We all see the images that pet food manufacturers promote through the media and advertising. You see plump chicken, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains and fruits and vegetables. The images look inviting and tout messages such as all natural and healthy.
The Pet food industry sales have skyrocketed to over $17 billion per year in the U.S in 2008. Pet food manufacturers want you to believe that they provide the best solution for your pet. So, what are you really buying? What most consumers don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food industry. Left over remnants from the human food chain may be used for pet food subsidiaries.
WHO OWNS YOUR PET FOOD BRAND?*
- Nestlé’s purchased Purina to form Nestlé Purina Petcare Company (www.purinaone.com)
- Mars the makers of M&Ms and Dove purchased Nutro, Pedigree, Royal Canin and Greenies and are owners of Banfield Pet Hospitals http://www.mars.com/global/our-brands.aspx
- Del Monte is the parent company of Heinz (MeowMix, Gravy Train, Kibbles ’n Bits,, 9Lives, Nature’s Recipe and treats such as Milk Bone, Pup-Peroni and Snausages). Del Monte in March 2011 was acquired by Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., Vestar Capital Partners and Centerview Partners. We don’t know yet what that will mean for their Pet food department. http://www.delmonte.com/brands/
- Procter and Gamble (P&G) purchased The Iams Company (Iams, Eukanuba) in 1999. and last year purchased Natura (manufacturers of Evo, Innova, California Natural) http://www.pg.com/en_US/brands/all_brands.shtml – under household care products
- Colgate-Palmolive bought Hill’s Science Diet in 1976 (Hill’s Science Diet,Prescription Diets). (http://www.colgate.com/app/Colgate/US/HomePage.cvsp)
* Company ownership is as of June 2011 and is subject to change.
The Pet food industry has been attractive to companies such as P&G, Nestles, Colgate Pamolive as there are opportunities for purchasing power, utilizing non-usuable leftovers of the human based product manufacturing. In addition their marketing and branding expertise can be leveraged to convey pet orientated marketing messages to the end consumer. How many pet food commercials have you seen today? The fact is, millions of dollars are spent annually by pet food manufacturers to convince the consumer that their product is better. The question comes to mind, how do you distinguish what pet food to buy?
The Pet food industry is regulated and monitored by the following organizations:
- American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
- The Pet Food Institute (PFI)
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials)
AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.
They are not a government agency and have no regulatory authority to enforce any standards. They are made up of representatives from government, dog food companies, the Pet Food Institute and the rendering industries. AAFCO is in charge of establishing the rules for what needs to be displayed on dog or cat food labels, and “how” it must be displayed.
Although AAFCO does analyze new foods to ensure they contain the ratio of protein, fat, fiber and minerals, listed on the dog food labels, they do not analyze the source nor the safety of these ingredients. The pet food industry found the feeding trials expensive, so AAFCO designed an alternate procedure for claiming the nutritional adequacy of pet food. Pet manufacturers need only create a product using “Nutrient Profiles. More and more pet food companies are returning to performing feeding trials as it provides a actual palatability…
FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
The next organization responsible for dog food regulations is the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). They are the branch of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates the dog food ingredients. CVM investigates pet food in cases of widespread pet illness or death. They also investigate any health claims on dog food labels. They have NO say in the sources of the actual ingredients for proteins or fats.
The Pet Food Institute (PFI)
Founded in 1958, PFI is “the voice of U.S. pet food manufacturers.” They represent the manufacturers of 98 percent of all dog and cat food produced in the United States. They function as the industry’s media relations and representative before the U.S. Congress and state and federal agencies. PFI shares responsibility with the above agencies in establishing dog food regulations, and also plays a major role in setting AAFCO’s standards.
Official PFI Website: www.petfoodinstitute.org
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The USDA is involved with regulations concerning pet food labeling and identification and the approval of pet food ingredients. The real “enforcers” are the feed control officials in each state. They are the ones who actually look at the food and, in many instances, run basic tests to make sure the food meets its Guaranteed Analysis, the chart on the label telling how much protein, fat, moisture, and fiber are present. But regulation and enforcement varies from state to state. In Texas, pet food products must be registered and approved by the Texas State Chemist. To see if a product is approved in Texas, you can look at Reports/ Active Feed Licensee.
Official USDA Website: www.usda.gov
The pet food industry regulation and compliance is comprised and shaped by the influence of pet manufacturers, renderers and ingredient suppliers. The pet food recalls that occurred in 2007 should be a wakeup call for all consumers. It is important for consumers to educate themselves and look beyond marketing messages to make purchase decisions.
PET FOOD INGREDIENTS – What you need to know.
WHERE IS THE MEAT?
The protein percentage on the label is derived not only from animal protein but increasingly from vegetable protein as well. Common sense tells us that our pets need high quality protein for a healthy body. The practice of replacing meat based protein with vegetable based protein reduces product costs, but at what price?
Once the protein that is fit for human consumption is removed, the rest is used in pet food, animal feed, fertilizer, industrial lubricants, soap, rubber, and other products. These “other parts” are known as “by-products.” The nutritional quality of by-products can vary depending on what it consists of. The better brands of pet food do not use by-products. However, depending on the company and its attention to quality, the protein used most likely consists of leftover scraps and may contain a lot of bone which can also increase magnesium and ash content.
Many dry pet foods also contain a large amount of cereal grain or starchy vegetables. These high-carbohydrate plant products also provide a cheap source of “energy” (calories). In addition, gluten meals are high-protein extracts that are used to boost protein percentages so that they can use less animal source ingredients, which are more expensive. Corn gluten meal and soybean meal are the most commonly used to increase protein % on pet foods.
ADDITIVES TO PET FOODS
Many chemicals are added to improve the taste, stability and to make the pet food look more appealing to the consumer. Additives typically provide have no nutritional value. Antioxidants prevent fat from turning bad (rancid) and artificial colors and flavors to make the product look more appealing to consumers and their pets.
All commercial pet foods must be preserved. Preservatives are added during manufacturing but also are added by raw ingredient manufacturers to maintain freshness during transportation. Chemical preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol (antifreeze). These chemical preservatives are believed to have dangerous effects on your pet’s health (many are banned from human consumption). In addition, some pet food manufacturers use vegetables that are not fit for human consumption as determined by the USDA because of chemical residue, pesticides and fertilizers. However, these vegetables are often and legally be used in pet food.
Natural preservatives such as Vitamin C (ascorbate), Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), and oils of rosemary, clove, or other spices have been used by natural pet food manufacturers for a long time. Slowly, larger pet food manufacturers have started to use more natural preservatives.
The drawback is that the product’s shelf life is reduced (natural pet foods typically have a 9-12 month shelf life, compared to other store brands that may be up to 3 years)
PET FOOD IS BELIEVED TO HAVE A POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EFFECT ON YOUR PET’S HEALTH.
Today, the store brand diets of cats and dogs are a far cry from the meat-based diets that their ancestors ate. Are these processed ingredients such as by-products, large amounts of non meat based protein, synthetic preservatives, artificial coloring contributing to your pet’s health?
Many nutritional problems have increased, which leads us to look at the evolution of the pet food industry. More and more we talk to customers that have pets with urinary tract disease. Kidney disease., obesity, dental disease, chronic digestive problems, cancer and on and on.
It is not surprising that a highly processed, cereal based diet has most likely had a detrimental effect our pet populations health. In addition, other contaminants such as bacteria, mold, toxic chemicals has negatively affected pet’s health worldwide.
PET FOOD INDUSTRY WHO MANUFACTURES THE FOOD?
Co-Packing – your pet food company may not manufacturer your food.
In 2007, consumers were shocked to realize that a reputable premium brands maker responsible for products such as Iams, Purina, Nutro were equally affected by the recall as low quality pet foods. What came to light is that the premium brands maker was outsourcing manufacturing to the same company that low quality foods were also manufacturing. It raises the question of what are the real differences between expensive premium brands and low cost foods out there. A pet food company can use a co-packer using their contacted ingredients. However, the attraction of using a co-packer is that it can buy ingredients in larger bulk than any one pet food maker could on its own, making the process cheaper and the profits larger. What is clear, is that the pet food manufacturers must take a proactive role in selecting a co-pack partner and ensuring that quality standards are done to their specifications. Product quality issues will always be a concern, but it is important that vigilance and quality controls are put in place to catch these issues prior to manufacturing. Many pet food manufacturers also make their own food and their attention to quality is critical to their success.
The pet food recalls over the past 5 years has brought increased awareness of the public. Unfortunately, pet food quality is difficult to determine in a billion dollar industry that uses phrases such as Super Premium, Healthy, All Natural, Specially formulated, Contains real meat, no fillers and the list goes on and on. So how do you know what to buy? Research, research, research!! Use the internet, talk to a local independent pet store and call your pet food company with any questions you have. Lastly, pets are similar to humans. If it is not healthy for us, it is highly likely it is not healthy for your pet. We feel better when we eat healthy and so do our pets.
Nadine Joli-Coeur is the owner of Natural Pawz and a featured monthly columnist for pet nutrition.
About Natural Pawz:
With 7 stores in the greater-Houston area, Natural Pawz continues to set the standard in the market for 100%-natural pet food, treats and holistic health solutions supplies, all of which are sourced from the USA and Canada. The Natural Pawz team can help navigate you through choosing the healthiest food for your companion cats and dogs, while showing you how easy and affordable it is to provide the proper nutrition to your beloved animal. Natural Pawz is not like traditional boutiques or national retailers. We are a locally owned natural pet food store that also carries a wide variety of wellness products, collars and leads, bedding and special rewards for your cat and dog. Each location is managed and staffed by a team of customer-friendly knowledgeable associates that are involved in the community and truly get to know you and your animal. Natural Pawz has been voted Best Pet Supply Store in Houston in Click2Houston’s Best of Houston for two consecutive years and was voted as “Best Pet Services, Supplies or Boutique” by the Houston Press, Fort Bend Herald, Woodlands Online and, most recently, named “Best Pet Product Company” in H-Texas Magazine’s Best of the Best list.