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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Recent study reveals surprising details about ingredients in pet food

What's in the food that our families eat is undoubtedly something that more of us are conscious of these days, and it's not limited to the bipeds in the tribe: what goes into the mouths of our furry and feathered friends is of concern, too.

There are more choices on the market when it comes to pet food and I know all too well that there is much contention (and plenty of people willing to offer their unsolicited opinions!) about which type of food is best. Walk into any pet store and you can really see the proverbial fur fly; when I'm browsing the aisles, I usually hear at least one patron or employee soliciting unfounded, cringeworthy advice about why one brand or type is better than the other.

Despite the number of recalls of all kinds that are posted on the Food and Drug Administration's website in a given month, the acerbic banter about how evil the most well-known pet food companies are is fed like a coal furnace with the help of the pet food recalls that are issued, though most commonly they are voluntary and done as a precaution by the company.

A recent study could give people more to consider when it comes to ruminating about the food that they are giving their pets: there's a possibility that the ingredients in the pet food could be mislabeled.

“Although regulations exist for pet foods, increases in international trade and globalization of the food supply have amplified the potential for food fraud to occur,” said Rosalee Hellberg, Ph.D., who co-authored the study, titled Identification of Meat Species in Pet Foods Using a Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Assay.

"With the recent discovery of horsemeat in ground meat products sold for human consumption in several European countries, finding horsemeat in U.S. consumer food and pet food products is a concern, which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this study.”

Interestingly, 40% of the foods that were tested were mislabeled (20 out of 52). Here are some more highlights from the study:

  • 13 were dog food and 7 were cat food
  • 16 of the total tested were found to contain meat species that weren't on the product label
  • pork was the most common undeclared meat species


DNA was extracted from the 52 products was tested to see which of eight meat species — beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork or horse — were present.

The results concluded that chicken was the most common meat species found in the pet food products, followed by pork, beef, turkey and lamb. Goose was at the bottom of the list.

Horse meat was not detected in any of the tested samples.

More studies are needed to determine just how far the incidence of mislabeling goes, as well as seeing where it occurs during production.

Pet foods are regulated at the federal and state level. The Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates animal feed and pet foods. While the United States Department of Agriculture regulates the interstate transportation and processing of animal products, as well as the inspection of animal product imports and exports. At the state level, Departments of Agriculture also conducts testing — in fact this is where problems have been detected in some recent pet food recalls.

Though the brands tested were not disclosed, mislabeling does raise an obvious cause for concern: many pets are on limited ingredient formulas because of allergies.

“Pet food safety was another area of concern, particularly with pet foods that are specifically formulated to address food allergies in both cats and dogs,” noted Dr. Hellberg.

Click here for more on the study, which was co-authored by Tara A. Okuma, was recently published in the journal Food Control.


Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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