When it comes to pet food, names can be deceiving. At least in some cases. In this post we will review some of the key labeling requirements in the U.S. and provide an example of how a pet food’s name does not always tell the correct story about the food.
One of the most common traps that pet owners fall into when choosing a pet food is their reliance on the food name when making their purchase decisions. Using a food’s name, or the name of a food brand, is not a great way to find healthy pet food. To understand why, let’s first examine the FDA labeling requirements for pet food.
There are four key labeling rules that impact how a pet food manufacturer can label their products. Summaries of these are provided below (visit the FDA website for all of the details)
95% Rule: This rule states that at least 95% of the product, not including water and condiments (e.g. vitamins), must be the named ingredient (e.g. Chicken). Counting the added water, the named ingredient still must comprise 70% of the product. If the name includes a combination of ingredients, such as “Chicken and Beef Dog Food,” the two named ingredients together must comprise 95% of the total weight of the food.
25% Rule: This rule, also known as the “dinner” rule, states that if the named ingredients comprise at least 25% of the product (not counting the water for processing), but less than 95%, the name must include a qualifying descriptive term, such as “Dinner” (e.g. “Chicken Dinner for Dogs.”). Counting the added water, the named ingredients still must comprise at least 10% of the product. If more than one ingredient is included in a “dinner” name, the combination of the named ingredients must total 25% of the product and be listed in the same order as found on the ingredient list. Each named ingredient must individually be at least 3% of the total weight of the food.
3% Rule: This rule, also known as the “with” rule, generally applies to ingredients highlighted on the principal display panel, but not in the product name, in order to allow manufacturers to point out the presence of minor ingredients that were not added in sufficient quantity to merit a “dinner” claim. For example, “Chicken Dinner for Dogs” could include a “with cheese” on the food label if at least 3% cheese is added to the recipe.
Flavor Rule: This rule states only that a product must contain an amount of the “flavor” ingredient that is sufficient to be able to be detected and that a minimum percentage is not required. Further, pet foods can use “digests,” which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors, and use these to meet the ‘flavor’ rule requirement. Thus, only a small amount of a “chicken digest” is needed to produce a “Chicken Flavored “food, even though no actual chicken meat is added to the food.
It is apparent from the FDA pet food rules that unless you are aware of the nuances of pet food labeling, what you see (or read) is not necessarily what you get. A real example can help illustrate this point.
There is a dog food available in the U.S. that is called: “Filet Mignon Flavor with Bacon and Potato”. Filet mignon and bacon, what’s not to like about that? Let’s look at the label more closely to see.
Although the ingredient panel does list bacon, there is no filet mignon in this food. Just something called ‘filet mignon flavor’, which is the 24th ingredient on the list. The primary source of protein in this food is the inferior and vague “beef by-products”, followed by “animal liver” (what kind of animal?), and then “meat by-products” (what kind of meat?). Indeed, there is no way of knowing what is really in this food at all.
What if your pet is allergic to chicken and you choose this food because it is a ‘beef’ based food? You are out of luck. Both chicken and chicken by-products are also included in the recipe.
What is the name of your pet food? Does it sound really good to you? You might want to look a little closer before serving your pet dinner. It is worth taking a few minutes and reading the ingredient list to make sure that the food is really appropriate for your pet.
So, what is in your pet’s food name?