouldn’t feel such a burden to investigate reports of potential adulterated pet foods.  And just perhaps our pets would be a lot safer.

If you have not sent FDA your comments on the proposed pet food regulations that would (hopefully) improve current conditions – please do so.  You can learn more about how to do that Here.

My sincere thanks to this pet food consumer for sharing her story and her diligence to demand an investigation.  If/when more is learned – such as an explanation provided by Natural Balance – it will be shared.

 

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
TruthaboutPetFood.com
Association for Truth in Pet Food

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40 Comments

  1. Peter

    I don’t know where to begin. I completely agree with your admonition that it should be legally required that consumers be given instruction on “holding” a product that is defective or adulterated. You are correct in that the entire system is a disgrace and needs to be overhauled.

  2. Gitta

    I do believe this is how the system was designed: to protect the manufacturer and the retailer. The consumer is “made hole” simply by granting a refund or replacement. Which never, ever compensates the consumer for the time and effort involved.

    Any systemic problem is swept under the carpet. To the consumer it appears as an isolated problem. Again, the manufacturer is protected from any expensive action.

    Izabella Wentz “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

  3. ian

    Brava Susan ! TAPF helps shine the spotlight on another problematic commercial pet food issue. “that really is of no concern to our investigation and we just need to forget that comment and focus on our investigation instead.” Sigh. So again as usual it raises the question “what is muscle meat?” I don’t think most consumers would expect it to include stomachs and stomach contents.

  4. Marsha

    With the information you have given us Susan, now we know to hold onto what we find and notify the FDA ourselves. Do not give back what is found to the manufacturer. They will naturally cover it up.

  5. Gayze

    From an old ag sciences/animal agriculture major wh had to work the slaughter and processing shift in college in order to graduate.

    Funny how I became a vegetarian right around then….

    Actually, chickens (and many other birds) do eat rocks. The rocks pass (mostly) through their crops, which is toward the beginning of the bird’s digestive tract, and they actually begin the process of grinding hard foods such as grains, before passing into the proventriculus (the closest thing a chicken has to a “true” stomach) and gizzard (a muscular, grinding organ, where the rocks do most of their work to grind up the harder grains) and then into the lower portions of the digestive tract.

    That said, however, in a “proper” slaughter situation, the digestive tract is removed from the carcass and any edible portions of it (aka “giblets”) cleaned and processed for human consumption. The remnants (mostly intestines), if sold for animal feed, are supposed to be properly cleaned before sent on to processing. If the cleaning process is not removing something as obvious as rocks from the birds’ system, then the chance that there is also a load of feces, which is much harder to clean out, being processed into the food is … downright creepy.

    • Susan Thixton

      Thank you – very interesting information you’ve provided us with. The more information we all have – the better.

  6. Paula

    Very scary. This isn’t the first issue with Natural Balance as you know. The thought of dog food ingredients in an open (filthy) truck bed makes me ill. Thanks for doing what you do. For me instead of a 3 strike rule, I have a 1 strike rule. But I am running out of companies I will buy from. Feeding my dogs Fromm now….
    On a positive note — the cat pictured above has to be one of the most beautiful creatures (of any species) I have ever seen. Is this cat someone special to you?

    • Susan Thixton

      This cat was just adopted by friends – they just sent me her picture.

  7. Christine

    I’d bet money that the parts on the left are gizzards. I feed raw gizzards to my kitty to help clean his teeth, and that really looks like what I cut up for him. Especially that biggest piece. It’s almost definitely gizzard – it has a stiff, wavy/ribbed looking part that looks just like that. It makes sense then that they’re using gizzards (which don’t have a lot of fans in the human food market) which were poorly cleaned and contain rocks/grit

  8. Toby

    I was concerned when I read about the sale of Natural Balance and hoped that their quality would not suffer because of it. I have been rotating their canned Chicken and Liver with Wellness and Merck products because my cats liked it, both are on canned food diets due to frequent urinary problems. Recently, my male cat was reluctant to eat it and when he did he would vomit immediately after. I removed this product from my rotation and am currently researching other options.
    Products purchased from Amazon:
    NBCCL 15:33 Best By JUN 20 16
    NBCCL 13:34 Best By JUL 22 16
    NBCCL 04:07 Best By SEPT 22 16

  9. vegan

    Doesn’t Del Monte make Natural Balance now?

    • Linda S

      Yes, Del Monte has their hands in this pet food. This is exactly what we should expect from this animal killing company.

  10. Elia Mulshine

    I am so glad I opened this email!! I am currently feeding my puppy Natural Balance Dry Food & am apalled to say the least! Thank you so much for sharing this story with us! I will be throwing out the bag of food ASAP!

    • Pacific Sun

      Please …get the puppy off of of Natural Balance and don’t go near Royal Canin or any products that Mars has a hand in. With all the information we’ve learned from TAPF we all have a wonderful chance to start fresh with a brand new puppy! (Don’t give up on the older ones either!!). At this point I really think the only message we can give the PFI and the FDA is that we just won’t buy the products anymore. The ONLY thing that will make any of them take notice is their bottom line. I know it seems insumountable to try giving whole foods (or raw), but honestly, you won’t have to worry another day about the next horror story. A great way to start whole food feeding is with The Honest Kitchen’s Preference and add your own whole meat. Investigate raw foods and consult with a holistic practicioner. You’ll never regret it, or go back to the criminal activity of the Pet Food Industry. I am so sick of these life threatening lapses in “quality control” and the failure of customer service to be truthful with the consumer! Dogs or cats eating small pebbles (if not treated) can kill them!

      • Tammy Baugh

        I am a Ragdoll Cat Breeder. Lately I feed all my cats and kittens Friskies shredded meat caned food.(Plus Natural Balance Indoor Ultra Dry and Canyon Creek Ranch Dry) But a few months ago I started getting boxes of Mars Whiskas pouches of food. It was fish or chicken.I bought both at different times. And when I looked at the product it really looked to me like it was all meat. Ok granted the liquid it was in seemed a bit oily. The solid contents looked 100% real to me. What could possibly be wrong with this? I don’t get it. The Friskies I can see may or may not have other parts in it. Since it is all shredded up and in a darker colored gravy that my brood just loves. OK so they may be addicted. I may have to start cookin up their food.

        • JK

          a cat breeder that uses this sort of food (Mars, Friskies), etc) is almost more troubling than the article

        • ellie

          I would encourage you to read more on this site concerning THE TRUTH ABOUT PET FOOD. Those heart warming pictures on containers and other advertisements are totally deceptive. Most pet food companies are using horrible low grade, even rotting ingredients in their products, not to mention the chemicals. Even ingredient lists are deceptive.
          Read your ingredient lists. Read the detailed information Susan and her partners have uncovered.
          I have raised many litters of stray and feral kittens and learned long ago about the digestive upset that canned cat food can cause. The kibble is more subtle in the long term damage that it causes.
          American pets that are fed commercial pet food are basically surviving on the synthetic vitamins you see tacked on the end of every ingredient list.
          Our pets depend on us to provide them with a naturally healthy diet. They deserve more than a bag of product waste that has a shelf life of more than a year.

  11. Barbara

    I quit natural balance several months ago when they sold out and my cats started to throw up, even the color of the food was different but they said it was the same food. Mr Patton you are a bum always professing your love for animals when all the time money got in the way. I am feeding my 4 cats instinct with freeze dried raw and so far so good. Is getting really hard to find good food for our pets when the pet food industry regards them as animals!!!

  12. Linda Honeycutt

    Yep, improperly cleaned gizzards was my first thought, too, since that’s where the rocks a bird eats go.

    Gizzards are considered muscle meat to raw feeders because they are muscle even though they’re part of the chicken’s digestive tract.

  13. Susan Thixton

    I wondered if the chickens used in the food would be exposed to gravel. Would factory farmed chickens (this is making the assumption Natural Balance purchased from factory farms) be housed on gravel floors? Or perhaps the poultry feed had gravel in it? I don’t know enough about raising poultry or poultry feed to even guess.

    • Tammy Baugh

      Before I bred cats I bred birds. And it was normal to feed the birds a bit of gravel to aid in their digestion.The size or diameter of each grain a whole lot smaller than the particular bird. If there are any chicken parts other than pure meat in the canned food then there easily can be gravel, they’d be inside the parts cut up in the food. Would they be rocks inside the dry Ultra Natural Balance too? It’s one of the only foods for cats mine don’t vomit.

    • ellie

      Yes, we were encouraged to feed our bird a specially prepared gravel along with the seed and greens he liked. Apparently birds need some type of gravel for digestion.
      I have never had a chicken but people I know that have free grazing chickens say they often eat small bits of gravel or stone.
      It is possible that chicken mill owners add some sort of gravel to the diet of their birds.

  14. Lesliek

    the dried things on the left do like gizzards . Old & dried out & obviously not cleaned out , but still gizzards .

  15. Lori

    I stocked up on Natural Balance last May when I heard they were to be sold to Del Monte. My cats love the food but Del Monte has a poor reputation for pet food quality and I was not willing to risk my cats’ health. So I have tried several brands and finally found a couple they like that I feel are safe. Both are grain free and one is organic. Both are made by independent companies with ingredients sourced in the US. I would go raw or cook my own food but have not been able to get my cats to touch any regular meat – cooked or otherwise.

    Thank you so much Susan for providing a space where concerned pet owners can be informed so that we can keep our furry family members safe.

    • Tammy Baugh

      Lori what foods have you found your cats will eat?Especially the grain free organic? If you have not been able to get yours to eat human food, as long as it does not contain garlic onions or any caffeen,Not loaded in salt and pepper, if you sit near them and begin to eat a tiny bit yourself, even fake like you are eating it they just may want some of what you got. This always works for me. I am not used to eating healthy food like Salmon. I baked some last week and it tasted gross to me. SO I pulled it into peices and took it into my room and introduced it to my cats they devoured all of it before 2 min was up. They really like lobster!

  16. pam

    yep, it’s gizzards. Free Range Chickens eat rocks to grind up the grain. IF these chickens are not free range, but are eating grain, then they are fed ‘grit’, which is little rocks because a chicken has to have rocks in their gizzard to grind up grain. Gizzards are really really tough. Chicken fried gizzards are really good! If you can chew them. :) ( I have chickens in my back yard)

  17. Tim

    Free Range byproducts vs Dirty Trucking

    I just wanted to suggest that any pictures taken of contaminants show the objects next to a ruler. This would qualify the pictures as Evidence.

    Some of the pebbles in the picture looked bigger than what I would expect a chicken to eat, but with no idea how big they really are, how can one figure that out?
    A standard coin well focused and next to the objects would make it possible to calculate all the dimensions of everything in the picture.

    Oh wait! Photographing the bad stuff and including pictures of the printed batch code on the container would make a solid piece of digital evidence. A brief video covering the above would be good if you can make that happen.

    I would give some weight to the Dirty Trucking possibility if there were many pebbles that are way oversized for chicken consumption.

    I agree with the observant lady who speculated that the objects on the left are gizzard fragments. They look that way to me too.
    I’m serving my kitty girls raw gizzards about 4 times a month. Usually slicing each one into 12 to 20 pieces. I think she’s right.

    A good microscopic exam might determine if the stony fragments have been acid etched and ground by the digestive environment in systems of chickens.
    Thanks Susan for all you do!…Tim

  18. Reader

    I think “Tim’s” comments are well said. And what he is saying about clear evidence made me remember a 2008 You Tube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB6K2BBd518) that a consumer made about Wellness and a problem with fish bones in the White Fish formula. There was much discussion about it at the time… some saying it was “nasty competitor” mischief at work. I don’t speak for whether it was true or not, BUT, for the purposes of demonstrating a problem with a food, that video was very, very well done. Even the narative was useful. I believe that if we the consumers, are finding these issues such as with Natural Balance, then we ought to shout it from the rooftop, making crystal clear what we’re finding. At least this TAPF consumer shared everything with Susan, and for that we can all be grateful! But you know what … You Tube and Social Media are very powerful tools in this day and age. And if we, the consumer, receive the run around from a company, and the FDA is making excuses, while other pets remain at risk, then maybe we need to take matters into our own hands. Nothing is foolproof, but (in the video) I do like that the consumer demonstrated what was found in an unopened bag of food (could it have been re-sealed for effect, perhaps). But it made a point in visuals and with an explanation. The consumer in Susan’s article was certainly behaving as a loyal NB customer, not a problem with “one” but “two” CASES of cat food!! Yikes! Talk about “second chances.” And then she did everything requested, waited patiently for assistance, politely spoke with company, and received only excuses and double-talk. Last resort was sharing with Susan/TAPF. Does THIS kind of consumer represent “competitor mischief” … or does she have a right to be absolutely alarmed that her pet was at risk? At the very least Natural Balance should have been falling all over her with an apology and everything else it would take to make this right. And this is were the “quality” (or not) of a PF company is tested. How much do they care?? Exactly. I do think that the next time something like this happens, at least to an honest and forthright TAPF consumer, do whatever it takes to sound the alarm, POST the evidence, and share the media! These companies need to wake up to the fact that we the consumers are no longer …. just sitting ducks!!!

  19. Hogen

    Thank you for the new information. Shocking !!!

  20. Tammy Baugh

    The more I read the grosser it all was to me. I would not eat Friskies shredded cat food. But my babies love it. And I am not sure what all is in it. I know the can is lined with BPA and don’t like it. All the more reason to get real human meat for them. But the problem is the internet is teaching me how gross all our human meat is. How cruel the folks handling the animals of the meat we buy to eat are. And it is all pretty sickening. Alas cats are carnivores. I cant get them to eat just vegies and I wouldn’t. But I got to strike a balanced ground. less gross than gizzards, pebbles and muscle meat. That’s thoughts that sicken me at the grocery meat counter as well as grissel and fat (heave!) when I shop at Krogers for our meat.

  21. Canned Chow 101

    If you wish to own a pet dog or cat, chances are, the only surefire way of providing a healthy diet is to make the food yourself. The meats would have to come from organic locally sourced butchers/farmers (as opposed to grocery store anti-biotic chicken/beef etc.). You’d have to add all the appropriate supplements – which isn’t a big deal.

    The problem with this idea is that (a) it can be time consuming (b) do you even have the space in your freezer(s)?. Cost is generally worth it so that’s not a huge concern.

    You can understand why more and more people are starting to offer their pets raw food diets. It’s basically a gamble whenever you go to the store and buy canned or dry pet foods.

    You’ve got to stay on top of the food recalls and/or look inside the food yourself to ensure there’s no foreign objects.
    It’s profit at the end of the day, nothing more or less. Pets will never get the same level of attention from the FDA that people get – such is life.

  22. ellie

    It is pretty apparent by now that food processing companies are allowed to sell garbage to pet food companies to throw into the massive pot of goo that becomes pet food!

  23. Observer

    In response to the above comment we can look at this situation as the glass half full or half empty. With my first dog (decades ago) I never would’ve second guessed “pet food” as being inappropriate for my “pet”! Then again we accepted without skepticism the premature aging/demise of our pets as well. In fact people never even questioned their OWN food sources. But thankfully with all that we’ve learned, due to the PFI being an (inadvertantly transparent) window of deception and greed, and the ineffectiveness of the FDA, we can at least help ourselves! Finally. You’re right though, it’s about transcending an “animal” (albeit “livestock” mentality. Do our pets deserve equal consideration as with family? Certainly it’s about safety, quality of living, responsibility and especially accountability. Yes, it may take twice as long to prepare a “whole food” bowl, though it’s not a big production at all. Just a matter of sprinkling shredded whole meat on a carb vita/min blend, adding a probiotic and tidbits. It’s the only way “I” can find the PFI in the end … certainly by sharing my experience and information. It’s our job to spread the knowledge exponentially especially when we read such horror stories about foreign objects in PF and the LACK of company concern!!! Absolutely the worst tell-tale sign of IRRESPONSIBILITY. It just makes me …. growl!

  24. TobyB

    Good info, but as you said, it is so disheartening that there are so many complaints everyday that they can’t get to. 2 years ago I went through a similar thing with PetGuard. I followed through with pics and samples, etc. for a whole year. I even contacted a consumer advocate group and after a couple emails to them, they told me they can’t do anything for me, try the Ag dept. It got no where. So I did what I could. I published my problem online with all the evidence and stopped buying it.

  25. Heidi

    These objects look like what I find when preparing gizzards from scratch. The ‘initially soft pieces that dry hard’ remind me of the hard inner membrane of a gizzard; the linear structure on the larger piece also reminds me of this membrane. The pebbles on the right side of the photograph could be pebbles picked up by the chickens or turkeys while feeding on a pasture or their premixed food (pebbles are often added to poultry food for animals that are confined to the indoors or cages).

  26. Frank Shields

    I don’t have the space to freeze a RAW diet for my cat.

    That leaves us with a roll of the dice when it comes to cat food, either dry or wet.
    All one can do is check for food recalls via the internet, as well as poke around the cat food for foreign objects.

    Yes, there’s grains,glutens,soy or other dairy products, even fruits and vegis in some cat foods. Carrageenan is yet another of the latest additives to look out for. It’s unfortunate this is the case – yet short of lobbying for change, we’re at the mercy of the pet food manufacturers.

    You’ll find me reading the canned cat food labels every time I need to get some. What was once a decent product, may now have some questionable ingredient. Or, those products with no grains, glutens, vegis,fruits or carrageenan may be cost prohibitive that many cat owners can’t afford that particular brand.

    Unfortunately – until pets start dropping off in alarming numbers due to mysterious additives in the foods, I doubt we’ll see much change in the ingredients.

    • Ellie L

      There are freeze dried commercial raw foods available that don’t take up much space.
      Cooking foods for your cat is also an option. There are some healthy recipes available.

    • Reader

      I don’t have the space to freeze either. So just make up a couple of dishes at a time or a tub of it. Whether your cats will eat this food I couldn’t say. But a very easy product to use is The Honest Kitchen (http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/cat-food/prowl). I do know a cat owner who uses the product and adds fresh whole food.
      >
      Personally I think the problem with almost any commercial canned pet food or kibble is that we can never be sure if even the label is accurate. The Honest Kitchen however has returned the Pledge (certification of statement signed by the company’s representative), it’s human grade, made in a human grade facility, and they are a very transparent company to work with. Nothing is ever foolproof or absolute. But I would put them at the top of my list at least for this type of food (meaning a bridge between whole food cooking and a pre-mix of proper vitamins and minerals), compared to all the others out there. There’s a lot of value to strictly raw feeding, but with cats that takes a lot of knowledge and experience.

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