How can a consumer know if they are purchasing a real meat can of pet food or a fabricated meat-y can of pet food? We can’t. Lack of proper regulations allow consumers to remain in the dark about their pet food purchases.
Look at this image of Beneful Chopped Blends with Beef, Carrots, Peas and Barley Dog Food …
This dog food has the appearance to be made of almost completely beef. This dog food sells for $1.77 per 10 ounce tub at Walmart – which is $0.17 an ounce. As comparison, a human food quality can of beef costs $0.58 an ounce. How can a beef pet food sell for so much less?
The television commercial advertising this pet food might give consumers a small clue to how a $0.17 an ounce (retail) dog food can have the appearance of being almost all meat…
The clue is “meaty chunks”. The dog says “I mean its Beneful, I can actually see the meaty chunks and carrots right there.” The dog didn’t say ‘I can actually see the meat chunks‘ – the dog said, “I can actually see the meat-y chunks…”.
So what are meat-y chunks? We don’t know, meat-y has no official definition within pet food regulations.
Meat-y chunks could be accomplished through a process of emulsifying bits and pieces of less expensive meat products into a fine slurry, adding in a thickener that allows the meat slurry to be formed into any size or shape required resulting in a tremendous cost savings in the final product.
Let’s start this explanation with the example of hot dogs.
From the website PandaWhale is an interesting post about the process of how hot dogs are made. This image is the meat slurry that eventually becomes a hot dog. (My apologies if this ruins your hot dog consumption.) Briefly, meat is finely ground and thickeners are added to help the product hold its shape.
In human food, there is a process of making fake meat using no meat product at all. This is known as seitan. About.com provides the following definition of seitan: “Although it is made from wheat, seitan has little in common with flour or bread. Also called “wheat meat”, “wheat protein”, “wheat gluten” or simply “gluten”, seitan becomes surprisingly similar to the look and texture of meat when cooked, making it a popular meat substitute.”
Seitan products that contain no meat ingredient can be made to mimic the look of meat. From TheVeganandKorean website this product looks exactly like meat sausage.
From Wikipedia, this is an image of canned fake duck. Please notice the texture of this product how it mimics the look of poultry/duck skin and shredded meat (remember, this product contains no meat at all)…
And a familiar human food meat product, from Huffington Post this is an image of a McDonald’s McRib prior to cooking. The ground pork meat is shaped into rib-looking form.
Long story short, fake meat or meat-y meat (made with meat slurry and thickeners) can be sliced and diced into just about any form or shape to replicate the look of actual meat chunks. Food technology can make a meat-y product look almost identical to real meat at a far less cost.
Back to pet food. How can a consumer know if a pet food contains actual meat or is meat-y?
Unfortunately for pet food consumers, there are no regulations specific to meat-y ingredients. There is no legal definition for meat slurry formed into meat-y chunk ingredients. These ingredients would be lumped into the meat definition it consists of (such as beef or chicken or pork). But pet food consumers have no real way of knowing if a pet food is made from real pieces of meat, meat slurry and a starch used to form a piece of meat, or a combination of the two.
However we do have the pet food ingredient list. If the meat-y chunks are made/formed by the pet food manufacturer, the company is required to list all ingredients used to make the meat-y chunks. So, consumers can look at the pet food ingredient list for clues to meat or meat-y. Using the pet food example above – Beneful – here are the ingredients of this Chopped Blends with Beef, Carrots, Peas and Barley Dog Food…
“Water sufficient for processing, beef, wheat gluten, carrots, liver, meat by-products, peas, barley, corn starch-modified, artificial and natural flavors,…”
Within the first ten ingredients of this pet food are two animal protein sources (beef and meat by-products) and two ingredients that could be used to thicken and form meat-y chunks (wheat gluten and corn starch-modified). Are the two starches used to mold the meat-y chunks? We don’t know.
Here is an image of a new cat food from Purina Fancy Feast called ‘Broths’ – this particular variety is Tuna, Anchovy, and Whitefish in a Decadent Silky Broth’.
As you can see, this cat food appears to be mostly chunks of fish in a broth. However, the ingredients of this cat food lists numerous thickeners. From the Fancy Feast website the ingredients are:
“fish broth, tuna, anchovies, fish extract, whitefish, modified tapioca starch, potato starch, wheat starch, sugar, salt, soy protein, vegetable oil, guar gum, carrageenan, vitamin e supplement, egg whites, spice and coloring.”
In this broth pet food are tapioca starch, potato starch, wheat starch, soy protein, guar gum, carrageenan and egg whites. How can a broth pet food contain 7 different thickeners?
I asked this question of Fancy Feast. They stated the 3 starches and 2 gums are used to texture the broth and the cat food is made from actual pieces of fish. I asked specifically if the fish pieces are molded pieces of fish, and was told they are actual pieces of fish (though molded fish could be termed as actual pieces of fish too).
Just in case my understanding of a broth was incorrect, I searched (and searched) online for a broth product or recipe that included starches or gums. I couldn’t find one. So again, how can a broth pet food contain 7 different thickeners? Is this cat food made from molded fish ingredients? We don’t know; no regulation exists to provide consumers this information.
The worst news for consumers, is we have no regulation to require manufacturers to tell us if the meat used in a pet food is actual meat/fish or if it is meat-y/fish-y. We have nothing but the ingredient list and perhaps advertising clues to make an assumption about the pet food. Consumers can ask the manufacturer specific questions, but regulations do not require manufacturers to completely inform us of what we are trusting our pet’s life with.
And also remember, that the pet food regulations we do have allow the absolute worst quality of meat and fish to be processed into pet food without disclosure to the consumer. So meat-y and fish-y can not only include multiple starches to form the chunks, but the animal protein used could be sourced from diseased animals rejected for use in human food.
The point of this post is not to make a judgement if meat-y or fish-y pet food is suitable nutrition or not. The point is that regulations do not require manufacturers to properly inform consumers what they are purchasing. How can consumers trust a brand – trust the entire industry – if we are not properly informed of what we are buying? Until we (consumers) have proper regulations that demand complete and proper information be provided to us, it is fair for each of us to make our own assumption if starches and gums are used to produce a meat-y pet food or a fish-y pet food. I’m confident the industry won’t like our assumptions. Assumptions do no one any good – but…thanks to lack of proper regulations, it’s all we have for now. This is something I will ask AAFCO and FDA about at the next meeting (August).
Regardless to lack of regulations, keep asking your pet food manufacturer questions. For canned/moist pet food you can question the manufacturer directly if molded meat ingredients are used, however perhaps the better question is what cuts of meat or fish ingredients are included in the pet food. The more questions we ask, the more we learn.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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