Should Pet Food be Required to state Carbohydrate Percentage?
One of the most important things a consumer needs to know about their pet food…AAFCO has been ‘talking’ about for 8+ years. The disclosure of carbohydrate content in your pet’s food continues to be caught up in bureaucratic nonsense.
At tax payer expense, AAFCO (State Department of Agriculture members) and FDA have been discussing how carbohydrate content of pet food should be displayed on the label. Talking and talking and talking…for at least 8 years.
Why is knowing the carbohydrate content of your pet’s food so important? In one word:
High intake of sugar is linked to: obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Many carbohydrates are…basically…sugar. From SFGate.com: “The three types of carbohydrates are sugar, starch and fiber. During the digestive process, both sugars and starches are turned into the sugars that the body uses for energy.”
A brief example of the sugar content in some common pet food ingredient carbohydrates (taken from the USDA nutrient database)…
Corn, 1 cup = 6.76 grams Total Sugars
Peas, 1 cup = 9.49 grams Total Sugars
Broccoli, 1 cup = 2.16 grams Total Sugars
Broccoli is a fibrous (fiber) carbohydrate, thus it has a significantly lower sugar content than corn or peas. And it should be noted that peas, found as the ingredient substitute in many grain free pet foods, is significantly higher in sugar than corn.
Note: the same high levels of sugar and the same health concerns apply to cats/cat food as dogs/dog food.
So…why isn’t carbohydrate content stated on pet food labels? Well…it’s because AAFCO has been ‘discussing’ the issue for at least the past 8 years.
First…In 1998 FDA published a calculation method to determine carbohydrate content in pet food; “Add the percentages of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture and ash, and subtract the total from 100. This gives you the percent nitrogen-free extract (NFE), which is the carbohydrate portion.”
Ten years later, sometime in 2008, AAFCO began working on how carbohydrate information would be stated on pet food labels. The following information was taken from the minutes of AAFCO meetings since 2009 (the earliest documentation of meeting minutes available on the AAFCO website)…
January Meeting: AAFCO group concerned of ‘low-carb’ claims on labels.
August Meeting: No report, group will continue to meet.
January Meeting: AAFCO group determined ‘low-carb’ claims be verified as starch and sugars on the label, but PFI suggested decision be moved to the AAFCO Pet Food committee (delay of progress). The Pet Food Committee would be “finalizing the language” for carbohydrate claims on pet food labels (but as you’ll see that ‘finalizing the language’ has taken 7 more years).
August Meeting: New group formed, will continue to meet.
January Meeting: One meeting, nothing to report.
August Meeting: Another PFI suggestion delays progress.
January Meeting: Still working…
August Meeting: Still working…
January Meeting: Still working…
August Meeting: Considering using the carb calculation introduced by FDA 15 years ago.
January Meeting: Still considering carb calculation method…
July Meeting: Still considering…
January Meeting: Still considering…
August Meeting: Published a report using the same 1998 FDA carb calculation method.
January 2016: AAFCO learns a new laboratory method to test for carbohydrate content has been developed – discussion continues.
August 2016: The Carbohydrate Working Group provided a full report (can be viewed by clicking here – page 5). Basically the report states it “recommends that guarantees for dietary starch and sugars should be voluntary” and it details how the claim should be stated on a pet food label for those that want to provide transparency to consumers.
And interestingly the Carbohydrate Working Group makes this (very inaccurate) statement:
The Working Group recommends that a claim of “low carbohydrates”, “low dietary starch” or “low sugars” not be allowed, because there is a lack of scientific data to support a physiological benefit to pets from diets ‘low’ in dietary starch and sugars, or to define a meaningful ‘low’ level of these components.
Who was on this AAFCO Working Group committee that has been talking about carbohydrate issue for 8+ years and who feels there is no scientific evidence that high starch and sugar content in pet food is a risk to our pets?
- 1 FDA representative
- 2 State Department of Agriculture representatives
- 1 Veterinary nutritionists association representative
- 2 Feed industry trade association members
- 1 Pet Food industry trade association member
And this entire bureaucratic mess will be discussed (again) at the January 2017 AAFCO meeting. AAFCO will vote to determine if carbohydrate disclosure on pet food labels will be voluntary (not required).
This is the perfect example of why consumers are so frustrated with the regulatory process of pet food. Discussion of something that is so significant to consumers should not go on and on for 8+ years. Without question, the carbohydrate content of pet food should be required to be stated on the label. And it should be stated just as human food labels are stated; Total Carbohydrates broken down into fiber and sugars.
Until AAFCO finally decides what to do about carbohydrate statements on pet food labels, do the simple math yourself.
100 – Protein %, Fat %, Fiber %, Moisture %, Ash % = Sugar/Starch % in your pet’s food.
If Ash is not stated in the Guaranteed Analysis, estimate at 6%.
estimate Ash 6%
100% (of the pet food) minus above Protein, Fat, Fiber, Moisture, Ash equals 34% sugar content in this pet food.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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