William Hoekman - Answers Pet Food Interview

 

Neal: Hi, this is Neal and I'm sitting here with William Hoekman from Answers Pet Food. He's the Nutritional Science Director from Answers Pet Food. Ultimately, they're the company I think is the world innovators, the world leaders, the people that more people need to listen to and follow in pet food today. Someday I hope to see them come up to Canada and I will happily retail them. I invited them to join us to the Growlies Talks today and William was kind enough to give us your time and help us understand some of the innovative things and approaches that Answers is doing today. Thank you for joining us, William.

William: Well, thank you for having me and for also the kind words, appreciate that.

Neal: Well, I've been a fan of you guys for actually years and primarily through some of the good information that you give out on social media. You do monthly Q&As online and you get bombarded with audience and questions. It's amazing and you're just so calm about it all.

William: Well, thank you. I've been told that before and I will start by saying I don't think you're going to have to wait very long to get the products in Canada. We have been actively working on that and so we are very close is what I can tell you.

Neal: Well, I look forward to that day and making my first order, I'll make room in the store for you guys.

William: Exactly, but it's funny about the live Q&As because I love discussion and debate and interesting questions and I think thinking on your feet really makes you smarter. When it comes to any interview, people will request and say, "Oh, send me the questions," well, don't send me the questions, I don't want to know the questions. Any question is on the table and I always want to want to have to put my way through that because the worst thing you can say is, I don't know and there's nothing wrong with I don't know.

Neal: Well, it's my whole approach with these interviews has been-- What's his name? His last name, King. He was an interviewer on CNN for a long time and his whole approach was, "I don't want to know ahead of time what's going on otherwise, I won't ask the questions my listeners are asking."

William: Yes, it's a good one.

Neal: I don't try to overwhelm myself with research. I do research, basic research, I want to know some basic things and I know what I know, but then I need to let the interview take itself and be natural in its approach, so I appreciate your approach because it's similar to mine that way I think.

William: Yes, exactly. Maybe I'm an honorary Canadian in my calmness.

Neal: What led you to raw pet food first? I know you're a raw feeder and what was it that made you join in on that kind of thinking?

William: Well, I've been with Answers for about 10 years, so virtually the whole in some capacity or another, not always as the nutrition science director, but I've been with the company through virtually its entire history. I've really had the privilege of being able along with my two bosses, Jacqueline and Roxanne, to really shape nutritionally where we're going over the years and the education type that we want to do. I always feel very fortunate to be in that position, but the thing that got me into raw feeding like most people was my dog. I never had a dog growing up, I didn't know anything about dogs, anything like that and then I got Lua who my now 13-year-old pug.

She's my first dog and my brain works and my wife would tell you, I talk about like four things and so nutrition is one of those things. My brain works is very like, I like a few things and I know everything about those things or I try to know everything about those things. Nutrition was one of those things that it never stopped being interesting. A good example of that when it comes to our formulas and how we do our food, I get a kick out of looking, just even looking at those and thinking about, okay, here's how these nutrients are going to lie, that kind of stuff. It just never becomes uninteresting. I asked the question, I have this dog, so what do I feed this dog? It very quickly led me to--

One of the things I think that was a big turning point for me was being, I remember had been I would say, 13 years ago now because Lua is 13 being too poor to buy books, but going to Barnes and Noble every weekend and having all the nutrition books out and just looking at them and doing as much research as I possibly could. The other thing I think that's really interesting is I worked my way up through the company, but before doing this I'm a college dropout. What that means is the information is there for everyone and now we're doing this thing that's never been done before, this fermented raw food.

Anyone watching this video, the information is there for all. All of you can do right by your animal by doing this information. I think a lot of times when it comes to, especially now in pet food, people are appealing to authority when there is no authority because science doesn't have authorities, it has experts. Even with experts, that information still relies on the actual information. I'm proof positive that if you want something bad enough, work hard enough, you can have it.

Neal: Let's talk about your company. It's a different approach, most companies in the US thankfully less so here, use HPP in order to what they say, pasteurize their foods. Now HPP in human foods is used as a shelf-life extender for things like sandwich meat commonly. It's weird that they say there's a shelf-life extender thing in human foods, but in dog foods, it's high-pressure pasteurization. You see a lot of that out of the US and I think that's driven by the FDA, what's your approach as a company to deal with pathogenic problems in meat?

William: Well, one thing that real quick on pasteurization, it's driven by the FDA, but it's also driven by the idea that just like kibble and canned and all different foods, there's more companies not making their own foods and there's companies that are actually making their own food. There's only a few facilities for each and the same thing is true in raw. If a facility says, I'm going to make everyone go HPP, then the companies that are there are forced to either go HPP or not have a company anymore. Obviously that's a problem and we used to be made at a USDA facility. We were the only pet food company there and it was definitely different because most of the facilities for any pet food manufacturing in the country, they source their own ingredients.

You give them a formula and then they source that, we never did that. We brought all of our own ingredients and now we have our own plan. Luckily we had the foresight to build our own plan, so no one can say, "Hey, you need to do this process or not do this process." Quickly on that as well, the reason why we don't do that is because you're right, it's used in other industries like to make tofu, it's using the juice industry, it's used in the meat industry and you can look at studies in those realms of food and see that you're basically just cooking it through pressure, that it is essentially-- You could go ahead and argue, well, that's better than a highly processed form of food, like a kibble or something like that.

You could say that, but we're in the business of making raw food. I don't want something that the nutrients are necessarily reacting the same way. That's why our company was formed because one of the owners of our company, Jacqueline actually worked for a company that was going HPP and she said, "I can't do this. I need something to feed my dog," so she started Answers Pet Food. We do fermentation, which is a very old process. Fermentation happens in nature, fermentation happens-- By the way, is it snowing behind you?

Neal: Yes, it's rare.

William: It's like a very beautiful scene just so you know.

Neal: It's rare, we get about two weeks a year snowing on the Island here and it just so happens to be the two weeks.

William: Now, it looks great. It's like you're in winter wonderland. Anyway, fermentation, people have been doing it since people have been people. It's a really simple premise. Any given food has a particular amount of room for bacteria to grow and you inoculate or fill up that food with good bacteria and then you allow that bacteria to grow. The growth is fermentation. If you have a food, any food product, and they're adding probiotics to it, this is where people get confused. That's not fermentation, that's just probiotics added to food. Growth and for the pre-metabolization of that food, that's where the fermentation actually comes into play in terms of how that works.

We've done the numbers when it comes to-- we did a 77-sample, 16-week validation to actually show that not only are we not testing positive for things like salmonella, stereo, and Nikolai, but when we leave the food out 24 to 48 hours in a refrigerator, seven days in the refrigerator because that's the shelf life, but also in to help the FDA here, 24 hours at room temperature in 48 hours at room temperature. Not only do we find we're the safest product on the market, any market, kibble, canned anything, but we were the only one that has a built-in safety mechanism that the food actually gets safer as it sits. If you have this food in your fridge for seven days, it will be healthier on the seventh-day and if you miss handle it and leave it out for 48 hours at room temperature, it was statistically the safest.

We can show the growth and this has really been a process of 10 years of developing this food matrix of bacteria. If you think about our detailed formula, you're talking about, fermented cod livers, fermented vegetables, you're talking about whey, you're talking about kefir, you're talking about adding all of these fermented ingredients that are in a food matrix. If we just took a product that was 90% meat and animal products like eggs and things and added probiotics to them they would not grow. You actually have to have them living in a food environment. Fermentation is simple in some ways, but then in some ways it's not, I would say the non-simple part is the development of set system.

Neal: You said a key thing, which was the pre-metabolization where essentially the good bacteria that's growing in that fermentation process will ultimately help the animal later in making all of that good food available to themselves.

Willam: Yes, the phrase I really like right now is liberating nutrients. That's what we've been trying to do as humans since humans have started eating food. We learned we had to cook your legumes really for a long time to liberate the nutrients out of it or whatever it might be. At some point, somebody figured out fermentation and realized-- I know they were like, "Hey, I feel better when I'm eating this after it's this thing." It's cool because we take raw food that is obviously, unprocessed raw food, which is going to save all of those delicate nutrient profiles that you're looking for in a raw food diet. Then in that pre metabolization, you're making those proteins easier to digest.

Also, those bacteria create new organic acids, new enzymes, new vitamins. All we're doing is taking food and using nature to liberate more bacteria out of those foods, which I think is a really-- as a home fermentor myself for certain things, I just think it's really fascinating.

Neal: Yes, and it's similar to the process that people would do use doing like kombucha or own home beer. It's that fermentation process where you let it gurgle away for a set period of time and let the bacteria grow and do its loveliness.

Willam: Well, yes, and side note I've never brewed beer at home, but kombucha's much easier.

Neal: Yes.

Willam: Kombucha is like an hour a week, beer's like, "Hey, we've got a whole weekend and we got to just do beer.

Neal: I have to admit, I've never made either. [laughs] What can I say? I love what you guys are doing and this idea that should I not appropriately refrigerate it in that first 24 hours where we do encourage people to do so that good bacteria just overwhelms the pathogenic or bad bacteria and you end up with a better product at the end of the day. Especially people in regulatory authorities must be like, dumbfounded.

Willam: Well, you'd think. Actually, you're right and you're wrong, there's two things to that. I will say too, if people are wondering like, "What does it mean healthier?" What I mean by that is I would say average. Let's say your food is sitting anywhere in a refrigerator for three to seven days. You're talking about at least 2 billion probiotics just in the food alone per ounce. Delve in a quick side note example, my dog is on the senior protocol, which is our key for a certain amount of our fish tock and our food and I figured out that when I do that protocol, she's getting at least 35.7 billion bacteria and good yeast per day just from her food products.

Neal: That's beautiful.

Willam: Now if you leave it out at room temperature, that number jumps from 2 billion per ounce to about 12.5 billion per ounce. You're talking about all those bacteria dividing and those reproducing. It's very interesting because on one hand, we've done work with both the USDA and the FDA and the FDA is who regulate the pet food and the USDA is who regulates human food. Now on one hand for whatever reason, they don't work together and /or really seem to care for each other very much. In our case, you have the FDA saying, Well, raw food's dangerous, we don't know about this fermentation thing. You've got a dirty product."

Then you have the USDA saying, "Oh my God, this works so well. You guys are geniuses, how did you figure this out?" Try to wrap your mind around, one government in two agencies saying two completely different things.

Neal: Well, I think that the FDA has a problem with pet food in that they've given so much power over to a third party organization AAFCO which is essentially an industry organization. They seem to have a problem with representation via the consumer at that organization and certainly, that relates back to your current-- Now, I know that you probably can't say much, but you guys are currently asking through the courts for the FDA to enforce law. Is that correct?

Willam: Yes, the crux of that, and right now we're in a lawsuit with FDA, AAFCO and the Department of Agriculture in Colorado and each one of those has a different aspect to it. The first part of that, all of this has to do with law and we just want to follow the law and we just want our own government to follow the law. The first part about it is, imagine a world where you have to sue the government to follow their own laws, it's madness. Here's where it breaks down, So the Congress makes laws and they put those laws into effect and then the organizations like the FDA or whoever has to enforce set laws.

Now what'll happen is some-- I'm less familiar with obviously, other government agencies than I am with the FDA. What happens is the FDA will take that law and say, "Well, here's the law, but we're going to write a policy. It's called the compliance policy." They're going to say what the compliance policy is supposed to be is if the law is unclear, this is a way to enact it out. The compliance policy is nonbinding, which means they can't enforce law because they're not actually following the law. In this case, the compliance policy happens to be the exact opposite of the actual law. The law is, if you find, let's say salmonella in food, you have to do a health hazard evaluation. Let's figure out how much salmonellas in there?

Is it dangerous? Can it grow? let's quantify this, let's do an investigation, so that's the actual law. Their compliance policy is, if we find one cell of salmonella, we're not going to quantify it, we don't know if it's dying, can grow anything, we're going to consider that a level one recall, which means someone could die from it.

Neal: Extremes.

Willam: Exactly, so we said, you can't just make a law and it says it's not binding. It's like the warning letter we got from them. It said it's non-binding. Well then what does it even mean if you're telling me something that's nonbinding necessarily. The problem with this whole thing is they're going to different companies who might not want to stand up because it is a government organization and they're treating it as if it's law. They're saying we're going to prosecute you if you do X, Y, and Z, which is obviously not the case because it's non-binding. We're trying to get them to follow the actual law.

Now in the case of AAFCO, again, Congress makes laws not a private organization that is funded by the government. Just so you know, we've gone to every AAFCO meeting for the last 10 years. It's still up in the air if we'll be able to go to the one next week.

Neal: Sounds like you're going uninvited.

Willam: We have been right now barred and they weirdly barred anyone who has really sat in the vicinity of us for the last couple of years. When you go to those meetings, you see the problem immediately. Essentially AAFCO has no regulatory power unless the States give it to them, so most States use AAFCO. A good example that is all of our packaging has to be AAFCO-compliant because most States require that. It is essentially law that they're putting into practice. Now, who writes those laws? Lobbyists and state regulators and giant pet food companies. That's who's actually writing all these laws. Again, we're saying this as an illegal thing, because you can't just have lobbyists necessarily writing laws, there is a way that we determine what's lawful in this country. It remains to be seen how that AAFCO situation is going to play out.

Again, after we had the lawsuit out, we were at a meeting and it's not like-- I guess what they're saying is that it could cause a disruption or something like that. Clearly, there was no disruption. If you ever met my boss, Roxanne, she's the quietest, most nice person on the planet [laughs].

Neal: A lovely person. Her and her partner are wonderful people. I couldn't say enough good about those people.

William: Exactly. It's not like she's going to get up and make a scene. We got an e-mail from the company I personally wrote back. Just so people are aware, we have had some people say, “I don't support what AAFCO is doing and I buy your products. Can you please remove any mention of AAFCO off your products? We can't. We wouldn't be able to be sold when we go out of business. We know that AAFCO does bad things but we have to work within that system. We put out the best possible product within that set system.

Neal: Then let's talk about Salmonella a little bit. You hinted at some of that, what they should be doing and what they are doing. What they are doing is saying that all salmonella, period, bad. When I see any salmonella, that's a bad sample whereas what you're saying is that there's many different types of salmonella. Only some of them are problematic for humans. Whether or not they're actually viable, cells also matters and that they're not testing for those things. Do I have that right?

William: Exactly. They're not testing necessarily to see what serotype it is. There are types of salmonella that keep pathogenic salmonella from attaching to your you gut. There are type of salmonella that some researchers would consider probiotics. Salmonella is everywhere. It’s in your kitchen right now. It’s in my kitchen. It's in my stomach. It’s in your stomach. One of the things that I think is so interesting is when I see a pet food recall online, every time I see in the comments, "This is why I make my own raw food at home."

Well, I'm sorry to tell you but your food has as much or more salmonella than this food. I think we need to go away from less from zero tolerance which is not possible.

The USDA actually says-- Again, they don't regulate pet food but they say that zero tolerance is impossible. We need to go away from that and go more towards exposure to good bacteria. Even bad bacteria, it's the hygiene theory. It's the reason why kids who grow up on farms are healthier than kids who grow up in cities, because you need to be exposed to all of these different types of pathogens along the way.

Neal: Then the earlier the better-

William: Yes.

Neal: -from my limited understanding [laughs].

William: Absolutely, especially at the beginning because it's like breastfeeding versus formula. It's like you have to expose them. You're building their immune system.

Neal: Your company is also manufactured in an interesting way, that's very pro-earth or very friendly to what we want to see in modern farming techniques. Bear with me for a sec. As I understand it, it's an Amish community in Pennsylvania, is that correct that you guys work with?

William: Yes, a lot of it. It depends on which ingredient you're talking about. We source as much as we can locally especially within-- One of our producers is about an hour and a half north of our plant. A lot of the ones that we try to source from locally are within about 10 minutes of our plant.

Neal: Awesome. Even an hour and a half it's so much better than what you see out there for everybody else. It’s just amazing.

William: Some of the stuff, you do have to source. For instance, our beef quality is so high. We're using GAP four and five grass-fed grass-finished beef. You do have to get for that from other parts of the country just because there's only a finite number of farms that are actually producing that quality. We definitely try to do it as best we can.

Neal: Awesome. And then this fermentation. How big are these fermenters, because I imagined them to be the size of small buildings?

William: It depends on what the thing is. A good example of that. I think he has at least three or four. For instance, if you look at, Samuel, one of our farmers who grows our vegetables. He grows about a hundred thousand pounds of vegetables for us each year. He chops them up into pieces like yay big. And then he puts them in giant fermentation crocks. You'd probably take three or four people to do this around them. He puts wine and sea salt in there. You will also get that yeast from the barn. This is in a barn. This is done at his farm. You get that yeast.

Then he actually takes and grinds them up on the farm as well. If you're talking about that-- Now, if you're talking about our pig feet for example. We soak our pig feet in kombucha for 24 hours before we blast freeze them in a nitrogen tunnel. For instance, it was on a truck but I had to get on a ladder to even get up over the side of it to take a look in it. It really depends, because then our food what we're doing is we're inoculating it. Then it's going to ferment more as it sits in your refrigerator. We do 1,600-pound batches which comparing to other pet food companies is tiny.

Neal: Very tiny.

William: Yes. That's just a measure of doing a recipe and saying, “We're adding X amount of this, this and this. We can add those right then and there.” Then Samuel ferments our kefir on his farm in a big tank there. Our goat milk is a cold ferment. We’re adding buttermilk cultures to honey and then you let those cultures start to wake up and go, “Oh my God, it's time to eat sugar.” Then you add a cup per 60 gallons to our milk. Then when you freeze it, it stops. Then I would say our cheese we make eight varieties of raw cheese for dogs and cats-- raw milk is the most complete food on earth and raw cheese is right behind it. You do lose a little bit in the way. We ferment those at 98 degrees. It's a completely raw dairy product.

Then with our bone broths, a gentleman named Steve who is Alvin's father who's one of our main farmers makes our fish and turkey stock. He ferments our sardines and our beets at I would say about 90 degrees for three days.

Neal: That's brilliant. One of the innovative things I see out of you guys’ company is this assistance with people who need to do special diets but don't know how. I love this about what you guys are doing, assisting people. Let's say they have a dog with some liver problems or a liver cleanse diet or a keto diet. Or as you said you had a senior thing where you're taking these natural fresh food approaches and then tailoring them to help people with specific ailments or problems with their animals. Can you tell me about some of that work that you guys are doing?

William: Actually, for me this year, that's one of the biggest thing because we're actually starting. We just actually brought on Dr. Doug Knueven who's a veterinarian to be on our team for our executive veterinary program that we're doing this year. I'm spending a lot of my year going around doing public Q&As with that and training vets in offices. I was just down in Virginia Beach. That vet Dr. Rowan there, he carries our food in his office. They have our protocols written there. They can actually do the math with the customer.

It's a different play on that. Basically, the idea came from-- We got the idea. We said, “Okay, we want to do a keto protocol.” Our keto protocol was based off some other-- based off of keto pet sanctuaries researches that gave one into a four to one ratio fat to protein this many days. We went to the drawing board and we said, “How do we use our existing products rather than release a whole new thing to do this ketogenic diet?” Once we did that, we said-- Me, Jacqueline, and Roxanne for the last 10 years we've been working with so many people for these different health issues.

We came together a few years ago and said, “Okay, what's worked best for you? Let's look at these cases. Let's bring this together." Like if you look at our kidney protocol or something like that. In a lot of these cases, we actually have built up case studies. We've said, “Okay, liver is a good one." The amount of people I've worked with where we can see high liver enzymes and then they add our fermented raw goat milk even just to the food that they're feeding and we see those come back in a normal range. We've had so many of those cases where we can look at numbers, that we can then say it's probable that if you add this, those are going to come down and there's no side effect to adding raw milk to an animal's diet.

For me, it was a dream come true to have written some of these diets, and then having veterinarians to use them to fix problems, that was a big turning point in my career. We're about to do a big makeover with our site and stuff, and we're really going down this veterinary recommended path because I'm expecting there to be at least over a hundred that's nationwide who sign on to officially endorse the product.

Neal: Love it. I absolutely love that approach because that's the one thing here that my store's been battling for 15 years is ultimately veterinary advice given by Nestle, and I've stopped taking nutritional advice from Nestle 25 years ago, why?

William: Well, and I'm working on that though too because I've got Canada in mind and I'm starting to work with a vet to pre getting our food there. I want to get a nice foothold.

Neal: Well, I have a couple who I need to talk to you.

William: Great, that would be awesome.

Neal: I really do, because they're already integrative in their approaches. I think the hurdle for us in my jurisdiction is the Veterinary Medical Association. They actually don't allow them to recommend fresh fruit, strangely.

William: Wow, that's like -

Neal: Have heard of that?

William: Yes, if you're part of-- there's AHVMA and AVMA, and the H is the holistic version of AVMA. I believe if you're a member of AVMA, then they have an official stance, and then that's where you say now I guess that's up to that person whether or not they want to do that anyway. The idea, I'm just going to generalize here, but most people who are part of those organizations believe that to be true because the organization said it. It's not as if they're doing a ton of research as to find out, "Hey, what's actually safe? What's not safe?" The other part about our veterinary program that I think is innovative is we're getting more and more to be able to speak in universities here in America.

For instance, I was in the University of Illinois a few months ago, and I said, "Listen, group of students." I said, "Some of you, let's half of you are going to recommend raw diets and half of you aren't. Your people, your clients are going to do it anyway, even the ones that don't, you're going to have clients that do it anyway. Let me show you this data to show you that we're safe, and now let me show you this data, for instance, we have a feeding trial for adult maintenance on our beef formula. We're in the midst right now of doing a feeding trial for growth and lactation on our beef as well. We have a full year-long feeding trial for adult maintenance, growth, and lactation for our chicken cat food for example.

We can show you that. We can also show you the nutrients that we're getting in our tests. Here's the deal, even if you don't like raw food, look we can prove ours is safe, and we meet those nutrient profiles so what's the problem?" At that point, if they're not willing to accept data, then you're not reaching a reasonable conclusion and I can't help you so that's where we're coming from.

Neal: It sounds simple to just go back to the numbers, you've been in the business long enough, you have all bunch of this information to back up what you're saying, and it's simple, but it's still so big a job I can't imagine.

William: Crazy. Well, and I will say too, the feeding trials that we've done have been accepted by states that ask for them. Certain states will say, "We-" Depends on which state, how much they regulate, how much they don't regulate that kind of thing, but they have been accepted by the states that require feeding trials, and a really cool thing about that was we didn't have to do vivo colonies in the lab, these were in-home feeding trials. We were able to get the data in an ethical way as well.

Neal: That's brilliant, I love that because normally it's done at a lab, there's 100 beagles or 40 beagles or some set amount of beagles and they're fed the diet, and good, bad or ugly the results come out.

William: Exactly. Even that is wrought with, "Well, you can remove X amount of dogs for any reason even if it's related to the food." What? Well, how does that make sense?

Neal: Here's the science and that was my question.

William: Exactly, you were just trying to do the best we can, I guess.

Neal: Your regulatory oversight is tremendously onerous as compared to here in Canada, where we essentially but teach the opposite, but that's because most of our pet food comes from your jurisdiction.

William: They're saying it's already regulated here, so we don't need to do as much. Well, the whole thing is interesting. It's also been interesting, I haven't been directly involved with it, but I obviously get updates on our Canada situation and what we need to get and all that. It has been interesting to see the differences between-- although I will say we got inspected to part of the things we need to do is get our plant inspected, and the inspector said it was the nicest pet food facility they've ever been to.

Neal: Brilliant. How nice?

William: We took that to heart, so Canadians that's what we can offer you.

Neal: Well, we'll have to send you a shirt.

William: Well, I'll come and get a shirt. As soon as this happens I'm coming to Canada and you're going to make me barbecue. I demand it at this point.

Neal: Well, I guarantee it. I just want to say that you guys are doing what I think is the best work if you are the Cadillac of the industry, you're really leadingthe way. What's next for Answers? I guess it's the vet touch really, educating the vets.

William: Yes, it's the vet push and we have some challenges coming up. The vet push is where we want to be in terms of an educational part. I've never accepted the premise that we have to run our company like other companies. We have people all the time tell me, "When you get to this point, you have to do this, and then you have to hire sales reps, and then you have to do this." Maybe some of that stuff is good, but because people have done it in the past is never a reason to actually do anything. It can be part of a reason, "This is why they did it this way," but to accept that just blindly I guess we don't really do that. I totally lost my train of thought on where I was going with that.

Here's the thing, all of our products have gotten better since we've started. A good example that would be when we started, we started with half-conventional half-organic vegetables because that was what was available. Then we moved to all-organic vegetables, then we moved to fermented organic vegetables from our own farmer. We're always getting actually better. We don't make changes to anything unless we can actually improve the quality. We put ourselves in a corner on purpose. Our whole thing is it's the best thing, do it if you want. That's our only sales pitch. If you build your company on that, and then you're not the best thing, then you have nothing because we're not going on fancy TV commercials and things like this.

We built ourselves into a corner that I like because it makes us as ethical as possible, but that's where the challenge lies, and we've been able to meet the challenge. We will meet the challenge, but there's only a finite number of farms that are producing the quality of meat for instance. A good example that was we're using GAP which is the Global Animal Partnership rated meat, which will tell you is an independent audit of how free-range that animal wasn't what they were fed. For pork, for our meat, we were using GAP two and three out of five. Now if you go to Whole Foods Market or something, it's all GAP what one pork, which is great that's way better than a conventional grocery store, in terms of being ethical and good for you, but we're using higher than that.

We needed more meat than we were having because we're growing, and so we're looking for more farms. It worked out for the consumer because the farm that we found that we could buy from was GAP four, it's even better than we needed. We're always trying to move forward. Another good example that would be our turkey supply has been a little bit low over the holidays, and that's because we actually use whole turkeys. All of our poultry products, something that I'm very proud of, we actually raise our own turkeys, ducks. We're about to release duck in February. Turkeys, ducks, and chickens.

The 25% of the formula is the whole bird with the head and the feet, so all the bone content comes from that whole bird. Obviously we have to add other things because birds are 40% bone-in and of themselves, but here's a good example, we're using organic pastured turkey. A lot of those farms for the holidays go to whole turkeys, instead of turkey parts. Therefore we can't buy as much stuff. When we didn't raise our own turkeys-- our organic turkey farm that we get most of our turkey from, would actually switch to doing just antibiotic and hormone-free for the holidays because they make more money doing that. We have to go through these natural fluctuations, but we've always been able to keep up and innovate and try to find-- It's like we wanted to duck eggs, so we needed our own duck eggs supply, so we now have a farmer who not only does our meat ducks, but also has 4,200 egg layers on six acres and they pasture on the six acres.

The other part of that, too, is we can help our local community and we can help all of these farmers, pretty much their main goal is to be a full-time farmer, which is hard. We get these awesome farmers doing these polyculture farms, so even our farmers like the guy who does ducks, he has his own cows. He grows crops. He's got the whole thing. You get these amazing polyculture farms and you get especially our great Amish farmers who actually-- Our cheesemaker, he used to have his own construction job before he started to work with us because he needed to make extra money, and now he just gets to be a full-time cheesemaker.

Neal: Good for him. See, that's awesome. That's how community should work, where we build each other up.

William: Exactly.

Neal: Again, the more I learn about your company, the more I love what you guys are doing. I think that people need to look forward to Answers coming to Canada. Hopefully this year, fingers crossed. We'll be talking this spring, hopefully. I can't wait to have Billy from Answers come to Growlies.

William: That would be great. I will absolutely be there.

Neal: I think that you guys are doing great work. If people want to follow what's happening with you and your challenges with the FDA and getting them to enforce law as it's written, where could they learn more?

William: There's a website called freedomtofeed.info and if you want to read it, we have all the documents on there. Get as technical as you want regarding "Hey, here's what our case is, here's what we're arguing," and all of those things. We have a lot of places that we put information out there. We have freedomtofeed.info for any legal matters. We, of course, have answerspetfood.com. We have an Answers Academy YouTube channel where we do online classes. The other thing that's going to be new on our website very shortly is I travel a lot and speak around the country and do a lot of things.

We will have a calendar up there that you can go-to, to easy quick reference where I'll be if it's at a conference or a trade show or a vet clinic or whatever, so we'll be able to do that. I always appreciate when I'm in different areas people coming out and saying hi.

Neal: Well, you have a lot of share. You have a great wealth of knowledge and I think that if you're ever in anybody's area that's watching this, go watch, go ask, go and get involved. Learn from Answers because you have some great answers.

William: Well, thank you.

Neal: Thanks for joining us, Billy. I think we could wrap this up unless you wanted to add anything today?

William: No. I just appreciate being here and being able to, like you say, give out as much information as possible.

Neal: Well, thank you for joining us today, Billy. William Hoekman from Answers Pet Food, the Nutritional Science Director.