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Heavy Metals in Pet Food - What You Need To Know

Heavy Metals In Pet Food - What You Need To Know

When it comes to good nutrition, we always encourage pet owners to be familiar with the ingredients in their pets' food. Protein sources, carbohydrates, and the quality of ingredients are all important aspects of our pets' diet. However, what about the less noticeable ingredients?

Heavy metals are a group of elements and compounds that are originally found in rock formations (1). They include arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and zinc, as well as others (2). Through agricultural and industrial means such as mining, pollution, and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, these metals are now found in most parts of our ecosystem including our food chains (3). As a result, trace amounts can now be found in our pets' food. Some of these metals are classed as being toxic, while others are vital to the growth and development of all organisms. The difference in these metals and the regulations surrounding their use in pet food is key to understanding the impact they can have on your pets.

The way these metals end up in your pets' food is due to absorption through the food chain. As mentioned above, heavy metals make their way into our environment through industrial activity and their use in agriculture. The metals seep into the surrounding soil where they can remain for decades (4). If the land is used for farming, the heavy metals are then absorbed by the plants (5). As fruits, vegetables and herbs are often used in pet foods, this is one way that heavy metals can be present in your pet's diet.

The issue then continues onto livestock, who can ingest plants contaminated with heavy metals. The amount of heavy metal ingested and stored within an animal's body is dependant on factors such as age, the speed of metabolism, and the concentration present in the plants (6). The location of the farm is also very important, with studies showing that animals had higher levels of heavy metals in their system when located near mines or polluted areas (7). Luckily, heavy metal ingestion in livestock can be tested through noninvasive means, such as taking samples of their hair, milk or blood (8). This means that is can be easily monitored to help prevent illness and the risk of higher concentrations of heavy metals being found in meat.

Heavy metals can be sorted into two different groups; essential and non-essential.

Essential heavy metals are considered beneficial in trace amounts and their presence is required in the body to promote overall health and wellbeing (9). These metals include cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, and zinc (10). Iron, for example, is vital in the production of blood cells and helps promote a healthy metabolism (11).

Non-essential heavy metals are toxic, even in small amounts, and have no beneficial biological functions (12). These include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury (13). These metals can be found in a range of sources, including pesticides, industrial waste, and factory emissions. Mercury often makes its way into our oceans. As a result, fish meat, in particular, can contain levels of mercury (14).

We've established that heavy metals are an unavoidable part of the ecosystem, but how does this impact your pet's diet? Pet food in the UK is governed by both EU and UK legislation, with support from the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturer's Association), and the FEDIAF (The European Pet Food Industry).

First, there is legislation in place that applies to all foods, both human and animal. This legislation covers a range of points, including that the safety of all consumable food is of high importance:

"Feed shall be deemed to be unsafe for its intended use if it is considered to:

- have an adverse effect on human or animal health;

- make the food derived from food-producing animals unsafe for human consumption." (15)

While trace amounts of heavy metals may be detected in pet foods as a result of the agricultural process, these amounts cannot legally be of a level that can harm your pet. The nutritional testing of pet foods before going on sale helps manufacturers to keep in line with this legislation.

This legislation is supported further in Commission Regulation No 629/2008, which outlines the maximum levels of heavy metals that are allowed in food items:

"Maximum levels for lead, cadmium and
mercury must be safe and as low as reasonably
achievable based upon good manufacturing and agricultural/fishery
practices." (16)

The legislation then goes on to list exact quantities allowed for a wide range of heavy metals and other contaminants that can be found in foods.

While heavy metals are found in such a wide range of sources, the risk to your pet is minimal. However, for pet owners who wish to minimise the risk as much as possible, there are certain steps you can take that may help. Feeding your pet an organic pet food will reduce your pet's exposure to chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Also, pet food manufacturers that source their ingredients from rural farms as opposed to those in built-up areas are less likely to contain as many heavy metals.

If you still have any uncertainties about heavy metals in your pet's food, contact a member of our team who will be happy to advise you.

"Through agricultural and industrial means such as mining, pollution, and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, these metals are now found in most parts of our ecosystem including our food chains. As a result, trace amounts can now be found in our pets' food."

Fact File

1. Heavy metals can be found in all parts of our ecosystem.

2. Not all heavy metals are dangerous, in fact, some are vital for your pet's health and development.

3. The absorption of heavy metals into plants and livestock is impacted by pollution and a farm's location to industrial and mining activity. 

4. Although it is difficult to prevent your pet some ingesting heavy metals, legislation is in place to minimise any impact they may have. 

References

1. Nagajyoti, P., Lee, K. and Sreekanth, T. (2010). Heavy metals, occurrence and toxicity for plants: a review. Environmental Chemistry Letters, 8(3), pp.199-216.

2. Singh, R., Gautam, N., Mishra, A. and Gupta, R. (2011). Heavy metals and living systems: An overview. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 43(3), p.246.

3. Raikwar, M., Kumar, P. and Singh, M. (2008). Toxic effect of heavy metals in livestock health. Veterinary World, p.28.

4. Jadia, C. and Fulekar, M. (2009). Phytoremediation of heavy metals: Recent techniques. African Journal of Biotechnology, 8(6), pp.921-928.

5. Singh, R., Gautam, N., Mishra, A. and Gupta, R. (2011). Heavy metals and living systems: An overview. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 43(3), p.246.

6. Gall, J., Boyd, R. and Rajakaruna, N. (2015). Transfer of heavy metals through terrestrial food webs: a review. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 187(4).

7. Rajaganapathy, V., Xavier, F., Sreekumar, D. and Mandal, P. (2011). Heavy Metal Contamination in Soil, Water and Fodder and their Presence in Livestock and Products: A Review. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 4(3), pp.234-249.

8. Gall, J., Boyd, R. and Rajakaruna, N. (2015). Transfer of heavy metals through terrestrial food webs: a review. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 187(4).

9. Nagajyoti, P., Lee, K. and Sreekanth, T. (2010). Heavy metals, occurrence and toxicity for plants: a review. Environmental Chemistry Letters, 8(3), pp.199-216.

10. Raikwar, M., Kumar, P. and Singh, M. (2008). Toxic effect of heavy metals in livestock health. Veterinary World, p.28.

11. Jadia, C. and Fulekar, M. (2009). Phytoremediation of heavy metals: Recent techniques. African Journal of Biotechnology, 8(6), pp.921-928.

12. Gall, J., Boyd, R. and Rajakaruna, N. (2015). Transfer of heavy metals through terrestrial food webs: a review. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 187(4).

13. Raikwar, M., Kumar, P. and Singh, M. (2008). Toxic effect of heavy metals in livestock health. Veterinary World, p.28.

14. Jaishankar, M., Tseten, T., Anbalagan, N., Mathew, B. and Beeregowda, K. (2014). Toxicity, mechanism and health effects of some heavy metals. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 7(2).

15. EU Commission Regulation No 178/2002

16. EU Commission Regulation No 629/2008

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