I can sympathize with the conflict you’re dealing with. I think, however, you’ve already answered it.
Why, if God pronounced them very good, do we say they aren’t? We should look at it again and conclude: God said it was good, so let’s change our mindset to line up with God.
As an old professor of mine once said, “It’s not the things in the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the things I do understand that bother me.”
One thing that helps to understand it God’s way- that everything before the fall was good- is to consider this: Adam was the first soul-filled man, and he was made with access to the tree of life. That means that before Adam, all the beings, including neanderthals and early homo sapiens, were soulless animals. There would be no understanding of suffering for them. Their pain and death would have no meaning to them.
Once God created a man with a soul, Adam, he created the first being that had the ability to experience suffering. When he did this, he gave him access to the tree of life. Presumably, any disease or death that happened to Adam could have been healed by his access to that tree. In Revelation, the tree of life is available again, and we learn that it is “for the healing of the nations.”
Adam’s job was to eradicate the earth of its wildness, which made it inhospitable to conscious, soulful beings. He was to “subdue” it. And when he suffered as a result of his contact with the earth before he could eradicate its harmfulness, he would have access to healing from the tree of life.
So before the fall, everything was very good. The animals who were subject to pain and death had no consciousness of this, therefore it was not bad for them to experience it. Adam, the first one who COULD suffer, was given access to immediate restoration of his health through the tree of life.
The problem, and thus the fall of man, is that we lost access to the doctor.
So, does God say animal death is good? Well, in Paul’s letter to Timothy he explicitly says that: For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
Look at what he’s actually saying here… he’s speaking of MEAT. Not cows, but BEEF. He’s saying that a dead animal presented to us as food IS GOOD.
Jesus even killed and ate fish himself. He did not sin, he went about doing good.
You could even argue that God is able to take what we see as evil and make it good. In John 11 Lazarus dies, and Jesus is glad:
“14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe;”
Then, there’s the verse that explicitly uses the word “good” in a way that we believe yet have a hard time actually accepting:
Rom. 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
So, I would be careful looking at a wild world before the fall, and deciding that it could not have been good. We look at it and say “it doesn’t look good to me” but God says “it looks good to me.” Acts 10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.