Pet Food Regulations

Did Purina Open the Pet Food Pandora’s Box?

Does the Purina lawsuit against Blue Buffalo Pet Food point out serious problems in many pet foods? Did Purina open up a pet food Pandora’s box? The truth might have many pet food manufacturers a little nervous right now…maybe even Purina too.

From Greek mythology is the story of Pandora’s box. The box was said to contain all the evils of the world and Pandora was instructed never to open it. As the story goes, Pandora became curious and opened the box allowing all contents (evil) to escape, except for one thing that lay at the bottom – the Spirit of Hope.

Numerous pet foods advertise they contain “No By-Products”, marketing to the consumer as a higher quality food. Consumers are told the ingredient ‘Chicken Meal’ is a higher quality ingredient, ‘real chicken’ versus a by-product meal. And no one questioned the validity of this claim made by many different pet foods. That is until Purina announced to the world they had opened the truth in advertising Pandora’s box and had found the evil within. Purina claims Blue Buffalo is misleading consumers. Purina claims Blue Buffalo is advertising ‘No By-Products’ when laboratory testing proves this to be false. The pet food’s Pandora’s box has been opened, the evil that escaped could involve many more pet foods than Purina and Blue.


If Purina does indeed have scientific evidence that (some) Blue Buffalo pet foods contain by-products that are not listed on the label, the responsible thing to do (from Purina) would be to turn over that evidence (copies of test results) to regulatory authorities (FDA and State Department of Agriculture). When/if a pet food contains ingredients that are not listed on the label, the pet food would be considered “mislabeled” and in turn adulterated. The pet food would/should be recalled. A request was sent to FDA and to Missouri Department of Agriculture (St. Louis, MO headquarters of Nestle Purina) requesting these agencies obtain copies of the Purina results in an effort to protect consumers from mislabeled products.

While we wait for regulatory action…what about that testing Purina did?

What kind of testing would prove that Blue Buffalo’s pet foods – as Purina claims – contained by-products?  Purina failed to respond to questions about their testing, so I turned to a trusted friend in pet food science.  I asked my friend, is there testing that Purina could have done on Blue Buffalo pet foods that would prove Blue used poultry/chicken by-product meal instead of poultry/chicken meal?

I was told…

Poultry by-product meals are microscopically noticeable and their amino acid profile can set them apart from actual poultry meat and poultry by-products. The presence of high amounts of marker proteins: feathers, beaks, feet, underdeveloped eggs, and intestines will indicate the use of poultry by-product meals.

In other words, the testing done on the pet foods would be looking for poultry/chicken ‘parts’ that fall outside of the legal definition of chicken meal. To understand this completely, the full legal definition of each ingredient is required…

The legal definition of poultry/chicken meal is:

“the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.”

The legal definition of poultry/chicken by-product meal is:

“consists of the ground rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.”

So…the ‘parts’ of a chicken by-product meal ingredient that separates it from the more sought after chicken meal is…

feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and perhaps some feathers.

According to the legal definition, all of the above poultry ‘parts’ would not allowed in a chicken meal ingredient.

Thus, my scientific friend’s response explains it perfectly. We can assume Purina tested Blue pet foods and the results showed “high amounts of marker proteins” for chicken feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and/or feathers in some Blue pet foods. Any of which would mean a chicken by-product meal was used to make the pet food instead of the advertised chicken meal.

But now, a pet food Pandora’s box has been opened. Knowing there is readily available science that proves a pet food contains by-products when it is advertised to be by-product free, knowing one pet food company has intentionally out-ed a competitor’s use of by-products…one has to wonder…are there other pet foods out there misleading consumers with the ‘No By-Product’ claim? Is chicken meal not really chicken meal in other pet foods too?

Three chicken/poultry meal suppliers to pet food all list fiber in their analysis.

American Proteins – 2.2% Crude Fiber
Valley Proteins – 3% Fiber
DarPro Solutions – 2.5% Crude Fiber

Fiber? Fiber in a meat meal ingredient?  AAFCO defines fiber as “Any of a large class of plant carbohydrates that resist digestion hydrolysis.”  Something doesn’t add up. Meat + skin + bones does NOT = fiber.

#1.  There is no fiber source in the legal definition of chicken meal. An AAFCO representative told me fiber in a chicken meal/poultry meal could signify feathers and chicken feet and possibly even dirt in the ingredient. Fiber is defined as plant material, but being they are ‘crude’ measurements (more on this below), analysis of chicken meal could be stating/measuring feathers, chicken feet and possibly dirt as ‘fiber’ in the ingredient.

#2.  I was also informed that ‘crude’ measurements of a nutrient in an ingredient are just that…’crude’. Crude is ballpark measurement. Crude is a rough estimate, an approximation. Thus, a crude fiber analysis might be 2.2% or it might be 0.0% or…it might be 10%. It’s crude…it’s ballpark. It’s who knows how much?

Yikes, another evil escaped from pet food’s Pandora’s box. Do you realize the “Guaranteed Analysis” on your dog food or cat food label is also “crude” measurements? “Crude Protein” and “Crude Fat” and “Crude Fiber”. How can a crude measurement…a ballpark measurement…a rough estimate…an approximate amount…be guaranteed? What would this be a guarantee of? That protein and fat and fiber is in this pet food is somewhere, sorta kinda, maybe, possibly, hopefully, not too much, not too little, guaranteed to be in the ballpark of anywhere between zero and infinity?

By the way, human food nutrient measurements are not ‘crude’. The USDA Nutrient Database is very clear with their nutritional analysis of a whole chicken – 0.0% fiber. The same should be true for chicken meal pet food ingredients.

Purina opened this Pandora’s box, and they need to come forward with their science. Regulatory authorities need to examine Purina’s testing and if it is accurate, many more pet foods need to be tested. Chicken meal and all ingredients should be held to the legal definition of the ingredient. Isn’t that what these legal definitions are for? No more crude analysis. No more ballpark protein or fat or fiber content.

They can’t have it both ways. They can’t tell us pet food is specially formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of pets when there is no accurate nutritional measurements required. They can’t tell us an ingredient is legally defined as one thing, but crude analysis means it could contain something well outside the legal definition. This is just so, so wrong.

They ‘sell’ us that pet food contains precise nutrition…is that what we are getting?

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

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

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May 30, 2014

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9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Did Purina Open the Pet Food Pandora’s Box?”

  1. B Dawson says:

    Pandora’s box indeed. If a company says “no by-products” on the label then there shouldn’t be any in the bag. Period.

    That said, be careful what you wish for. Pet food companies who use, as in your example, “human grade chicken 0% fibre” will produce a kibble that carries a much higher price tag. For instance, the locally grown hormone/antibiotic free ground turkey I feed as part of my guys’ diet costs $6/pound. I’m fortunate I can afford to feed 3 Afghan hounds and 8 cats (all rescues) a raw diet. Where will others turn for pet food if the price escalates? Look what’s happening to Mulligan Stew. From their website: “Unfortunately the cost of our premium ingredients continues to rise, and rather than compromise the high nutritional quality you expect from us, or raise our prices to over $100 for a 30 lb bag, we made the difficult decision to discontinue our kibble product line.”

    We need to rethink the definitions of the ingredients and what is acceptable in dog food. Companies *sell* duck feet as treats, yet we get upset if we think chicken feet are in dog food. We spend $9 for a bully stick – which is a bull penis – yet “by-products” on the ingredient list sends us into orbit.

    The USDA definition of by-products *is* nebulous and can be used to hide hideous quality ingredients just like “natural flavors” on a human food label can hide MSG. But some of the things we consider yucky are acceptable to our pets’ wild brethren as food. My yard is cat fenced but occasionally one of the guys catches a bird. I find only a few feathers left on the ground after their snack – the feet, bones, most of the feathers and all the innards are consumed. Why shouldn’t these things be used in their processed food if properly labeled and regulated?

    Only a major overhaul of the pet food industry will set things right, I’m afraid.

  2. Regina says:

    I don’t have a problem with a cat eating “non-meat” portions of an animal as it would in the wild. The problem with “by-products” in pet foods by these big conglomerates are the source of the by-products. If it’s coming from waste from other product manufacturing, it can’t be trusted.

    And speaking of trust, I don’t have any trust in Purina, for all of the reasons that are mentioned in the many comments on this site. They are just a big money-making entity, and any “love for pets” that they project is pure marketing and advertising.

  3. Peter says:

    You have summarized this issue well. But I don’t believe Purina is really interested in what is in pet foods. As most of the industry is, they pursue “least cost” protocols. Purina is just using a lawsuit to drum up publicity and damage the reputation of a successful competitor whose market share is growing, and in an area where Purina really doesn’t have competing products. Within days of filing, Purina had advertisements online directing consumers to the “truth” pages they created.

    In addition to your description, I believe “crude” as a descriptive term also refers to ingredients in their original, pre-rendered state. As you’ve pointed out many times on this site, that is not necessarily what the consumer ends up with in the pet food product that is actually on the store shelf.

  4. Thomas N Reedy says:

    Maybe it’s time for Kosher pet food.

  5. Lynn says:

    I read that Purina had sued Blue Buffalo a couple of weeks back. I had to laugh though as this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Purina has one of the worst reputations (part of the gruesome threesome known as Hill’s, Purina and Iams). If in fact Blue Buffalo is doing what Purina accuses them of, then I agree Blue Buffalo should be held accountable and so should other companies. However, that said, Purina better start looking in their own food bags as well. Those that live in glass houses should not cast stones comes to mind. They should hold all companies accountable for false advertising but then again is the FDA ever held accountable for anything either? Time will tell…Thanks for the post Susan. 🙂

  6. Ellie says:

    I honestly don’t understand how any intelligent human being can imagine that any healthy nutrition can be derived from any brand of such highly processed low grade ingredients.
    Good nutrition does not come out of a box or a bag. It is grown and the closer the ingredient is to it’s original state the more healthy nutrition will be derived from it.
    Our pets now suffer from the same food induced diseases that humans do. When will people wake up? The food industry, both human and pet, has been deceiving the public long enough. It is time for the truth to be told.

  7. Erik says:

    This has been the best article on this subject I’ve seen. Also great comments.

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