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Pet Food Fiction, Fancy and Facts

The pet food industry currently has sales in excess of 33 billion dollars with 65% of US households containing a pet in some form or fashion, whether it is finned, scaled (reptiles) or four footed. The gross sales figures have caught the attention of corporate America such that there has been a constant influx of newcomers on the pet food block. In recent years, the number of entrants into the pet food industry has created a paradoxical problem for pet owners – more choice in food composition with information overload or in some cases, misinformation. Sometimes the decision on what to feed involves balancing cost and ingredient composition; sometimes the decision is predicated on the believability of the salesperson. Here are a few tips with examples of pitfalls that have bedeviled both manufacturers and consumers.

Here are a few factors to consider when selecting a food for your pet, form, palatability and pet food labeling requirement issues aside. Food quality depends on whether or not a manufacturer produces the food based on a fixed recipe regardless of ingredient cost or if a food manufacturer produces the food based on current ingredient cost. An extreme example would  be protein derived from chicken – is it whole chicken parts, chicken beaks or chicken feathers or the better sounding chicken meal. All sources are derived from chicken, all are protein based but how is the consumer able to discriminate based on the label? Second, digestibility of a food is a marker of food quality. Digestibility is determined by a scientific trial or serial trials which in turn require an investment in product quality in order to provide the information. Third, does the pet food manufacturer produce the food in its own facility? Fourth, does the company as evidence of a commitment to product quality employ or have on staff a board certified veterinary nutritionist? Fifth, does the company employ quality control measure and conduct nutritional research? Does the company have an American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trial statement? Lastly, does the pet food product state on the label. “manufactured by” rather than “distributed by” or “manufactured for”?

A good place to check and verify the sales persons’ information is the review the annual pet food manufacturer’s list in the Whole Dog Journal. If your target brand of pet food is not on the list, you can Google search the manufacturer and ask their customer support line the questions listed in the paragraph above. Many foods have been co-packed by a one or several manufacturer and then privately labeled by the private label company. Alternatively, some pet foods are mass manufactured – a single production plant produces multiple and competing brands of pet foods. As an example of co-packing, the Whole Dog Journal’s 2013 list included Blue Buffalo; the list of manufacturers in that produced Blue Buffalo food included 5 different companies. The list included American Nutrition, C.J. Foods, ProPet, Triple T Foods and Tuffy’s Pet Foods. The company has recently built a manufacturing plant in Missouri to produce its product line in the company. An example of mass manufacturing includes Diamond Pet Foods which included the following pet foods: Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Canidae, Kirkland, Solid Gold Wolf King, Taste of the Wild, 4 Health, Professional and Premium Edge. In this type of product line, any problem with contaminated food has a domino effect on different pet food lines when compared to a single pet food produced in a single factory location.

A final item to keep in mind is that not all pet foods contain what the label states. A recent studt found that 52 brands of pet foods that were tested by scientific study found discrepancies between quantities stated on the lablel in comparison to actual quantities found via scientific research. This study found the most common ingredient was chicken and that the 20 mislabeled foods either had additional proteins or none of the advertised proteins. Pork was the most common undeclared protein, and two foods claiming to contain beef had none at all.1 This type of information is important for consumers to know especially if they are searching for a diet to use as a part of an elimination diet in the treatment of a suspected food intolerance or allergy.