Many regulations exist for pet foods, but some recent research questions whether such regulations are adequately protective against pet food mislabeling. A study, conducted at Chapman University’s Food Science Program, suggests that pet food mislabeling is relatively common.
The researchers evaluated 52 commercial pet foods and treats marketed for dogs and cats. They used DNA analysis to look for eight meat species (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, goose, and horse) within each product. They then determined if the protein species identified within each product matched up with the species identified on the product label.
Here’s what the Chapman University researchers learned. Of the 52 products tested 20 were mislabeled. Thirteen contained meat from a species not listed on the label, four lacked one or more meats listed on the label, and three had both problems. One wet cat food product contained a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be clearly identified.
Chicken was the most common meat species identified, followed by pork, beef, turkey, and lamb, respectively. Goose was the least common species, and none of the products tested contained horsemeat.
Of the 20 mislabeled products, seven were cat foods and 13 were dog foods. Pork was the most common undeclared species (existed in the product, but not on the label) and occurred in seven out of 52 samples.
This study did not look into why some pet foods are mislabeled or where in the manufacturing chain of events the errors are arising. Perhaps the problem occurs within the factory itself. Perhaps it originates from the source of meat products delivered to the factory from who knows where.
By the way, the various brands of pet foods and treats included in the study have not been revealed.
Questioning the results
Pat Tovey, director of technology and regulatory compliance for the Pet Food Institute, has questioned the Chapman University results based in part on his belief that pet food companies would never risk their reputations by committing fraud. Tovey has stated,
Our member companies want to comply with the regulations, and we feel that it’s important and companies feel it’s important that customers buying the products get what they’re paying for.
Tovey has theorized that small amounts of protein in a product would be sufficient to comply with FDA standards yet be too small to be detected by the methods used in the study. For example, beef needs to make up only three percent of a pet food labeled as “with beef” to comply with AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards.
While Mr. Tovey’s theory sounds logical, it is likely not applicable. Tara Okuma, one of the Chapman University researchers, stated that there was a one percent minimum detection limit for turkey in two of the three products in which turkey meat was on the label, but was undetected in the food product.
Additionally, beef was listed on the label, but was not detected in four products. In three of these products, beef was listed as the first or second ingredient suggesting that detection should have been possible if the species was indeed present.
Why is this important?
Does it really matter if a pet food label misidentifies the source of protein within the product? After all, isn’t it the amount rather than the type of protein that’s important? (Can you tell that it is difficult for me to play devil’s advocate here?)
There are a few reasons the results of the Chapman University matter to me. To begin with, the results beg one to wonder if misidentification of the source of protein within a pet food product is only the tip of the iceberg. What other label inaccuracies might be flying “under the radar” that just might adversely impact the health of the dog or cat consuming the product?
Secondly, food allergies are a relatively common occurrence amongst dogs and cats, and proteins are the most commonly incriminated cause. For example, a dog that is allergic to beef might do fine eating a purely lamb or turkey based diet. Someone who purchases a “hypoallergenic” or “novel protein” diet for their allergic pet has the right to feel confident that the product’s protein labeling is accurate.
Lastly, pet lovers who spend beaucoup bucks on high quality nutrition for their four-legged family members are entitled to product label transparency. What they are seeing on the product label is exactly what they should be getting.
What is your reaction to this news?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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