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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Pet Nutrition & Labels #2--Categories Of Food

One of the things that many people don't understand on pet food labels is the category or type of food that is being marketed.  Companies have to be very careful and specific as to what words and phrases they use, as this aspect is carefully mandated by law (at least here in the US).  Let's look at some of that wording, all of which would be found on the main packaging, not on the ingredient list.

[Ingredient]--If used by itself, the food must be at least 95% or more of the total weight of all ingredients other than water, but no less than 70% of the total product.  e.g. "Beef for dogs", "Tuna for cats"
[Ingredient] Dinner--When used with a qualifier such as "dinner", "platter", "entree", "formula" or anything similar this means that the ingredient named must be at least 25% of the total weight (excluding water), but no less than 25% of the total product.  e.g. "Chicken dinner", "Beef platter", "Lamb formula"
With [Ingredient]--The ingredient named highlights only minor ingredients, which must be at least 3% of the total product.  e.g.  "Fish platter with shrimp" (shrimp is the minor ingredient)
[Ingredient] Flavor--There is no minimum amount of this ingredient, and it usually indicates that it constitutes less than 3% of the product.  An ingredient that gives a characteristic flavor can be used instead of the actual named ingredient.  "Beef" means bovine meat, but "beef flavor" is accurate even if no actual meat is used, but instead the manufacturer uses beef digest or beef by-products because the flavor is similar.  Some ingredients can be less than 1% of the total product and still appear as a "flavor".

Keep in mind that these phrases don't say anything about the actual quality of the food itself.  These are purely marketing tools to point out things to the consumer.  There are legal definitions to prevent a manufacturer from emphasizing an ingredient when it makes up only a small percentage of the product.  Unfortunately the above definitions and percentages are far from common knowledge so most pet owners are clueless about these phrases, and may often think that "beef entree" and "with beef" mean the same thing.  But depending on the other aspects of the food they could be nutritionally equivalent.  So it really can be confusing!
So now you know!  Next time you go to the store for more pet food look at the various packages and pay attention to these phrases.  You may be surprised at what you see and how that changes your expectation of pet foods.

In the next part of this segment I'll go over just what the nutritional analysis really means....or doesn't mean.