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stneidergnI dooF teP – Pet Food Ingredients backwards. Instead of using ingredients based on the nutritional needs of cats and dogs, most pet food ingredients are developed by what industry has leftover and can’t sell. The system is backwards.
One would think – especially us that love our pets like family – that the pet food we trust is made with carefully selected ingredients that provide our pet with the nutrition it needs. One would think that pet food ingredients are developed out of need – by what is best for the animal. But that’s not how (most) pet foods or pet food ingredients work. The system of pet food ingredients is backwards to what it should be.
The system of pet food ingredients works like this…
- Industry has something they can’t sell to human food (the ‘something’ can be contaminated or expired or simply too costly to process according to human food standards).
- The un-sellable ‘something’ is sold to pet food/animal feed. Sometimes reprocessed, sometimes not. Regulatory authorities gladly develop ingredient definitions to meet industry’s need to sell the item and keep the system legal. But often, ingredients are used in pet foods with no legal definition and/or ingredients that don’t meet the legal definition.
- All in industry is happy and proud of themselves touting pet food sustainability, recycling, and less material in landfills.
But what about the pets? Is this system the best nutrition for our pets? What about the pet food consumers? Are pet food consumers told their pet’s food is made with leftovers of industry?
Case in point. Pet food consumer advocates brought to the attention of pet food regulatory authorities (AAFCO) that ingredients being sold to pet food did not meet the definitions of poultry ingredients. We told them ground whole birds – feathers, feet and intestines included (which met no legal definition) – were consistently sold to pet food (sourced from spent laying hens). AAFCO examined our claims and found that – yes, these ingredients were commonly used in pet food and that yes, current definitions of poultry ingredients did not match the material commonly being used in pet food.
Now…the big question. What did AAFCO do about this problem? Instead of recalling pet foods that used the ground whole birds (with no legal definition), the agency just changed the definitions to allow industry to continue their use this otherwise unsellable product. The AAFCO inspector contacted industry and asked what was being sold to pet food and then they rewrote the definition (to meet industry’s need – not to meet the pet’s need).
At the most recent AAFCO meeting (August 2015), the AAFCO investigator told the audience that what industry was selling pet food did not meet the definition – the legal requirement – of these poultry ingredients. It was actually stated, they were “surprised” to learn what was being sold to pet food in poultry ingredients (in other words, regulatory authorities hadn’t a clue what was really in pet food). And so as a result of their ‘surprised’ findings, they changed the current ingredient definition to allow industry a place to dump ground spent laying hens. No consideration was given if feathers, feet and intestines in ground whole poultry are suitable nutrition for cats and dogs. No consideration was given to the safety of ground whole spent laying hens. The only consideration was industry. Because industry needed an outlet to sell ground whole poultry including feathers, feet and intestines to…AAFCO politely changed the legal definition of pet food ingredients to comply.
The ‘use what’s available’ backwards system of making a pet food has been standard since the beginning of commercial pet food. It is common…standard practice that pet food regulatory authorities and industry work closely together to sell any and all otherwise un-sellable products to animal feed/pet food. They take what is cheap and often un-sellable and figure how to make it work in an animal’s diet. No consideration is given towards the nutritional value of the ingredient, only the need of industry to have a selling point for their waste is considered. It’s how it’s always been done.
The system of pet food ingredients should work like this…
- Based on the nutritional needs of pets, ingredient definitions are developed.
- Ingredient suppliers are required to meet those definitions.
- Pet foods use only legal, nutritionally sound ingredients.
Some – a small segment of pet foods – have already done the above. These companies examine the nutritional needs of a pet and have built pet foods around that. These companies have broke the mold…but they are not understood by regulatory authorities. The regulatory mindset is old school – waste/un-sellable ingredients + supplements = a complete and balanced diet. It is long past time for regulatory authorities to open their minds to the new wave of feeding pets. Consumers have, it is time for regulators to wake up and smell the ‘food’ ingredients.
A personal story…
My mother had a miscarriage prior to having me. Standard in those days was to give women who suffer a miscarriage a drug that was stated to prevent future miscarriages. My Mom took the drug and a year or so later I was born. But years later, when I was grown, married and wanted to have children we learned what that drug actually did. The drug caused birth defects in both of my children (and four miscarriages prior to their birth). My oldest was born with an undeveloped ear and issues with speech due to improper development in her throat. When she was five or six, we were sent to a plastic surgeon specialist to address the speech issues (through surgery). What this very experienced surgeon wanted to do was seal off my daughter’s nose from the inside – aiding her speech, but would prevent her from ever breathing through her nose. When he explained the surgery, I (politely) told him “NO WAY”, you are not doing that to my child. He came back with “but this is what has been done in cases like this for 50 years!” My response “then it’s time for a change. Figure something else out.” And he did. He developed a different surgical technique that helped my daughter allowing her a normal life.
The point – decades old standards don’t work today. Just as I pushed my daughter’s surgeon to figure out a better way, there is a need to push regulatory authorities to develop a better way for our pet food ingredients. Pet food ingredient definitions should be written according to a pet’s need, not industry’s need to sell their waste. With continued consumer awareness and continued support of pet foods doing it the right way, hopefully one day we’ll all see a better system for pet food. Until then, talk to your pet food manufacturer about their ingredients. Ask them where they source meats and vegetables from. Ask them what they require of ingredient suppliers (what quality of ingredient is used?, are denaturing agents allowed on ingredients?). Ask them why they use the ingredients they use. Learn as much as you can from the company you trust your pet’s life with.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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