By Dr. Becker
The FDA’s Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) calls for truth in labeling for pet foods as well as human foods.
So… are the labels on the pet food you purchase accurate?
This question, posed recently in an industry trade journal article, was actually aimed at pet food manufacturers. The reason for the query, according to PetfoodIndustry.com:
“Unintentional mislabeling, especially with protein sources and gluten content, is not uncommon.”
I’m sure this news is alarming to those of you who buy commercial pet food for your dog or cat. Increasingly, pet parents are carefully reading ingredient labels to insure the products they offer their furry family members are not only high quality, but also free of ingredients that could be problematic or dangerous for their pet.
21 Dog Foods Tested to Validate Accuracy in Labeling
Fortunately, a recent amendment to the FFDCA, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seeks to increase the responsibility of food importers and producers to verify the safety and authenticity of the grains and proteins used in their products.
This accountability is especially important when it comes to animal proteins and grains in commercial pet food, as became obvious recently during a survey of dog foods by the ELISA Technologies laboratory in Florida.
Twenty-one dog food formulas were purchased, 10 from local grocery stores and 11 from local specialty pet stores. Five of the foods claimed to be gluten-free. The remaining 16 formulas were a mix of large and small brands of dog food.
All 21 formulas were ELISA tested for gluten and animal proteins derived from beef, pork, poultry, turkey, sheep, horse and deer. The results of those tests were then compared to the ingredient labels on the corresponding packages of dog food.
The Result: 10 of 21 Dog Foods Mislabeled
- 8 formulas tested positive for an animal protein not listed on the ingredient label, with 2 foods containing undeclared beef or sheep, 5 containing pork, and 1 containing deer
- 2 foods labeled as containing venison tested negative for deer, but instead contained beef, sheep or pork
- 2 foods labeled as containing “meat and bone meal” rather than a specific protein source tested positive instead for pork, but because pork can be considered meat, these formulas were not technically mislabeled
- 12 formulas listed no gluten source on the label and 5 were labeled either gluten-free or grain-free, however 5 of the 12 – including 2 labeled gluten- or grain-free – contained gluten at greater than 80 ppm, a level much higher than the FDA’s limit of 20 ppm to qualify for labeling as gluten-free in human foods
The bottom line? Out of 21 dog foods tested, 10 were mislabeled, two of which had more than one labeling inaccuracy.
What This Means for You as a Pet Owner
According to PetfoodIndustry.com, “As in the human food industry, this type of mislabeling is typically not intentional on the part of the manufacturer. Rather, it is most often the result of mistakes during formulation or the receipt of mislabeled product from a supplier.”
I guess this is the good news – that most pet food manufacturers don’t intentionally mislabel their products. However, it’s small comfort to people who have pets with allergies to wheat or other grains, or who are being fed a novel protein diet to address food sensitivities or a serious condition like inflammatory bowel disease.
If you’re concerned about whether the ingredients in your pet’s food match what is claimed on the label, you can try contacting the manufacturer to ask how and how often they verify the authenticity of their ingredients.
If you really want to put them to the test, you can ask if they apply “hazard analysis and critical control point” (HACCP) procedures to avoid product adulteration and contamination. A few questions you can ask include:
- Do you require your ingredient suppliers to verify the source, type and species content of grains and meals, including results of any testing performed?
- Do you check the quality of new suppliers by carefully examining their products and testing them as necessary?
- Do you keep records of the receipt and use of each type of grain and meal?
- What measures are in place in your production facility to prevent ingredient confusion and cross-contamination?
- Do you randomly test product ingredients to validate the accuracy of labeling?
Another option for those of you worried about commercial pet food ingredients is to feed your dog or cat species-appropriate meals from your own kitchen with fresh ingredients you select. If you decide to go this route, remember that balanced nutrition is crucially important when preparing homemade pet meals.