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Pet food - Is it what it says on the tin?

The days when a domestic cat was expected to forage for itself or live on leftovers are long gone. Today, pet food is a multi-billion dollar industry with an ever-increasing number of brands and types of foods. Manufacturers always strive to attract more customers with advertising and more names designed to convince cat owners that their product is superior. Many of the implications suggested by these fancy names, such as 'premium', 'select' or 'super-premium' are basically meaningless because the use of these words is not regulated in any way. 'Premium' or 'gourmet' cat foods are not required to contain any higher quality ingredients than you get in 'standard' catfoods, nor must they keep to any higher nutritional standard than any other complete and balanced product. So reading and understanding the label (What's in your Cat? - Catfood labels explained) is the only way to make an informed choice about what to feed your cat. Or at least that's what we thought.

New research just published in the 'Food Control' journal found that 40 percent of pet foods are potentially mislabeled. What the scientists looked at was the meat content of different brands of pet food. They collected fifty-two commercial products from online and retail sources and tested for eight different types of meat. These were: beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork, and horse meat. With the recent revelation that many European processed meats contain unlabeled horse meat, the researchers main aim was to see if the horse meat also found its way into pet food. Although no horse meat has been found in any of the brands studied, a large degree of inconsistency was found in the labeling. Out of 52 brands, 31 were labeled correctly, 20 were potentially mislabeled and 1 contained a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be identified.

Of the 20 potentially mislabeled brands, 16 contained meat from species that were not included on the product labels with pork being the most common undeclared meat. In the other three brands tested one or two meat types were substituted for others.

The authors of this research admit that they are unsure why the foods were mislabeled and obviously there should be a follow-up to their studies. In the USA alone 75 percent of households have at least one pet. Consequently an estimated $21 billion was spent on pet food in 2012. This is almost twice as much as five years earlier and this sum is likely to increase further in future. In short the pet food industry is huge - and growing.

Pet food production is controlled in most countries. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates animal feed and pet foods. Furthermore the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the interstate transportation and processing of animal products, as well as the inspection of animal product imports and exports.

Despite these strict controls, it seems that there are still a number of irregularities which pass through unnoticed. The present paper does not touch on the subject of why so many pet foods were mislabeled. And since the authors do not list the brands of food which were mislabeled the consumers are still in the dark. It is of interest that in most cases the animal product in question was pork. In some cases, for example with Jewish or Islamic dietary laws, pork is forbidden for consumption and many people who adhere to such religious laws prefer to feed their pets with kosher or halal foods as well. Omitting to mention the pork on the label can be therefore seen as taking unfair advantage.

Other pet owners may choose not to buy pet food containing pork because of the concerns over the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus which has been known in Europe for a number of years but now has also been detected in the United States and Canada. Although epidemiological studies showed that porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) is a pig disease that does not affect people or other animals, nor is it a food safety concern, (http://www.cvm.ncsu.edu/news/2013-07-29-Epidemiology-Expert-on-Spread-of-PEDV.html) many cat owners still have concerns - and in any case they have the right to full transparency when buying food for their cats. 'What it says on the tin' has become proverbial for something which is as described. This should also be as true of cat food as it is for the human variety.

 

Journal Reference:
Tara A. Okuma, Rosalee S. Hellberg. Identification of meat species in pet foods using a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. Food Control, (2015); 50 ; pp: 9-17. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713514004666

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