Pet Food Labelling Needs to Be Improved

It is time for pet food labeling to be improved. Consumers demand it for good reason: concern for their pets’ health and welfare. I could have used stronger language in the title but decided against it although it is probably justified. Arguably there is a cosy relationship between regulator and manufacturer which undermines proper regulation.

Today I read a page on Susan Thixton’s website. She is at the AAFCO meeting. At this meeting she says the voice of the pet food consumer is being heard. She represents the pet food consumer as do other committed warriors in the battle to improve various aspects of pet food including the labelling.

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One session involved a discussion about what needs to be enforced within pet food regulations. Dr Jean Hofve, a wonderful advocate for the companion animal, addressed recent studies in America in which it was found that “protein sources listed on the label were not found in the pet food”.

Dr Jean argued the case for policing the manufacturers more thoroughly and forcing them to list accurately what is in their pet food. It’s a question of proper enforcement by, I believe, the US Food And Drug Administration (FDA) as they regulate product labelling of pet food. To me, it seems fairly obvious that the FDA do not do a sufficiently rigorous job in regulating labelling. When challenged they state:

“Consumers should be able to trust that what is on the label is in the product. Pet foods to not require the FDA’s approval before being marketed; however, all ingredients are required to be listed on the label using their common or usual name. The FDA has taken action in the past when ingredients are not properly listed on the label or when one ingredient is substituted for another ingredient.”

Susan Thixton presented a 78,000 signature petition from pet food consumers stating that they want to know what they are buying. That is not being over-demanding, is it?

In late 2014, in America, tests were done at Chapman University in Orange, California. Similar studies have been carried out using DNA testing in the UK. I hope to discuss those in another article.

In the Chapman University tests the scientists employed DNA analysis to check whether the type of meat inside pet food was reflected on the label. In short, this was about what was being discussed at the AAFCO meeting mentioned above. Unsurprisingly, but shockingly, it was discovered that almost 40% of the products contained meat which was not listed on the label. Twenty of the fifty-two samples were potentially mislabelled. If this happened to human foods there would be uproar.

It was also found that wet food was more likely to be mislabelled than dry food. A lot of undeclared pork was found in certain products. A co-author of the report stated that it was a form of “economic fraud” on a large scale because the American pet food business is worth $22 billion. The scientists were surprised at the high rate of mislabelling.

The study indicates that an increased amount of scrutiny is required on pet food labelling. The Pet Food Institute, an industry trade group (and therefore one naturally biased towards supporting the industry) said that pet food is one of the most highly regulated food products. The spokesperson said that responsible pet food companies collaborate with the authorities to ensure that their products are in compliance with federal and state regulations including product labelling. Clearly, there are some irresponsible pet food companies based upon the results of the above-mentioned research.

It is not known whether the mislabelling is intentional or an accident but the businesses will state that it is an accident meaning mistakes during formulation or the receipt of a mislabelled product from a supplier. Perhaps they have supply problems by which I mean suppliers mislabelling their products. If that’s the case the onus then falls upon the pet food manufacturers to test the meat that they receive from their suppliers. Ultimately the responsibility falls upon the pet food manufacturers.

Returning to the Chapman study about 30% of the samples contained an ingredient that was not listed on the label and most commonly this was pork. Pork is a common food allergen for pets.

An associate professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University, Dr Joseph Wakshlag, said: “This does not shed a very good light on the pet food industry”. Further, he said that just a small amount of pig liver when added to a pet food product is more than enough to cause an allergic reaction in a dog or cat.

I hope Susan Thixton and her colleagues can succeed in getting the message across that pet food customers demand accurate and easily understood labelling on pet food. Surely that is not beyond the capabilities of the manufacturers. It seems to me that the manufacturers want to keep labelling obscure to allow them to make bigger profits. It’s what I call the “confuse and abuse” syndrome. You see it throughout all industries. Big businesses like to confuse people on pricing or pricing related issues to their advantage.

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