Be Aware: This Pet Food Contains a Stunning List of 40 'Clean' Ingredients

pet food

Story at-a-glance -

  • The processed pet food industry is increasingly at a loss to understand how to keep pet parents happy and buying their products
  • The industry touts the self-funded “science” behind their pet food, but laments that consumers don’t trust it
  • The pet food industry also engages in misleading marketing practices intended to present their products as fresh, wholesome, “natural” and “clean”
  • Unless big pet food aligns its goals with those of pet parents, it will continue to lose ground as consumers find alternatives to processed diets

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

It's apparent to me that the processed pet food industry seems to be falling farther and farther behind the curve in terms of consumer confidence and trust in their products. Big pet food also seems confused about what their customers really want. They seem to be taking a two-pronged approach in answering pet owner concerns, and neither prong is producing the hoped-for results. On the one hand, they want us to believe unquestioningly in their self-funded scientific studies of the benefits of their products.

Pet Food Industry 'Science' Is About Testing the Limits of Dogs' and Cats' Ability to Tolerate Biologically Inappropriate Diets

Here's an example of a standard pet food industry complaint:

"If only we could make consumers … aware of the science and get them to accept it, rather than believing all those myths and misinformation they read on the internet."1

Also: "Information needs to be science based, not based on perception, marketing or other things," according to Daniel McChesney, Ph.D., director of the office of surveillance and compliance for the Center for Veterinary Medicine, part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).2

Of course, the science they are referring to is not the science of creating optimally nutritious diets for pets. If that were the case, there'd be no shortage of high-quality, peer-reviewed, lifetime studies comparing the health, vitality and longevity of pets fed a diet mimicking their ancestral diet and pets fed a processed diet.

No, the science the pet food industry would like us to buy into is the science of learning how to keep dogs and cats alive (surviving, but not thriving) on biologically inappropriate, "feed-grade" diets that must include synthetic vitamins to meet minimum nutrition standards.

The science they tout involves testing the limits of dogs' and cats' tolerance for poor-quality, biologically inappropriate ingredients that have undergone extreme processing methods. The endgame is to keep carnivores alive on a processed diet of grains, starches and the poorest-quality animal protein they can get away with. It's the science of dollars and cents. The cheaper the ingredients, the bigger the profit margin.

Fortunately, There ARE Independent Organizations Taking on the Challenge of Conducting Objective, Unbiased, Comparative Pet Food Studies

The reason pet parents have grown distrustful of the people and pet food organizations producing scientific information is because as I illustrated above, their goals are clearly very different from the goals of pet owners who want to offer the best nutrition to their dogs and cats, not to mention the pet food companies are "researching" their own products!

Pet parents would be much more open to learning about new pet food science if the research was objective, unbiased and comparative, which isn't what's happening in the industry. But it is happening at some progressive universities.

Dr. Anna Heilm-Björkman and her team at the DOGRISK project are evaluating the effects of feeding kibble versus fresh food at the vet school in Helsinki. And I just returned from Italy where I interviewed Dr. Misa Sandri and Bruno Stefanon about their research into the beneficial effects of fresh food (compared to kibble) on the gut microbiome.

Here in the U.S., CANWI is also beginning their study of advanced glycation end products in canned, dry and raw foods. These are the types of studies that pet parents want to see funded, and are also the studies that would help pet parents regain their trust in the pet food industry. So why aren't more companies doing them?

If You Can't Dazzle Them With Science, Seduce Them With Advertising

The second prong of big pet food's misguided two-pronged approach to improving consumer confidence is to label, market and advertise their products deceptively, with liberal use of trendy buzzwords and misleading artwork.

For example, one processed pet food producer is co-opting the "clean eating" trend. The term "clean eating" has no official definition, however, generally speaking, eating clean "… is about eating whole foods, or 'real' foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible."3 Here's the spin from the pet food company's website:

"CLEAN is the new standard

A pet's food energizes them from the inside out, and NUTRO™ clean recipes are simple, purposeful, and trustworthy — made of real, recognizable, non-GMO ingredients†. Each of our Dry Dog Food recipes is clean, and the same is true for our NUTRO™ Dry Cat recipes.

Trace amounts of genetically modified material may be present due to potential cross contact during manufacturing."4

This is pure marketing hype. "Simple, purposeful, and trustworthy" recipes — what do those buzzwords really mean with regard to canine nutrition? Let's take a look at the ingredient list for one of NUTRO's "clean" products, WHOLESOME ESSENTIALS™ Adult Dry Dog Food with Farm-Raised Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe:5

Chicken, Chicken Meal, Whole Brown Rice, Brewers Rice, Split Peas, Rice Bran, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Barley, Lamb Meal, Dried Sweet Potato, Natural Flavor, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, Salt, Dried Apples, Dried Blueberries, Dried Carrots, Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid (preservatives), Zinc Sulfate, Niacin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Selenium Yeast, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Rosemary Extract

This list of "clean" ingredients looks quite similar to the ingredient lists of many processed dry dog foods. I wouldn't use the words simple, real or recognizable to describe a dog food formula that contains almost 40 ingredients (most of them nutrient add-ins after high-heat processing destroys the nutrients in the actual food), synthetic vitamins and numerous impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

Bottom line: use of the term "clean eating" in this case is a marketing ploy. Rendered and extruded pet food cannot, by definition, be clean.

Will Big Pet Food Ever Learn?

Until the goals of the processed pet food industry align with the goals of pet parents to feed dogs and cats optimally nutritious diets and not just inappropriate-but-survivable diets, pet food producers won't regain consumer confidence or trust in their products.

Too many pet parents are watching their beloved animal companions, at ever younger ages, develop degenerative diseases that dogs and cats in the wild never acquire. And while there are many differences in the lifestyles of domesticated and wild animals, diet is one of the biggest, arguably the most impactful, and the best starting point to improve health.

Big pet food either doesn't realize or can't admit that a growing number of pet parents have become too knowledgeable about pet nutrition to keep buying their products. The industry continues to ignore the need to explore connections between an exploding number of pets with degenerative diseases, and the relatively recent practice of feeding dogs and cats the same biologically inappropriate processed diet day in and day out for months, years or a lifetime.

They choose instead to invest more in the "science" of feeding animals diets they aren't designed to eat, as well as in just the right marketing to gloss over the realities of their products.

What to Do if You've Lost Trust in the Processed Pet Food Industry

Thanks to low-grade ingredients, too-frequent recalls, and an exploding population of pets with chronic digestive issues, allergies and degenerative disease, it's no wonder so many pet parents are exploring homemade diets, fresh food diets made by smaller, transparent pet food producers, raw diets and other alternatives to the dead, rendered, dubious, processed stuff.

My advice? Search this website for more information on choosing the best diet for your pet. There are dozens of videos and articles here that can help you become more knowledgeable about pet nutrition so that you can make the best diet choices for your own dog or cat.

If you want to help change the deceptive practices occurring in the pet food industry, I recommend becoming a member of the Association for Truth in Pet Food, which is the only organization out there committed to holding the regulatory agencies and AAFCO accountable.