What ‘kind’ of Protein is Your Pet Eating?
Pet Food regulations require an adult cat food to provide a minimum of 26% protein and an adult dog food to provide a minimum of 18% protein; however, the regulations aren’t too picky about the source of and/or the quality of protein used to meet the percentage requirements. Everything from choice cuts of meat to grains to diseased, rendered animals are used as protein in pet foods. Here is some helpful information to learn what ‘kind’ of protein your pet is eating.
A Northwest Arkansas newspaper article reporting on the Poultry industry, recently provided the perfect introduction to the discussion of quality of pet food protein; “Poultry companies have found a market for everything but the cluck…” http://www.nwaonline.net…
Providing industries the ability to sell ‘everything but the cluck’, the FDA allows animal farmers a sales outlet for the un-sellable; sick, diseased, and euthanized animals are commonly sold to pet food. Health conscious individuals (and plain ‘o sane people) would expect diseased, condemned livestock to be destroyed; unfortunately such is not the case. Diseased poultry (and other diseased animals) are commonly processed into pet food.
In the most recent FDA Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) Directive (dated 4/30/09), the FDA instructs food inspectors to condemn ‘suspect’ poultry that shows signs of disease. “Signs of disease that inspection program personnel may observe on ante-mortem inspection include swelling about the head and eyes, edema of the wattles, gasping and sneezing, off-colored feces, diarrhea, skin lesions, lameness, torticollosis (e.g., wry neck), and bone or joint enlargement.” http://www.fsis.usda.gov…
Similar to all other condemned diseased livestock, condemned poultry and ‘dead on arrival poultry’ must be disposed of according to regulations. As you read the FSIS regulation of ‘Handling and Disposal of Condemned Other Inedible Products at Official Establishments’, keep in mind these materials are ‘disposed of’ in many dog foods, cat foods, and pet treats. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov…
Sec. 381.95 Disposal of condemned poultry products.
All condemned carcasses, or condemned parts of carcasses… shall be disposed of by one of the following methods…
(a) Steam treatment or thorough cooking in a kettle or vat, for a sufficient time to effectively destroy the product for human food purposes…
(b) Incineration or complete destruction by burning.
(c) Chemical denaturing, which shall be accomplished by the liberal application to all carcasses and parts thereof, of:
(1) Crude carbolic acid,
(2) Kerosene, fuel oil, or used crankcase oil, or…
Condemned poultry is cooked via rendering “to effectively destroy the product for human food purposes”, incinerated and completely destroyed (which provides the farmer with no possible revenue thus highly unlikely to occur), or treated with harsh denaturing chemicals such as kerosene or oil. Option (a) or (c) poultry – rendering and harsh chemical denaturing – become sellable products to pet food, including the denaturing agents such as kerosene or used crankcase oil. Rendered and chemical denatured condemned poultry and livestock can become the common pet food ingredients ‘by-product’ (such as chicken by-product or poultry by-product), ‘by-product meal’ (similar examples of specific animal sources), ‘meat and bone meal’, ‘meat meal’ (not to be confused with pet food ingredient chicken meal or turkey meal – ‘meat meal’ is generic and can be any type of animal), and ‘animal digest’. It should also be noted that the fat that rises to the top of the vat in the rendering of these condemned livestock can become the common pet food ingredient ‘animal fat’.
Pet foods that include what is referred to in the industry as pet grade meat, not only can include the disease or diseases that originally caused the livestock to be rejected (condemned) for use as human food, but as well can be cooked ‘to effectively destroy the product’, can include drugs remaining in diseased livestock, can include euthanizing drugs used to kill the livestock, and denaturing agents such as kerosene or crankcase oil. The quality of these protein sources is highly questionable, at best. However, despite the obvious risk from utilizing these type of ingredients in pet foods, “the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is aware of no instances of disease or other hazard occurring…” from their use; thus the FDA’s approval for these types of protein sources in pet foods. http://www.fda.gov…
Another common source of protein utilized by many pet food manufacturers is vegetable proteins. Grains such as corn, wheat, and soy are often used as an economical source of protein in dog foods and cat foods alike. As well, vegetable protein concentrates such as corn gluten or rice protein are inexpensively added to pet food formulas to boost protein percentages in lieu of quality meat proteins.
The optimal source of protein in cat foods and dog foods is quality meat proteins; the same quality of meat you would purchase for any other member of your family. While many pet foods primarily use USDA quality meats, these manufacturers are not allowed to provide you this information on the pet food label. The regulations state there can be no reference to grade or quality.
Protein options in pet foods can range from pet grade meats (not suitable or approved for human consumption), vegetable protein sources, or human grade meats. In order to know what type of protein is provided in your pet’s food, start by reading the ingredient label. Protein sources are typically listed within the first five to ten ingredients. If your pet’s food lists several (three or more) meat proteins such as ‘chicken’, ‘turkey’, ‘chicken meal’, ‘salmon’, ‘salmon meal’ (and similar) you can safely assume the majority of protein percentage is derived from meat. If your pet’s food label lists several vegetable protein sources such as ‘corn’, ‘soy’, ‘corn gluten’ (and similar), you can safely assume a significant percentage of protein comes from vegetable sources. And finally, if your pet’s food label lists one or more by-product, meat and bone meal, meat meal, and/or animal digest, you can safely assume a significant percentage of protein comes from pet grade meats.
But how can you determine if your pet’s food uses a human grade or quality of meat? Although the above seems to be a fairly clear method to determine the protein sources of your pet’s food, there is actually very little that is ‘clear’ when it comes to pet food. According to pet food regulations, there is NO definition of human grade or human quality meat. Furthermore, because pet food regulations do not allow pet food labels to inform petsumers of the quality or grade of meat ingredients (added with the dilemma of no official definition), pet owners must call or email the specific manufacturer to ask what quality or grade of meat is used in the pet food; relying on the manufacturer’s representative to provide an honest, informed answer.
My own experiences from asking this question hundreds of times (‘is the grade of meat used in your pet food a human grade meat or pet grade meat?’), has provided a variety of responses varying from honest to downright lies. Without virtually being at the pet food manufacturer during the processing of every batch of food, without virtually inspecting the health condition of every meat producing animal prior to processing the pet food, without knowing if the poultry feed or cattle feed was not laced with drugs before processing the animal for food, and on and on, pet owners are left with taking the word of the manufacturer. With the recalls of recent years, taking the word of any pet food manufacturer is challenging.
One possible assurance to quality of meat protein ingredients is APHIS EU certification. Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) is a division of the USDA. Some pet food manufacturers have certified their manufacturing facilities APHIS EU (European Union). When a pet food is manufactured in the United States and exported to Europe for sale, the manufacturing plant must have APHIS EU certification (export requirements of pet foods into Europe are far more stringent than for US made and US sold pet foods). This certification requires that all meat ingredients are USDA human grade, the pet food manufacturing plant is inspected and approved by the USDA, and ingredient suppliers are inspected and approved by the USDA. Pet food manufacturers that sell dog food and cat food brands in Europe, that do NOT meet APHIS EU certification (which is many), have their own manufacturing facilities in Europe (versus exporting).
There are many pet food manufacturing facilities that ARE APHIS EU certified that do not export their products to Europe. It could be these manufacturers have future plans to export to European pet owners, or it could be these manufacturers wish to provide pet owners with a bit of assurance of quality.
Regardless, to date, APHIS EU certification of a pet food manufacturing plant is the best method we have to assure the quality or grade of meat protein ingredients in lieu of grazing our own meat producing animals, growing all the necessary ingredients, and producing our own pet foods. Call your pet food manufacturer and ask if their facility is APHIS EU certified. My experience from asking this question is almost humorous. Eighty percent (plus) pet food customer service representatives did not understand what I was asking about; a clue this manufacturer is not certified.
Pet food manufacturers that are not APHIS EU certified does not guarantee they are using a lower quality pet grade meat. However without the certification, pet owners are left to taking their word on quality.
Since the 2007 recall, pet owners want every bit of proof possible their cat food or dog food is safe and made of the same quality ingredients that would be provided to every other member of the family. Here’s hoping more pet food manufacturers start providing us with proof. Examine your pet food labels, understand a few ingredient definitions, and ask the manufacturer what assurances they can provide you to quality of ingredients (such as AHPIS EU certification).
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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