One of the most important factors to consider when selecting a pet food is quality or grade of ingredients. The quality or grade of meat(s) and animal protein sources used in pet foods should be of significant concern. However, thanks to existing pet food regulations, discovering the true quality of meat ingredients in pet food is challenging. Here is a plan we can all participate in to (hopefully) make the grade of meat ingredient challenge simpler.
Meats used in pet foods are officially referenced as pet grade (with the exception of pet foods made in a human food processing facility). The reason for this ‘pet grade’ status is that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO – the organization responsible for pet food ingredient definitions and regulations) state that no reference to grade or quality of ingredients can be made on pet food labels. ‘If it’s in a pet food, it’s pet grade’ is the existing AAFCO way. The bad news for pet parents (well, one of the bad news) is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows pet food to contain ingredients sourced from a variety of hideous origins such as diseased animals and euthanized animals (just to name a few). So, a pet parent can walk into a pet store and purchase a cat food or dog food with meat ingredients of questionable quality or of the same quality of meat they would feed any other member of the family. But the problem is, how do we know the difference?
One method to know the quality or grade of animal protein ingredients is to avoid pet foods and treats that contain rendered ingredients such as ‘by-product meal’, ‘animal digest’, ‘meat and bone meal’, and ‘animal fat’. Also, a pet parent can look for whole ingredients such as chicken or beef. But there still remains the looming question of the quality of the chicken or beef or even the quality of by-product meal. Just because an ingredient is renderend (such as by-product meal), doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to be of inferior quality; and on the flip side, just because an ingredient is whole – such as chicken – it doesn’t guarantee the ingredient is USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) approved.
A by-product meal COULD be made from USDA Approved internal organs such as healthy livers, kidneys and hearts. Or it COULD be made from diseased internal organs. A chicken ingredient COULD be made from USDA Approved chicken or it COULD be made from USDA Condemned chicken.
As pet food regulations currently stand, no matter what the animal protein ingredient is, petsumers have no way of knowing the grade or quality. Whether the meat is USDA Approved or whether the meat was USDA Condemned, according to pet food regulations, it is ALL considered ‘pet grade’.
We are all – basically – at the mercy of the manufacturer’s integrity. A pet parent can call and ask the grade of meat ingredients, but that doesn’t get one too far either. Here’s the two possible answers pet food manufacturers will give you if you call and ask about quality or grade of meat ingredients…
1. Yes, the animal protein ingredients (meats and internal organ meats) are human grade.
2. AAFCO regulations state that all meat ingredients (meats and internal organ meats) are pet grade.
And guess what? Unless the pet food is made in a human food processing facility, the only answer that respects AAFCO regulations is answer number two; meat ingredients are pet grade.
Of course, there is a murky area when it comes to pet food regulations (gotta love murky regulations in a multi-billion dollar a year industry). The Official Publication (pet food industry regulations manual) of AAFCO states no reference to grade or quality can be stated on pet food labels. But AAFCO regulations don’t prevent pet food manufacturers from directly telling petsumers in email or in phone conversations the grade of ingredients. Now here’s where it gets murky…AAFCO has no ‘official definition’ of human grade. So, a pet food manufacturer can say their ingredients are human grade (in a phone conversation or email), but because there is no official definition, it might not be the same understanding of human grade you or I might have. Again, petsumers have no guarantee to the quality or grade of ingredients in their pet food.
There is a very simple solution to this mess. The solution is for AAFCO to accept the USDA’s definition of USDA Approved Human Grade meat. It’s that simple.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the government division responsible for meat and meat product inspection. Federal meat inspectors ‘pass’ meats and animal products as approved for human consumption or condemn meats and animal products as adulterated. If AAFCO would accept the USDA’s long established grading system of meats and animal protein products, pet parents could then be provided with certification of USDA Approved meats in pet foods.
No re-inventing the wheel, no need to build a better mouse trap. The very same certification for meats sold to consumers in millions of grocery stores across the country could be applied for meat and animal protein products in pet food. Then, if a petsumer wishes to purchase a pet food made with human grade ingredients…they can – knowing the pet food meets the same grade standards as human food.
To read more on USDA grading of beef and lamb, click here
To read more on USDA grading of poultry, click here
To read more on USDA Inspection and Grading in general click here
Now for the part you can help with. Just because petsumers deserve to know the grade of meat ingredients in their pet food doesn’t mean AAFCO will take to the idea. Remember, members of the Pet Food lobby organization sit on the advisory board to AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee; no consumer representative does. Since the very beginning of commercial pet food, profit minded companies have utilized inferior meats and animal products to their financial benefit; all without consumer knowledge.
But, just because pet food has had their way since commercial pet food began doesn’t mean it has to continue this way. It is time the wants and needs of consumers are heard. Pet food consumers deserve to know many things about their pet food purchases, grade/quality of meat ingredients seems to be the ideal place to start with AAFCO regulation changes.
The following list of FDA employees and State Department of Agriculture employees are the AAFCO Pet Food Committee; those responsible for all regulations pertaining to pet food. If pet food is ever to become more transparent, providing petsumers with grade/quality of ingredient information, these are the people we need to influence.
Liz Higgins, Chair (New Mexico) firstname.lastname@example.org 575-646-3108
Nate Bartz (Wisconsin) email@example.com 608-224-4539
Jean Bowman (FDA) firstname.lastname@example.org 240-276-9772
Erin Bubb (Pennsylvania) email@example.com 717-772-5216
William Burkholder (FDA) firstname.lastname@example.org 240-453-6865
Tony Claxton (Missouri) email@example.com 573-751-4310
Teresa Crenshaw (Deleware) firstname.lastname@example.org 302-698-4525
Roger Hoestenbach (Texas) email@example.com 979-845-1121
Jan Jarman (Minnisota) firstname.lastname@example.org 651-201-6009
Eric Nelson (FDA) email@example.com 240-276-9201
Lynn Sheridan (Washington) firstname.lastname@example.org 360-902-2031
Dave Syverson (Minnesota) email@example.com 651-201-6506
Meagan Davis (Kentucky) firstname.lastname@example.org 240-276-9230
Big Pet Food has been lobbying AAFCO and FDA for decades, it is time pet parents do some lobby work too. Please take a few moments and send each of the AAFCO Pet Food Committee your message regarding grade of ingredient concerns with pet food. Tell them that consumers deserve to know the grade of ingredients in each bag or can of pet food. An example message…(feel free to copy and paste)…
Dear AAFCO Pet Food Committee Member,
I am writing you today requesting that AAFCO regulations provide pet food consumers with grade of meat ingredient (and all animal protein ingredients) information.
Grade or quality of ingredients in my pets’ food is of significant importance to me. I find the task of discovering grade of ingredient information from pet food manufacturers to be challenging at best.
I’m not asking AAFCO to reinvent the wheel. I’m asking AAFCO to implement USDA’s established grade of meat (and animal protein products such as internal organs) standards into pet food regulations. Pet food manufacturers surely must be provided with grade information (USDA Approved, USDA Condemned, Grade A, Prime, Choice, and so on) when they purchase raw materials from suppliers; even meat meal ingredients such as chicken meal – would be sourced from USDA Approved poultry or it would be sourced from USDA rejected poultry. Thus, providing this information to the pet food consumer would be of no significant challenge to the pet food manufacturer.
I am asking for the Pet Food Committee Members to consider the needs of the pet food consumer. As a pet food consumer, I deserve to know which pet food is sourced from USDA Approved meat ingredients and which pet food is sourced from USDA Condemned meat ingredients; clearly marked on a pet food label.
Grade/quality of meat ingredients is only one part of the information that pet food consumers need and deserve to know…but, it’s a good start. Please become involved; take a few minutes and email or call each of the pet food committee members above. Tell them pet food consumers are tired of the detective work involved in trying to find a quality pet food.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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