Ingredient lists have been shown to be one of the most common ways that owners decide on their pets’ food; unfortunately, however, the ingredient list is actually one of the hardest ways to know if a pet food is actually good food. 

Animal Food Legislation 

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) are responsible for animal feed legislation which covers the manufacture of feed for non-food producing animals including pet food and pet treats.

How do they have to display ingredients

When declaring ingredients on the packaging of pet food, manufacturers have the option to declare by category, for example, oils and fats or meat and animal derivatives. By categorising it this way, manufacturers are able to manage fluctuations in the supply of raw materials used; and it allows flexibility for labelling ingredients.

Feed labelling legislation permits pet food manufacturers to highlight the presence or absence of a certain ingredient and to provide additional information (beyond the statutory minimum required) for purchasers.  

The additional information is subject to certain safeguards:

  • It must contain objective and quantifiable factors which can be proved.
  • It should not mislead purchasers
  • And it must not make medicinal claims

By-products are NOT bad

Many people really dislike “by-products” or “meat and animal derivatives” being on their pets’ ingredients list, thinking them to be poor quality.

Animal by-products or “meat and animal derivatives” are ingredients which are surplus from the human food chain; pet food which is made up from material of animal origin can be used by the pet food industry. It is made up of parts of animals which are surplus to human consumption needs or are not normally consumed by people in the UK.

By-products are sustainable and healthy for animals to consume

These by-products, which do not include hair, horns, teeth or intestinal contents, can be very good-quality sources of nutrients that pets enjoy. Material of animal origin comes from animals which are inspected and passed as fit for human consumption prior to slaughter. The material must be free of transmissible disease, which therefore excludes material from dying, diseased or disabled animals.

Seeing “animal by products” or “animal derivatives” on a label may seem unappealing; but, for the companies that do it right, who do analysis on their food and complete feeding trials, using these surplus parts of the animal is a great way to ensure that we use as much of the animal as we can; and avoid waste. These are not low-quality ingredients; on the contrary, these ingredients have a high nutritional value, providing high amounts of protein (among other things) that pets can enjoy. So there are many good reasons to use them.

An appealing ingredient list isn’t synonymous with good quality

Some pet food manufacturers take great pains to make sure that their ingredient list is appealing to pet owners. However, an ingredient list aesthetically pleasing to owners isn’t always synonymous with a “better” diet.

One article concluded:

‘In summary, while we may feel better about feeding a diet full of great-sounding ingredients, these diets are usually similar or even potentially less nutritious than diets containing less appealing (to people) ingredients. There is no way to determine diet quality from the label or the ingredient list.’ 

As we know that owners often judge their pet’s diet off an ingredients list, pet food manufacturers know that many pet owners are looking for meat as the first ingredient; some manufacturers may add ingredients to diets solely for marketing purposes, to increase the appeal of the diet to consumers. These ingredients may have unproven benefits.

Well, if I can’t use an ingredients list, how can I pick?

If you are thinking of picking a diet, and now it appears that the ingredients list is actually not the best place to start, how on earth do we pick?

Quality and nutritional expertise will likely create better food. But the ingredients list might look very confusing and not “aesthetically pleasing” to you and me. 

There are more important things to look at… Does the company have a PhD in animal nutrition or board-certification on board? Do they have good control over their quality control? Have they completed feeding trials with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)? Does the company need to partake in negative marketing against other brands to ‘big up’ their food? Will they provide you with more in-depth nutritional analysis if you ask for it? Do they engage in and conduct research on their food? 

As you can see, there can be lots of confusion between good quality and what we see on an ingredient list. But given the information we have it is important to dive a little deeper to actually assess if a lovely sounding ingredients list actually equals a great diet.

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