Is there Chicken in Chicken Pet Foods?
One of the newest trends of pet food marketing is a tag line something like ‘Chicken is the first ingredient’. Sounds good doesn’t it? Chicken, first or second on the ingredient list surely means this pet food contains lots of quality meat doesn’t it? No wonder this ‘chicken’ pet food is a little more expensive – it contains more meat. Right? Maybe not.
Just because petsumers think meat when the ingredient ‘chicken’ is listed on a label, doesn’t mean the pet food actually contains chicken meat. Pet food can have a very different definition of ‘chicken’. Thanks to very broad Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) ingredient definitions, the ingredient ‘chicken’ listed on a pet food label could be nothing more than skin, bone, cartilage, and maybe a few tiny fragments of meat.
Here is the AAFCO definition of poultry (quoting the 2011 AAFCO Official Publication): “Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
Problems with this pet food ingredient definition…
#1 This ingredient (which includes all types of poultry including chicken) can be “a combination thereof” of any part of poultry. This means that a pet food, proudly claiming Chicken as the #1 ingredient, can include ONLY chicken bones and/or skin (left over from the human food industry).
#2 “It shall be suitable for use in animal food” means that animals rejected for use in human food for reasons including (but not limited to) disease and drug residues are approved for use in pet food. This we can thank the FDA for. Federal Food Safety Laws should make it illegal for pet food to include whole or parts of diseased or rejected animals, but FDA Compliance Policies tell pet food it is acceptable to use diseased and drugged animals in pet food (“it shall be suitable for use in animal food”).
Chicken Meal/Poultry Meal is very similarly defined – except ‘meal’ implies moisture removed. However the very same end result can apply – the meal can consist of little more than skin and bones — no meat.
Other pet food meat ingredient definitions are a bit more descriptive, however all meat pet food ingredient definitions include the “it shall be suitable for use in animal food” disclaimer. Thus any pet food meat ingredient – thanks to FDA Compliance Policies and AAFCO ingredient definitions – can be the same quality as human meats or can be sourced from diseased, rejected animals. But, regulations do NOT provide petsumers with a means to determine which is which.
When a petsumer tries to make an educated choice of pet food, and they look for ‘chicken’ or ‘chicken meal’ listed high on the ingredient panel, they might just be getting chicken skin and bones – and virtually no chicken meat. It doesn’t matter if the images on the front of the bag or can show (imply) choice cuts of meat – inside the bag or can might be nothing more than chicken skin and bones. And that same petsumer – trying to make an educated, healthy choice of pet food for their furry family – might be getting diseased, rejected sources of chicken. Thanks to AAFCO ingredient definitions and FDA Compliance Policies, there is NO way of knowing for certain what you are purchasing.
The good news is that some pet foods bother to use the same quality of MEAT available for human consumers in their pet foods. But you won’t know who they are from seeing the ingredient ‘chicken’ or ‘chicken meal’ or ‘beef’ on a pet food label. You won’t know the quality or if meat was even used by viewing the pet food television commercial or even looking closely at the bag or can. AAFCO pet food regulations won’t allow pet foods to state Grade of Ingredient on a pet food label.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for inspecting all meat products in the US. Meats that pass inspection are provided ‘grades’ that refer to the quality of the product. A very simple way to better inform petsumers would be to provide Grade information for all meat ingredients. Ah, but…AAFCO doesn’t allow this. (Which is very confusing considering AAFCO members ARE State Department of Agriculture employees – wouldn’t it make sense for them to utilize United States Department of Agriculture resources such as Grades of Meat?)
So what can you do to assure your pet’s food is made from #1 meat, and #2 high quality meat?
For high quality meat: Learn if your pet’s food is made from USDA approved meat is to call the pet food manufacturer and ask “What is the grade of meat used in your pet foods?” For poultry you want the response Grade A, with Beef and Lamb you want the response Prime or Choice.
But good luck learning an answer to this question from many pet foods. I called several leading commercial pet foods with this question and no one could provide me an answer. Of the several pet foods that I called the conversations all were similar…
Pet Food: Thanks for calling us, what can I help you with?
Susan: Yes, thank you – I’d like to know the Grade of the meats used in your pet foods.
Pet Food: Ok, well just a moment…all our meats come from USDA inspected facilities. (Keep in mind that rejected for human food animals ‘come from’ USDA facilities – they are rejected ‘from’ USDA facilities.)
Susan: Ok, but what is the Grade? As example Grade A, Choice, Prime.
Pet Food: Ok, well…can I put you on hold a moment?
Pet Food: I’m back, our meats are sourced from the same USDA meat processing facilities that meats you would purchase in the grocery store come from. USDA approved facilities. (Again, rejected animals ‘come from’ USDA approved facilities – as well, skin and bones ‘come from’ USDA facilities).
Susan: But you still didn’t answer my question; what is the Grade?
Pet Food: I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer for you.
(One – Purina – has promised to return my call with an answer to my question; 3 full days have passed with no return phone call. Are they still looking for an answer?)
For learning if poultry or poultry meal or other meal ingredients are sourced from meat instead of skin and bones: Call the manufacturer and ask what cuts of meat are used in the pet food. For ‘meal’ ingredients (such as chicken meal), ask if the meal is sourced from muscle meat only (optimal) or if it is sourced from muscle meat, bone, and or internal organs. If the chicken meal (or other meat meal) is sourced from a combination of muscle meat, bone and internal organs, the chicken meal could be made from little more than skin and bones.
Some pet food companies clearly understand the significance of quality meat in pet foods. Some provide meat Grade information and cuts of meats used in their pet foods on their websites and/or will promptly provide you this information if you ask.
Pet food regulations are not currently designed to provide petsumers with much information or protection. Regardless of what the television commercials say or images on the pet food bag/can portray, what is inside the bag or can is the information you need to know before you feed it to your pet. These questions will give you a wealth of information and a great start to learning exactly what you are feeding your pet…
What is the grade of meat used in your pet foods? What cut of meat is used in your pet foods?
If they don’t respond or can’t tell you – that speaks volumes.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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