07/20/2011 04:37 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2011

Think Pet Food Companies Are Telling Tall Tales and Making Your Dog Food Decision Rough?

As an environmentalist and someone who is concerned about the rampant use of hazardous chemicals in food production, I often find it extremely challenging to shop for a pet food. As we just completed the annual update of our Green Pet Food Guide at Greenopia, it became apparent that although pet food companies have been very slow to improve their environmental footprints, they have been progressive about updating their formulas. But, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's any easier for a consumer to find the healthiest pet foods when shopping at the grocery store.

Here are some tips that I use when shopping for my animals:

First, I look for brands that use certified organic ingredients whenever possible. Organic ingredients are preferable for the environment because they avoid all the environmental impacts associated with chemical pesticide and fertilizer production and application. Also, for pet foods to be certified organic, they must meet the USDA's standards, which are much more rigorous than the minimum threshold required for typical pet foods.

The difficulty in consistently buying organic pet foods is that they typically cost more than traditional foods and in some cases can be tough to find. Because of this, all-natural pet foods can be a great alternative, but you should always check the ingredients to make sure that they really are made from natural ingredients. Here are some ingredients to avoid:

  • BHA/BHT: BHT and BHA are used in some commercial pet foods as preservatives. Although they can still legally be used in some food items, there is a substantial amount of evidence that these compounds can be hazardous.
  • Ethoxyquin: Ethoxyquin is another preservative that is has questionable effects on humans and pets. Although it is still legal to use in both pet food and even some human-grade foods, there are concerns with how it interacts with the liver and it has been known to cause mutations in fish.
  • Corn: Although corn itself is not a hazardous ingredient, the main issue is that it is not a valuable source of nutrition for dogs. Also, corn is one of the biggest GMO crops, which means you could be feeding your animal food that has been genetically modified in some way.

The good news is that pet food companies have been using fewer and fewer questionable ingredients in recent years and seem to be getting more natural all the time. Now if only we could get them to lower their environmental footprint as quickly as they are updating their formulas.

To see Greenopia's 2011 Green Pet Food Guide, please click here.