There is a need in 2015 for the UK pet food industry to show greater transparency to consumers with respect to the disclosure of the types of animal proteins in their products. The same can be said for USA pet food products. Full disclosure of the type of animal protein in pet food will allow buyers to make an informed choice which is particularly important in the matter of pets with food allergies. It will also reduce product misrepresentation and avoid potential religious concerns (with respect to pork meat undeclared in pet food).
A study entitled: Investigation into the animal species contents of popular wet pet foods published online under a creative Commons license threw up some unsurprising but disappointing results which confirm suspicions about commercially manufactured pet food. I will refer to the study.
Firstly, no horsemeat was detected in any of the pet food samples under scrutiny. A major finding was the “relative abundance of proteins from unspecified animal species”. This occurred in 14 out of the 17 products tested.
Despite not being named on product labelling, in 14 pet foods, beef, pork and chicken protein was found in various proportions and combinations.
In one product, “Cooperative Gourmet Terrine With Chicken Game” only 1% chicken DNA was present. Where a specific animal species as a source of protein is mentioned on the label such as “with beef” it could in fact constitute a minor part of the total animal proteins in the product so long as it met the minimum content standard of 4%.
The primary (headline) product as specified on the label such as “chicken” may constitute a misrepresentation to the purchaser because the actual content of the animal protein specified will not tally with the buyers’ expectations.
The study concluded that there was a mismatch between labelling standards in the pet food industry and what the purchaser might reasonably expect. In short, the pet food industry is labelling pursuant to the regulations as issued by the European Union but those regulations allow considerable leeway to a point where misrepresentations as to content are possible.
“For example, it would be reasonable for a purchaser to expect from a product prominently labelled as “beef stew” to have “beef” and not “chicken” as the major animal constituent. It may be a surprise to shoppers to discover that prominently described contents such as “beef” on a tin could, within the guidelines, be a minor ingredient, have no beef meat (bovine skeletal muscle) and contain a majority of unidentified animal proteins.” (this quote is slightly simplified)
Even products formulated to be hypoallergenic (meaning designed to limit the possibility of an allergic reaction) contained extensive amounts of protein from undeclared animal sources, which could cause an allergic reaction.
The pet food industry should show greater transparency to customers. They should fully specify the different types of animal proteins on their labelling. This will allow more informed choices particularly with respect to customers whose pets have food allergies.
There is an argument that the European Union regulations need to be redrafted and tightened up because it is naive to believe that the pet food manufacturers will voluntarily change their ways. There is a need for proper enforcement of well specified and precise regulations to move this matter along. Change is long overdue.
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