By Jean Hofve, DVM
Warning! What you think you’re getting when you buy pet food probably isn’t what’s actually in the package!
Pet food labels are supposed to accurately describe the food. Unfortunately, it turns out that what’s on the label is unlikely to represent what is really there; or, at least, what pet food makers want you to think is there.
This is such an important issue, we’ll break it down into two parts. The first is:
Pet food companies are making false claims about the quality of ingredients in their products.
Many pet food labels claim that the food is made with “human grade” ingredients. And even more labels imply that the food is suitable for human consumption by displaying pictures of human foods like T-bone steak, roasted chicken, unblemished vegetables, and wholesome grains. But it’s dollars to donuts that none of those things are actually in the food.
The regulatory authorities (state feed control officials and the Food and Drug Administration [FDA]) have let them get away with this for years, even though every single company, except one, is lying. The sole exception: The Honest Kitchen, which uses USDA-inspected and approved ingredients that are maintained in a clean, human-edible condition throughout the entire manufacturing and distribution process.
Other pet foods may start with human-edible ingredients, but those ingredients don’t stay that way. Meat ingredients are particularly problematic: once they leave that USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, they lose that designation. Typically, they’e transported in an unsanitary manner; often in filthy, unrefrigerated trucks and railcars. And then they’re processed by machinery that is also far less than sanitary.
The Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act requires that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, contain no harmful or deleterious substances and be truthfully labeled.
In order for a pet food to truly be human-grade, it must contain 100% human-edible ingredients, right down to the last little vitamin.
A human-edible ingredient becomes inedible for humans when it is mixed with other ingredients that are inedible for humans, or an edible ingredient is processed, held, stored or shipped in a manner that causes the ingredient to become inedible. For example, if you have human-edible chicken and transport it to a pet food facility, the chicken is no longer human edible. The same applies if this human edible chicken is mixed with chicken meal (a non-human edible ingredient); both ingredients are now classified as inedible.
By definition, no dry pet food can ever be human-grade if it contains any rendered ingredients, such as the “chicken meal” in the example above. Rendering plants are among the most foul, disgusting facilities on earth (see this Dirty Jobs episode if you don’t believe me!). No one in their right mind would eat anything that came out of one — but FDA thinks it’s okay to feed that garbage to our pets!
What little control the FDA once exercised over compliance with the definition of human grade (upon request from a pet food company, FDA would issue a “letter of no objection,” meaning they would not enforce the law as written) has been thrown out the window. They’re just not going to do that even that little bit any more. So now a once sort-of-level playing field has become a free-for-all that could rival Brazilian soccer for chaos!
So what can we do about it? Our good friend Susan Thixton over at TruthAboutPetFood.com has put up two online petitions that we need to have a whole bunch of folks sign:
Please take a few minutes to sign both, and please distribute this information widely — to Facebook, Twitter, friends, and family. To trigger action, the White House petition must receive 100,000 signatures by July 5, 2015. This is asking a lot, so please help!
The good news is that AAFCO will be discussing this issue at its upcoming meeting in August. Please help us show them that this issue is important to consumers; and that we want them to do their job and protect our right to know what is in the products we buy!
Dr. Jean is an official advisor to AAFCO, the organization that sets the standards for pet food. It’s extremely important for her to be at the meetings, which are held twice per year around the country, in order to participate in committee meetings, gain appointments to working groups, and be a strong voice for consumers and pets against the powerful pet food lobby. But these meetings are very expensive to attend. Please help support this important work with your donation of any size – every little bit helps!