Many pet food manufacturers identify their primary meat source on the foods of their packaging. For example, a chicken based pet food may be advertised with words such as "chicken flavour", "with chicken", "rich in chicken", or "chicken dinner", to name a few.
While they appear to make our pets' food sound more interesting, there is actually more to it than that. Did you know that a pet food labelled as "chicken flavour" is not actually required by law to contain any chicken at all?
As we've mentioned in Part 1 & 2 of our "Truth About Pet Food" series, the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) represents the multiple pet food associations in Europe, inclduing the UK's Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). FEDIAF has produced a Code of Good Labelling Practice For Pet Food and this code considers the claims that pet food manufacturers can and cannot make.
The Code is published on the PFMA’s website and is largely based on the legislative requirements imposed on the pet food industry.
FEDIAF in its code confirms that:
“ The prime purpose of a label is to facilitate the buying act of the purchaser by delivering clear, concise, accurate, true and honest information on the composition, characteristics and use of the product.
The problem is that this is only a code of practice, and neither the code or the current legislation is ensuring transparency in pet food labelling. The code and legislation ensure that the ingredients are listed on the back of the pet food label, however, they do not ensure the same degree of transparency on the front of the packaging. For example, if a pet food claims to be a “chicken flavour” pet food it can actually only contain chicken favouring and no actual real chicken.
Annex 5 of FEDIAF's code considers what “component claims” a manufacturer can make. It confirms the following:
A manufacturer can claim a pet food brand or treat is a particular meat flavour (i.e. “chicken flavour”) even if the pet food contains 0% of that meat. The chicken your pet will taste when it eats this food may not be chicken at all, it will be an artificial flavouring (which must be listed on the back of the pet food label).
A manufacturer of pet food can claim a pet food is “with”, or, “contains” a particular meat (i.e. “with chicken”, or “contains chicken”) provided it contains at least 4% of that particular meat type. So if it contains 4% chicken the front of the label can claim that it “contains chicken”.
A manufacturer of pet food can claim a pet food is “rich in”, “high in”, “with extra” of a particular meat (i.e. “rich in chicken”, “high in chicken”, or “with extra chicken”) if it contains at least 14% of that meat type.
A manufacturer may use the words “dinner” or “menu” after a particular meat type (i.e. “Chicken Dinner” or “Chicken Menu”) if it contains at least 26% of the named meat type. So a pet food calling itself “chicken dinner” must contain at least 26% chicken.
As a result, it can be easy to see why us pet owners can get confused over what meats are actually used in our pets' food. Without having a more detailed look at the ingredients, we may end up buying a food that contains only small amounts of meat, or artificial flavourings to make the food seem more palatable when in reality it contains meat and animal derivatives or by-products.
It’s important to check to see if the back of the pet food label names what meats are used in its food, and if it doesn’t actually name a meat type in the ingredients list, then it might be better to not purchase that pet food (especially if your pet has allergies). If it does name a meat type, then ensure you have checked how much of it is contained within the food to ensure your pet is eating ideal levels of protein.
Do not be fooled into believing that all that meat will be whatever animal is stated on the front of the packaging! If the ingredients list states “50% meat and animal derivatives of which 4% is chicken”, this means that 46% of the meat source is unidentified meat and animal derivatives that may be full of indigestible proteins, and in fact only 4% of it is chicken.
So remember, check the label and assume nothing until you’ve read the list of ingredients. If you are unsure of what any of the ingredients are in your pet’s food feel free to get in touch and we will be happy to help.