If you're a conscious shopper that compares labels, you're probably aware that they don't necessarily speak the whole truth. In fact they can be somewhat misleading. Many pet food labels use confusing generic terms which don't help us understand what is really in our pet food.
The essential nutrients that contribute to an animal's growth, tissue maintenance, and optimal health are water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. The next few blogs will review the "what", "why" and "how" of the food sources used by the pet food industry to provide these nutrients.
Protein is the major structural component in an animal's body. Since the source/s of protein used in pet food present the most contention, let's begin there.
The ingredient list for protein in pet food will use generic terms like meat by-products, chicken by-products, poultry by-products, fish by-products, fish meal, meal and bone meal, poultry by-product meal, etc. These generic terms are approved by the FDA and are used by pet manufacturers because they are so vague. It allows them the liberty to choose what they want to put into the food. *Natural News, The Horrors of Commercial Pet Food, June 28, 2011.
What are a meat by-products and meat meal, really?
Well, let’s be clear that both are euphemisms for parts of the animal that really aren't meat at all! Meat by-products have little, if any, meat in them. They are the leftovers, when all of the "real" meat has been removed. Meat by-products can include brains, livers, stomachs, bones, leather, feathers, eyeballs, blood etc. Any animal part, including parts from diseased animals which are declared unfit for human consumption, is considered acceptable. *Food Pets Die For by Ann N Martin, page 153.
Meat meal is the boiled down flesh of animals and includes zoo animals, road kills, dead and diseased livestock and, brace yourself, euthanized dogs and cats. Yes, your beloved companion can be eating someone’s dead pet in their next meal.
A collection of dead animals are thrown together in a large rendering vat, which slowly grinds the remains. It is then cooked at temperatures between 220˚-270˚F, thus becoming "meat meal".
Euthanized animals pose an especially serious danger for your pets. The chemicals used to euthanize animals can survive the whole cooking process! That means that these chemicals can end up in your pet food and, more importantly, in your beloved pet's body. The dangers of sodium pentobarbital, the barbiturate used to euthanize animals, have been known for years by veterinarians and animals advocates and nothing has been done to stop the practice. *Natural News, The Horrors of Commercial Pet Food, June 28, 2011.
Meat by-products and meat meal are used to increase the protein content in dog food. However, just because a protein content or quality is higher, doesn't mean that it has nutritional value. How can that be? To determine the nutritional value of a meat source you have to look at the biological value and the digestibility of the protein. For example, chicken feathers are considered a protein, but the body's ability to digest and absorb them is so low, it's virtually impossible. Also, the high cooking temperatures used to sterilize some pet foods can destroy much of the usefulness of proteins that might otherwise have a high biological value. Heat causes proteins to combine with certain sugars that are found naturally in the food and form compounds that cannot be broken down by the body’s digestive enzymes. * Dr Pitcairns, New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, page 164.
The Labelling of a Protein
Protein will be listed on a pet food label as "crude" protein. Crude protein is calculated by measuring the nitrogen content of each amino acid of a protein. However, nitrogen can also be found in foods other than protein, so it's not an accurate measurement of the "total" protein listed. It can make the protein measurement look higher than it actually is. In order to have an accurate insight into how much protein is in a serving and get a true protein measurement, you need to calculate the level of protein in a protein.
Crude protein doesn't reveal the amount of the protein that your pet can actually digest and absorb. It’s the true protein count that matters. Since the pet food industry doesn't have to include the true protein count, it can use inexpensive sources with less useable protein.
The bottom line is that the "meats" that goes into a pet food, and we use the term loosely since it might not be meat at all, are often cheap, low quality sources that have very little nutritional value. Pet food can also be contaminated with dangerous toxins that your pet might be consuming every day! It's no wonder that there's been a rise in cancer and other diseases in our pets today. As a whole, the pet food industry and manufacturers have horrific and surreptitious practices and standards that are concealed from consumers. I'm sure that if more pet owners knew what they were feeding their loved companions and the standards of the pet food industry they would be mortified. But, I wonder what action would be taken??