What is Real Meat?
Pet food advertising uses this line all the time – ‘Made with Real Chicken’ or ‘Real Chicken is our 1st Ingredient’. So what is ‘real’ chicken – what do they mean by ‘real’? Here’s what some pet food manufacturers told me about ‘real’ meat.
“Real” is not defined within AAFCO pet food definitions. Despite that, many pet food companies proudly state their pet foods are made with “real” ingredients. Most of the responses were similar, most told me ‘real’ implies meat (when used with a meat ingredient).
Here’s what they were asked…
“This is sort of a silly question – but I’ve noticed that you (pet food company I am speaking with) and several other pet food companies use this same term and I don’t understand what it means. You say you include real chicken (or what ever the exact phrase is for that company) in your pet food…what does ‘real’ mean?”
Purina One’s website (True Instinct Dog Food) states “Real Turkey is the #1 ingredient”. When asked what ‘real turkey’ means, the Purina One representative told me “real” means muscle tissue not by-products. A follow up question asked does ‘real’ mean human quality meat? He responded no, that it only implies muscle tissue.
Purina – real means muscle tissue.
On the Iams website, (Naturals dog food) it states “Real chicken, fish, or lamb meal to help build and maintain strong, lean muscles.” (Note this claim is with a meat meal ingredient – rendered ingredient.) When asked what ‘real’ means, Iams told me ‘real’ means their meat meals have real protein in them. She explained that their meat meals go through a special refining process where they take out all the bones, beaks and feathers. When I told her that it was still confusing to me – she shared there are different grades of meat meals and again referred to the Iams special refining process for their meat meals.
Iams – real means high quality meat meals – no bones, beaks or feathers.
On the Eukanuba website, (Naturally Wild pet foods) it states “Real lamb meat is #1 ingredient” and “Real Animal Protein #1 Ingredient”. When asked to explain what ‘real’ means, Eukanuba was the first (thus far) to be a bit honest. They stated there is no legal definition of ‘real’, that it is more of a marketing term. The Eukanuba representative also stated ‘real’ means no by-products – no skin or bones – meat only. She shared Eukanuba follows AAFCO guidelines stating, as example, AAFCO’s definition of lamb is just lamb meat.
Eukanuba – real is actually marketing, but means no by-products.
On the Blue Buffalo website it states (Life Protection pet food) “Real meat – always the first ingredient”. The Blue Buffalo representative told me she didn’t know why the word real was used. She shared she knew that their food uses deboned meat as the first ingredient. When I shared that it was just puzzling why the word real is used by so many she asked me if I wanted her to go ask another representative – yes I did. She came back saying that it is Blue’s intention that ‘real’ means a meat not a meal or by-product.
Blue Buffalo – real means meat, not a meat meal or by-product.
The Nutro website states “Natural Choice® Cat Food features real poultry or fish as the #1 ingredient in our dry and loaf formulas…” The Nutro Representative told me ‘real’ means nothing that is artificial. She gave the example that some pet foods use a lot of other things in a meat ingredient and Nutro doesn’t – it’s just the meat.
Nutro – real means nothing artificial, meat.
The Science Diet website (cat food) states “Real chicken 1st ingredient”. Hill’s Science Diet was the second company to be honest stating ‘real’ is more of a marketing term. Science Diet never explained their intention of the word real, their representative only stated Science Diet’s chicken is meat mechanically deboned primarily from chicken necks and backs.
Science Diet – real is a marketing term.
The Innova website (puppy food) states “Each bite is packed with real turkey and chicken to meet a puppy’s increased protein and energy requirements.” The Innova representative told me ‘real’ means no by-products. She shared it is “much like you going to the grocery and buying chicken breasts”. I asked why don’t they just say ‘chicken meat’ instead of ‘real chicken’ (I was implying on the website) she said there were certain ways pet foods have to be labeled and it could not be stated as ‘real’ on the label.
Innova – real means no by-products.
Meriam-Webster.com defines ‘real’ as “not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory; being precisely what the name implies.” (Clearly, Meriam-Webster isn’t familiar with pet food’s definition of real.)
The real ‘real’ is USDA inspected and approved, Grade A, Prime, Choice. If a meat is truly ‘real’, it should be nothing less than the same quality of foods sold for human consumption. Anything less is not real – it’s fake.
Ask your pet food company “Are the meat ingredients in your pet food USDA inspected and approved?” Make certain they respond to the “and approved”. Many pet foods will give half answers such as ‘all our meats come from USDA inspected facilities’. But they did not respond to are your meat ingredients USDA inspected and approved. Pay close attention to how they respond.
Note: All of the pet foods that have provided their Pledge have given consumers this information (in writing and sworn to be true by CEO or President).
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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