Demand For More Detailed Ingredient Labels On Pet Food

Pet FoodDo consumers really know what’s in the can when they buy food for their cats and dogs?

Some pet owners and animal advocate groups say no. Obscure labeling requirements keep shoppers in the dark, and glossy packaging or advertising, showing meals styled to look like human cuisine, lead people to believe they are treating their beloved animals to quality food.

Federal legislators, concerned about the recent recalls involving contaminated pet food and treats, are calling for more guidelines for labeling. A food and drug safety bill passed late last month includes requirements that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration draft pet food labeling standards within the next two years, implement more controls on manufacturing plants and devise early warning systems when problems are discovered. Current standards are administered by each state and may vary slightly.

Some veterinary nutritionists are pushing for the new labels to look more like those on human-grade foods and to include calorie counts, as the number of overweight companion animals grows. Dr. Kathryn Michel, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said it can be difficult for consumers to tell exactly what is in the food and treats they give to their pets, how long it can safely stay on the shelf, and the quality of the ingredients.

The pet food industry contends its products are safe and that labels currently used are as clear as those for human products. Manufacturers following the industry’s model regulations, developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), must list all ingredients, a percentage-by-weight guaranteed analysis of main components including protein and fiber, and feeding instructions tailored to size.

Nancy Cook, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the Pet Food Institute, anticipates the new FDA labeling guidelines will look a lot like what’s in place now. “It works. Whatever the guaranteed analysis says is exactly what has to be in the food.”

Yet many pet owners felt duped in the wake of continuing recalls.

Pat Davis is one of 24 pet owners, including two from South Florida, who are part of a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami. Davis, a former teacher who lives near Ocala and has numerous pets, said she threw out all the recalled dog food in her cupboard as soon as the Menu Foods problem was made public.

“You try to read the labels, to buy the best thing you can, because you want your animals to be healthy and happy,” she said. “I was feeling pretty smug that I was on top of it.”

But Davis continued to give her 3-year-old Siamese cat Pounce treats — until her pet suddenly stopped eating and could hardly get up off the chair where she slept. The cat died a few days later of kidney failure, cited in most of the cases involving animals that ate the food tainted with melamine, a chemical found in plastics. Del Monte Pet Products voluntarily recalled some Pounce cat treats after the company learned wheat gluten it purchased from a Chinese supplier tested positive for melamine.

The lawsuit, which names the nation’s largest pet food manufacturers as well as retailers, charges that claims on packaging and in advertising misrepresented their diets as healthy and nutritional, and did not warn consumers about the risks. The action, still waiting on class certification, asks for unspecified damages for false advertising. Several other suits are pending against pet food manufacturers.

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Photo: Jeffrey O. Gustafson

20 Responses to “Demand For More Detailed Ingredient Labels On Pet Food”

  1. catmom5 says:

    I would have thought that after the hearings the reality of the AAFCO was pretty clear. They aren’t much more thana lobbying arm of the PFI. Sorry, but if they put the truth on the outside no one would buy the food inside. Right now people believe the ads showing healthy foods floating through the air and beautiful kittens hopping across a creek and meadow chasing butterflies or the puppy playing with his boy. I want to know what’s in my cats’ food and I want to know where it came from. I want to be able to make an informed decision without researching each and every ingredient on the internet.

  2. Pukanuba says:

    I agree that something needs to be done…..we may be getting there in baby steps but maybe someday we’ll have truth in labeling.

    The pf companies & the pfi are powerful & have the big bucks so they will fight this with all they have. All we have is our buying power. I will never ever buy food from the big pf companies or anything made at MF & can only hope they lose their huge profits by others refusing to buy their crap. Maybe they’ll smarten up & use healthy food so that when that is shown on the label, it is for real, not a bunch of bull pucky.

    It still infuriates me to see the ads, like the ones catmom5 mentioned above. If I had the money, I’d do a commercial showing the dogs & cats dying in an animal hospital. At least that would be more honest.

  3. purringfur says:

    CATMOM5 said:

    “Right now people believe the ads showing healthy foods floating through the air and beautiful kittens hopping across a creek and meadow chasing butterflies…”
    …………………

    When I see this ad, I think of what an animated version of RAINBOW BRIDGE must look like. And I think of all of the cats and dogs that were sickened or killed from eating the poisoned foods. They certainly weren’t skipping and hopping along a babbling brook and leaping through meadows while fighting for their lives. And I think of my dead dog that was actually running through a field of tall grass and was scattering humdreds and hundreds of small orange butterflies into the air and how fascinated he was over them. It was such a breathtaking sight to witness.

    And most of all, I think of the GREED of the PF industry pumping millions of dollars into new TV ads, crafty spin doctors, and completely new packaging.

    I’ve never associated this ad with nutrition going into a bag — just the opposite. It makes me think of an animal heaven. I wonder what fools put that ad together and approved it. The ad makes me want to vomit every time I see it.

    Does the ad remind anyone else of animal heaven and remind them of all of the pet deaths?

  4. thomas says:

    As long as they allow the pet food industry to monitor itself there will be problems. There needs to be changes in how companys advertise their foods. From foods fit for human consumption needs to mean that. If they are making pet foods from food that can not be used for human consumption the labels need to state that. They also need to tell where they get their ingredients and chemicals used in processing. Some of these high end foods seem to be nothing more than high end garbage!!

  5. Rocky says:

    The PF industry is SO out of touch. I called a company recently with a question about their canned food.

    But the company (Wellness) would not disclose who makes their cans.

    All I can say is “those who have nothing to hide - hide nothing”.

  6. llp says:

    They can do what they want, I’ll never touch the stuff again.

  7. purringfur says:

    Rocky: All I can say is “those who have nothing to hide - hide nothing”.
    ……………..

    Exactly, Rocky. The “proprietary information” excuse is no longer valid. After thousands and thousands of animals were poisoned, I guess they still DON’T GET IT! If companies don’t realize that they have to be forthcoming with consumers, that’s their own downfall. We’ll move on to those who WILL DISCLOSE information. OK. Next?

  8. purringfur says:

    Nancy Cook, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the Pet Food Institute, anticipates the new FDA labeling guidelines will look a lot like what’s in place now. “It works. Whatever the guaranteed analysis says is exactly what has to be in the food.”
    ……………..

    And if the protein level of the “meat” (and I use this term VERY loosely)or “grains” is a low, just spike it up artificially with some melamine or cyanuric acid to reach the level stated in the guaranteed analysis printed on the label! We’re wise to this one, now.

  9. 5CatMom says:

    Rocky,

    Your point about all the SECRECY within the pet food industry explains why I’m learning to make my own cat food.

    SECRETS are just not helpful when pet owners are scared about opening the next bag or can.

    I can (sort of) understand a purchasing error, or a manufacturing error.

    But I can’t understand willful ignorance, negligence, “silent” recalls, secrecy and coverups.

    The US pet food industry is a dirty rotten business that I can no longer support.

    Btw, Rocky, last time I checked, Menu makes cans for Wellness (Old Mother Hubbard).

  10. 5CatMom says:

    Forgot to add,

    When you call the PF companies - they ALL have a script. There’s not an original thought among any of them.

    The big lie they repeat is: “Menu couldn’t have known the gluten was contaminated”.

    Well, Menu SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.

    If they had INSPECTED the “gluten” (what are those brown crystals?), or tested it for contaminates, or used a protein test that measures real protein (instead of a nitrogen test that’s 100 years old) MAYBE they would have discovered that their food was POISON.

    But since the industry is not really regulated, i.e., there’s no force of law behind the so-called “regulations”, it’s much easier (cheaper) to just dump everything into the hopper and take a chance with the lives of thousands of pets.

  11. joycebell says:

    In Milwaukee one of the radio stations is carrying IAMs ads where a veterinarian (a real one?) is extolling the benefits of IAMs for her boys (her dogs). Instead spending all their money on marketing to demonstrate how great their food is for pets, why not put that money toward making the food healthy and safe for pets?

  12. ellie says:

    I think a lot of issues are being jumbled here that aren’t precisely on point–like country-of-origin information and tainted ingredients.

    What I don’t like about the current labeling is that it’s very difficult to compare foods. I have an elderly cat who has some kidney issues, and while she’s not on a prescription low-protein diet, I do try to keep protein down as much as possible. Which means I need to stand in the store with a calculator to compare actual protein content in dry and wet foods, since the moisture content has to be taken into account. Labeling for human food makes it much easier to compare items, and I would be very happy to have pet food labels follow that model.

  13. Anonymous says:

    There will never be the truth on ANY commercial Pet food labeling. It will ALWAYS be UNTRUTHS and FABRICATIONS of healthy ingrediants that ARE JUST NOT THERE. You cannot depend on the labeling because truthfully NONE of the Pet Food Companies really know what is going in the cans except maybe Halo Pets. I used to be one of those people who calculated the protein content and bought expensive premium dog foods for my Aussie puppy (now an adult) and got sucked in by Nutro Natural Choice and Dick Van Pattens Natural Balance tainted foods!!!!!! Wet and dry!!!!! Home cooking has made all my animals well and happy and beautiful.

  14. 2CatMom says:

    Ellie - here’s a good resource for determining protein content of food. It doesn’t have every brand, but it has most of them. For canned food go to:

    http://www.geocities.com/jmpeerson/canfood.html

    At the bottom of this page you can click to access the dry food page. Hope this helps.

  15. Louie W. says:

    COOL, tainted ingredients, and food labels are all related.

    These issues are controlled by the pet food industry and the politicians they influence.

    Without ethical and responsible corporate leadership, and effective regulatory oversight, what difference does it make what infomation is on the label?

    You still won’t be able to believe what you read.

  16. Cathy says:

    Nancy Cook, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the Pet Food Institute, anticipates the new FDA labeling guidelines will look a lot like what’s in place now. “It works. Whatever the guaranteed analysis says is exactly what has to be in the food.”

    Funny, I never read “rendered roadkill meal” or “rendered, unfit for human consumption meal” on any packages?

  17. ellie says:

    Thanks, 2CatMom. I keep a spreadsheet with the protein comparisons. But when I’m standing in a store aisle, looking at one flavor with 10% protein and 78% moisture, and another with 9% protein and 82% moisture, I have to pull out a calculator or bring a crib sheet. And then I find that the seemingly higher protein content of 10% is actually the LOWER protein food. It’s often counterintuitive, and it’s terribly confusing. Giving the number of grams, as in the nutrititional analysis for human foods, would make things so much simpler.

  18. Holistic Pet Food Blog says:

    You know, I think we petsumers know more about pet food than our vets. As much as I dearly love my vet — I do animal rescue and the owner of the clinic is a friend, I’m in there two or three times a week — my vet doesn’t know potatoes, so to speak.

    I’ve heard her recommend Iams and I ask, Why do you recommend that food? And she’ll say, Oh, you can get it anywhere and the pets seem to like it.

    The other day, I heard her say about canned cat food for cats — Oh, you know it’ll really make the catbox stinky, I’d just feed dry, if I were you.

    As a holistic cat person who knows that cats on pure dry diets will NEVER get enough fluids and they’ll eventually get an earlier kidney disease, I was horrified!

    I’m glad that this lawsuit is underway but honestly, I don’t think many vets know or care. It’s up to US to get educated about what we feed our pets.

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  20. Simon Carrington says:

    Really interesting topic here, my dog has to have gluten free food as she is white so i always check the labels to see that it is gluten free. So the info on the label needs to be totally correct.

    Great site.

    Simon.


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