Finding a great food for your cat or dog should be a simple thing, but it’s not. Due to lack of enforcement of law, misleading all-inclusive pet food ingredient definitions, and lack of transparency with pet owners – finding a quality pet food almost requires the skills of a private investigator.
But if we break down the investigation of a pet food into 3 parts, the task becomes a bit easier. Those 3 parts of a quality pet food are:
- Quality manufacturing
- Quality ingredients
- Complete and balanced nutrition
Pet food facilities are not held to the same manufacturing safety standards as human food (with the exception of human grade pet foods – those with the words “Human Grade” printed on the label, ignore the website).
As example, from an FDA inspection report of a Diamond Pet Food facility we learned “firm utilizes cardboard, duct tape, and other non-cleanable surfaces on equipment. These materials were observed to have residues adhering.”
Another example is a Mars Petcare facility. Through Freedom of Information Act request documents received from FDA, we learned a wet pet food facility operated by Mars was infested with bugs. The inspection report stated “a significant German cockroach infestation of the firm persists.“ In fact, manufacturing employee records provided in the FDA documents stated “millions of roaches” were present in the food production area of this pet food plant.
Needless to say, pet food manufactured under conditions like these will not result in the best quality pet food. Unfortunately, pet food plants are NOT inspected by regulatory authorities for conditions exampled above until after a problem (such as a pet illness or death – usually multiple) is reported. Those inspection reports (follow-up to a reported issue) are termed Establishment Inspection Reports – sometimes referred to as EIRs.
Pet owners can request from FDA information about any pet food plant. You’ll need to know the city/state location of the plant, then email FDA at AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov asking (example): Please provide any and all Establishment Inspection Reports for the ABC Pet Food plant located in [city, state] since January 1, 2015 (or back to any time frame you choose).
Pet owners can also perform an internet search using the example phrase ‘ABC Pet Food (brand) Establishment Inspection Report.’ (This website has published multiple of these documents – they will be moved to one location soon).
And pet owners can ask the manufacturer questions about their facilities – such as:
- Has the FDA issued a Establishment Inspection Report on your manufacturing facility (any location)? If yes, what was the reason for FDA inspection? If yes, please provide date(s) of the Establishment Inspection Report.
- Is your manufacturing facility regularly inspected by a 3rd party? If yes, will you provide me the inspection reports from the past 5 years (example time frame)?
With the first item – it’s good to ask the manufacturer this question first, then follow up with FDA asking the same information. You’ll learn if the company is being honest with you. By asking for the date(s) of the Establishment Inspection Report from the manufacturer, you’ll be able to cross-check information provided by the manufacturer with what the FDA provides. With the second item, know that 3rd party inspections are limited. In most cases the manufacturing facility receives advance notice (weeks) of an upcoming inspection and they fully prepare to assure a good result.
Some pet food manufacturers tell pet owners they are inspected annually by FDA and pass with no issues. This annual inspection has absolutely nothing to do with cleanliness of equipment or safe manufacturing conditions or safe storage of ingredients – or actually anything to do with the quality of manufacturing conditions. The ONLY annual inspections performed at pet food plants by FDA is to assure the pet food is abiding by BSE (mad cow) regulations – properly labeling waste pet food or ingredients with the warning ‘Do Not Feed to Ruminants’. Don’t let any manufacturer mislead you with these types of inspections.
Just the same as with manufacturing, pet food ingredients are not required to be the same quality as in human food (again with the exception of human grade pet foods which are required by law to be of the same quality of ingredients as human food).
The FDA allows pet food ingredients to be sourced from basically waste ingredients – including meats or meat meals sourced from “diseased animals and animals that died otherwise than by slaughter“. Further, pet food ingredient definitions – which pet owners have no public access to – are extremely vague.
As example, a pet food might be labeled as “Made with Real Chicken“. This statement could mean the pet food contains USDA inspected and passed chicken meat, or it could mean USDA condemned chicken meat, or chicken bones (chicken frames) with little to no meat, or a long list of other possibilities.
Just as with quality of manufacturing, quality of ingredients is significant to a quality pet food. Ask the pet food manufacturer if ingredients are “human edible“. And don’t be shy, if the company states yes – ask them to provide you with some type of verification that ingredients are human edible. Some manufacturers will state ‘we use human edible ingredients, but when they enter our pet food facility they are considered feed grade’. This is a true statement, but…ask the company to provide verification the ingredients are indeed human edible when they enter the pet food plant.
Supplements can be of different grades too. Ask the manufacturer if supplements are human grade or feed grade. Human grade supplements are manufactured to higher quality standards than feed grade.
Complete and balanced nutrition
Regardless if a pet food is home prepared, raw, kibble, can, or any other style – the food needs to provide your pet with all the required nutrients and at the proper levels. Commercial pet foods have two ways to validate they meet the required nutrients for a cat or dog (Complete and Balanced): 1. the pet food meets the required levels of nutrients established in AAFCO Nutrient Profiles; or 2. the pet food passes the requirements of an AAFCO Feeding Trial. Neither method is a guarantee your pet is receiving complete and balanced nutrition.
Pet owners can ask the manufacturer if they perform full nutrient lab testing of the pet food and how often that testing is performed. Make sure to ask about the specific variety you are interested in – some companies will test only a few varieties, others will test all varieties on a consistent basis (once or twice a year).
Pet owners can also ask their State Department of Agriculture (Click Here to locate your representatives) if they have tested your brand over the past several years. Many states do basic testing of Guaranteed Analysis verification (protein, fat), but some will test for other nutrients. Most states do not make their testing results public (searchable), but some do – as example Missouri Department of Agriculture keeps a database of pet food/animal feed lab testing results Here.
All three parts are significant to a quality pet food. Missing any one of these three, results in an inferior pet food – a potentially dangerous pet food.
Quality ingredients combined in a balance recipe but manufactured in a filthy manufacturing facility puts that pet food at risk for you and your pet.
And the same can be said of a pet food made with waste ingredients in a pristine manufacturing facility combined in a balanced recipe.
And last but not least, a pet food made with quality ingredients in a quality manufacturing facility that does not follow a balanced recipe (or test that recipe to validate complete and balanced) puts pets at risk for nutritional illnesses.
Ask your pet food manufacturer about all 3 parts.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
Become a member of our pet food consumer Association. Association for Truth in Pet Food is a a stakeholder organization representing the voice of pet food consumers at AAFCO and with FDA. Your membership helps representatives attend meetings and voice consumer concerns with regulatory authorities. Click Here to learn more.
Find Healthy Pet Foods in Your Area Click Here
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
Is your dog or cat eating risk ingredients? Chinese imports? Petsumer Report tells the ‘rest of the story’ on over 5,000 cat foods, dog foods, and pet treats. 30 Day Satisfaction Guarantee. Click Here to preview Petsumer Report. www.PetsumerReport.com
The 2019 List
Susan’s List of trusted pet foods. Click Here to learn more.