Science Says Antiquated Protein Testing led to 2007 Pet Food Recall
A recent scientific paper makes some very strong points about the 19th century testing methods currently used to measure protein content of foods/food ingredients. Many points discussed in this paper seem to say that until updated protein testing methods are implemented, pet food ingredients continue to be at risk for adulteration from unscrupulous suppliers.
Dog foods and cat foods are required to contain a certain protein percentage. While AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) regulations are strict with manufacturers in requiring pet foods meet these protein percentages, AAFCO isn’t too picky about what supplies the necessary protein (anything from quality meat, to euthanized diseased animals, to vegetable protein is acceptable). Some pet foods are more concerned with simply meeting AAFCO required protein percentage than providing quality protein (such as quality meat protein); in turn, some ingredient suppliers are more concerned with selling high volumes than selling quality pet food ingredients.
In 2007, melamine was found to be responsible for thousands of pet illnesses and death. Vegetable proteins produced in China were found to be laced with deadly melamine. But found only after many pets had died or became seriously ill. How long did melamine laced vegetable proteins sicken pets before someone of authority noticed? Why didn’t pet food manufacturers know the vegetable proteins were contaminated long before pets died?
Because of the antiquated testing methods used to measure protein.
“The paper examines how reliance on 19th century methods—primarily the Kjeldahl method and the combustion (Dumas) method—for measuring total protein content in foods and the lack of more specific methods allowed for the adulteration of protein-based foods with melamine and related nonprotein compounds in 2007 and 2008.” The ‘paper’ written “by a team of experts led by Jeffrey Moore, Ph.D.” is titled Total Protein Methods and Their Potential Utility to Reduce the Risk of Food Protein Adulteration.
Current “analytical methods used to determine total protein content rely on total nitrogen content and do not distinguish protein-based nitrogen from nonprotein nitrogen.” Now you begin to see the problem; non-protein nitrogen (example melamine).
For purposes of trade – money – the market value of protein-based food ingredients is based on total protein content. For the sake of money, unscrupulous ingredient suppliers add inferior and/or dangerous chemical substances to increase the protein content of food ingredients and use of current testing methods means purchasers of food ingredients are none the wiser. Economic adulteration. “Economic adulteration of food is the fraudulent substitution of an authentic component of a food with a cheaper and nonauthentic component for economic gain.”
With food adulteration, “2 general analytical strategies to detect food adulteration have evolved.” The first approach is based on testing for known adulterants. Obviously, ‘known adulterants’ is the limiting factor; melamine at one point was not a ‘known adulterant’. We don’t know what the next ‘melamine’ might be. The second approach, per the Total Proteins Methods paper, is most challenging for food proteins (pet food protein sources). “In the case of food protein, no current compendial methods are sufficiently selective to differentiate protein from other nitrogen-containing compounds, a limitation that fails to protect public health.”
What we pet owners have is basically a time bomb. A bomb no one knows for certain will explode, but many predict will. The FDA has implemented one (only one) improved safety measure since the 2007 recall; the Safety Reporting Portal. This FDA food safety tool could be extremely important should another incident of economic adulteration occur in pet food. However being a long time FDA skeptic, we will have to trust the FDA will take timely action. Add into the FDA skepticism mix 19th Century testing methods currently used to determine protein content in pet food ingredients pointed out in this paper as risky at best, my stomach is churning a bit with anxiety.
In a conversation with two trusted pet food experts, I learned of one dilemma quality minded manufacturers must overcome. The example provided me was the pet food ingredient chicken meal. These experts understood that protein analysis of the chicken meal could be altered somewhat to meet the need of the sale. Both of these pet food experts – before purchase of this ingredient (and all other ingredients) for pet food, must look at and touch the chicken meal. Their long experience in the industry has taught them what quality ingredients look like and feel like. This information amazed me at their expertise, but concerned me at the same time about the zillion other pet foods out there. Certainly, very few have such expertise and my guess would be even fewer utilize it.
The Total Protein Methods and Their Potential Utility to Reduce the Risk of Food Protein Adulteration paper proves that updated protein testing methods must be found and immediately implemented. Pet Owners have to assume that the greatest majority of pet foods utilize only the existing antiquated nitrogen based protein testing. Further, Pet Owners have to assume that ‘known adulterants’ are not the biggest problem. Just as melamine was once an un-known adulterant – we don’t have a clue what could be next. Please write your Representatives in Congress and ask them to include modern testing methods for protein content in food/pet food ingredients. Without it, we are truly sitting on another time bomb.
To read a press release on the Total Protein Methods and Their Potential Utility to Reduce the Risk of Food Protein Adulteration paper, Click Here
To read the full paper, Click Here (or click the link at the bottom of the Press Release linked above)
To report of food related incident to the FDA, visit the Safety Reporting Portal Here
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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