Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pet food ingredients and transparency : Is it possible? By Meg Smart DVM, PhD

Complexity of the Pet Food Industry and Why Transparency is Almost Impossible: Part 1 by Meg Smart DVM, PhD**
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Take a hand full of kibble and look at it. Appearances alone will not support the marketing claims made by the manufacturer and it is very difficult to find unbiased information to support these claims. Thus you must rely on the integrity of the manufacturer. The industry claims to be highly regulated especially after the Congress in the USA passed the” Food Safety Modernization Act”. The date of implementation and enforcement of this act by the FDA has been hotly debated. Since given this responsibility the budget for the FDA has been significantly reduced making enforcement reactive instead of proactive. This article is my attempt to introduce you as pet owners how complex the pet food industry is, and how the pet food manufacturer being responsible for the quality and safety of their diets are potential “scape goats” when the big picture is disclosed. This makes it difficult for the pet owner to find definite answers.

Part 1: Ingredients:
The main ingredients (The first 5 ingredients on the ingredient lists) in commercial kibbles and canned pet diets are made from products with no further commercial value as human foods. They can be rejected for human food because of being out dated, poor quality, spoiled, damaged, not uniform in appearance or size, or do not meet the federal inspection standards set for human consumption. 
The ingredients in pet foods can come from many sources:

  • ·         Baking goods and cereal manufactures
  • ·         Slaughter plants/meat processors/ fisheries/ rendering plants 
  •              Breweries and distilleries. 
  • ·         Grain /Pulse  Processors 
  • ·         Sugar/syrup manufacturing 
  • ·         Restaurants (used fats and oils)

There are many suppliers of ingredients to the pet food industry.Primary producers of main  pet food ingredients are rendering, packing, and food manufacturing plants.  At this level, adulteration can occur e.g.  Adding a small percentage of feather meal to increase the protein but decrease the cost of poultry/meat meals.
 The pet food manufacturer and the  end user (the pet guardian) will not know if this is occurring unless we have another Melamine disaster

  •    Some companies are partially or fully integrated owning the animals, the slaughter plant, the rendering plant and the manufacturing plants for both human and pet foods;

  •   Sell directly to pet food mamufacturer or through a second party (broker). 
    •   Independent Brokers and those hired by the pet food companies to buy ingredients from manufacturers that give them the best price for the quality of ingredients that they’re looking for
    • They also buy futures on the commodity exchange for pet food ingredients to stabilize the prices.

·         Pet food industry purchases flavorings, amino acids, minerals or mineral mixes, vitamins, trace minerals, binders, antioxidants and other minor ingredients from individual manufacturers or suppliers. Manufacturers of these products can be found anywhere in the world, often in countries where manufacturing costs are low.
 This discussion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trying to describe complexity of how ingredients ae sourced and selected.

Primary Producers:
Plant Based Ingredients:
Most of the plant source ingredients come from crops that are grown for human/livestock consumption. Nutrient value of these crops can vary significantly from area to area. Factors such as  genetically modified organisms (GMO), climate, soil pH, irrigation (water quality), herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer (natural vs manufactured), the organic matter, conservation of soil, crop rotations, air quality (pollution) ; the strength and health of the soil microbiomes are some of the numerous factors that can impact on the nutrient content and safety of these crops. The weather at the time of harvesting the crop, the over-all maturity of the crop at cutting and how long the crop is down before harvesting are other considerations. The use of desiccants to stop further growth of the crop (Lentils and peas) prior to cutting if applied at the wrong time may be a problem. Once harvested, other factors come into play such as the storage facilities, length of storage, and conditions (temperature, moisture, insects, and molds) and the degree and the type of processing.
Factors affecting quality of plant source ingredients are   method of production, method of drying, storage, molds.
E.g. Soy bean meal has had the oil extracted either by using a solvent or by the expeller process were the beans are heated and the oil squeezed out.
All these factors add to the confusion as to where the ingredients from pet foods are sourced.

There are many claims made on the pet food label that may not be supported if the company is questioned about them:
·         Do all the ingredients come from within 100 mile radius of the pet food plant or only some of the ingredients?
·          What if there is a local crop failures were to the ingredients come from then?

Animal/Poultry/Fish Based Ingredients:
Most of the animal source ingredients come from packing plants/ fish processors either frozen or fresh These are likely trim (both from livestock and fish (dead or undersized)) and are not the prime cuts (fillets) found in the super market or butcher shops. These end products can come from animals that have passed federal inspection and thus considered suitable but not appropriate for human consumption. The others can come from livestock, and fish that did not pass federal inspection, but once rendered are considered suitable for pets.
Great variability can occur in the nutrient concentrations especially  the liver, kidney , heart and other internal organs (byproducts). Some of the factors  impacting  on the nutrient content of these tissues are the diet and age of slaughtered animal,(feedlot steers vs. cull cows), season of the  year when slaughtered , feed lot raised vs  grass fed, domestic or game animals, factory farmed or free range.  In the northern climates it is difficult to grass feed all year round. But grass fed likely has more consumer appeal than hay/silage fed. Free range chickens (poultry) are under similar restrictions in Northern climates.
Rendering Plants
Rendering plants “original Recyclers” are integral part of an efficient sustainable Agriculture as they are responsible for processing waste sources of animal protein and fat into usable ingredients for the pet food industry. The majority of tissue processed comes from federally inspected slaughter houses but also includes restaurant grease and butcher shop trimmings, expired meat from grocery stores, and the carcasses of euthanized and dead animals , (no longer pets)from  zoos and veterinary clinics This material can include the fat, bones, and internal organs, as well as entire carcasses of animals condemned at slaughterhouses, and those that have died on farms, or in transit, etc. The most common animal sources are beef, pork, sheep, poultry and fish.
Produced from:

Fish meal

1)Fishery waste
2)Fish used only for meals
Lipids  highly unsaturated associated with rancid
Amino acid quality excellent
Degraded fish contain histamines
can be contaminated with harmful substances PCB’s
Quality depends of the freshness of the fish being processed
PBM poultry by-product meal
Rendered clean parts of slaughtered poultry necks , feet, undeveloped eggs, liver, gizzards, intestines (cleaned) limited contamination with feathers and bone
Derived from federally inspected poultry

Poultry meal
Clean flesh and skin,( dead poultry can be included)
Derived from flesh, skin and bone  (variable amounts can affect quality)

Meat and bone meal

Stipulates min P of 4% max Ca not more than 2.2 x actual P

 Rendering produces over $1 billion in value in the form of protein materials that otherwise would need to be disposed of in landfills or by other methods. Rendered materials provide the pet food industry with ingredients at a relatively low cost relative to their nutrient content
Rendering plants can handle other materials, such as slaughterhouse blood, feathers and hair, but do so using processes distinct from true rendering. (
The nutrient composition of rendered products is dependent on the ratio of bone: meat: fat.  For most meals used in pet foods the calcium: phosphorous ratio is set thus restricting the amount of bone. One study examining the nutrient composition of chicken sources used in pet foods found the higher quality protein sources contained the least amount of ash (bone). Any animal source ingredient just labeled “meal” is derived from muscle and bone and can have a more variable nutrient content. Marketing has decided what meal has the most consumer appeal not nutrition.
Egg dried are ones that do not meet USDA standards for human consumption.
Fish meal comes from processing plants either on the factory ship or on land and is primarily fish that are too small, juvenile, the carcass after all the desirable parts have been removed  the wrong species for human consumption. Some of fish will likely come from long line fishing ships. These ships drag thousands of baited hooks and indiscriminately haul the fish on- board, turning unwanted fish into meal.

 Can an Ingredient be truly organic?

My answer is no! So long as we have rain, wind drift, and air pollution any crops grown out side or animals raised as free range or grass fed can be contaminated with any chemicals   used on conventional farms or any organic farm close to a large busy highway and urban center is contaminated if air pollution is a problem.


  1. Yep, ignore the packaging and stuffs; go straight to the ingredient list and start doing a research. There are a lot of clever marketing strategies wherein the health value of dog food is compromised.

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