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Pet Food Labeling

written by Marina Zacharias

There are a few things that are not commonly known about the "rules" of pet food labeling. Sure, we’re all familiar with some of the preservatives, etc. to look out for, but how many of us are aware of any difference between a label that reads ‘beef for dogs’ or say "beef dinner" or maybe "dinner with beef"?

It is commonly accepted that ingredients are listed in descending order. This is done by weight, not by volume. Consider, if you will, 2lbs of meat byproducts and 1 lb. Of chicken feathers. Which one do you think will make up the greater volume of the pet food?

Let’s take a closer look at the "rules" to see if just maybe, someone (three guesses who) might be misleading us a little bit.

The "95%" rule means that if the label reads "beef for dogs" it must contain 95% "beef" (or beef byproducts) but up to 25% can be water "sufficient for processing". If the name includes a combination of ingredients, such as "Chicken n’ Fish Cat Food" the two together must equal 95% of the total weight with more chicken than fish.

The "25%" rule is where we start to get a little sneaky. If a name includes a descriptive term such as "dinner", "Nuggets", "entree", etc., (for example: "Chicken n’ Fish Dinner for Cats" then the two ingredients only need to be 25% of the total, with at least 3% fish.

The "3%" rule applies to ingredients included on the label but not officially part of the product name. For example "Chicken Dinner with Tuna" only 3% must be tuna.

Then there’s the neat little industry trick of "splitting". For example if we list "Ground Yellow Corn" and Corn Glutten Meal" separately (even though they are essentially the same product) they will appear later in the list and will thus appear to be less than say ’lamb’ or some other more desirable product.

The principal of "descending order" can be manipulated in several ways. The most common is added water for processing. For example the use of "textured vegetable protein" (TVP), in canned pet foods. This is composed of extruded soy flour that is dyed and shaped to resemble meat products. When measuring "weight" these are added in "dry" form (before processing and adding water). As the actual "meat" is measured in "wet" form, the meat is listed first and the TVP appears to contribute very little to the food. In reality, most of the protein in the food is coming from the TVP and not from the first-listed animal source ingredients.

The Animal Protection Institute of America in its’ Investigative Report on Pet Food summed it up very nicely: "If a can of ‘Dinner with Beef’ were as big as a three-bedroom house, the amount of beef (which includes organs, viscera, brains, and anything else we wouldn’t want to eat) would fill one closet. Preservatives, vitamins, minerals, and flavorings would each take up about the volume of a drinking glass. The rest of the house would be filled with cereal."