Trying to understand dog food or cat food ingredients is challenging. It seems like AAFCO intentionally tries to confuse pet owners with conflicting ingredient definitions. The following is an explanation (in pet owner language) of two common pet food ingredients; chicken and chicken meal.
A few days ago I received an email from a pet owner concerned that a dog food she was interested in changing to had chicken meal in it; she thought chicken meal was a ‘bad’ ingredient. It’s very understandable how pet owners can get confused; regulations that govern pet food aren’t very clear.
The perfect example of the confusion is with the pet food term ‘meal’.
In pet food ingredient world, ‘meal’ implies the ingredient has been cooked prior to the manufacturing of the pet food. Any meat contains 40% to 70% moisture. Since pet food ingredients are listed in order of pre-cooking weight, it is believed that an ingredient listed first on the ingredient panel, that does not contain added moisture weight (such as chicken meal) provides a pet with a higher percentage of meat protein versus a meat ingredient (such as chicken) that includes the added meat moisture.
There are a huge variety of quality with ‘meals’ in pet food. Some dog food and cat food ‘meal’ ingredients are provided by the Rendering Industry; known as the ‘Original Recyclers’. The Rendering Industry collects items that otherwise would have to be disposed of, and cooks (renders) them into sellable products to various other industries such as the pet food industry. ‘Items that otherwise would have to be disposed of’ include (but is not limited to) livestock animals rejected for use in human food because of disease, euthanized animals (ANY euthanized animal), road kill, used restaurant grease, and expired grocery store meat. Common pet food ingredients produced by the Rendering Industry are ‘Animal Fat’, ‘Meat and Bone Meal’, ‘Meat Meal’, and ‘Animal Digest’.
‘Meat and Bone Meal’ and ‘Meat Meal’ are NOT the highest quality pet food ingredient. There is a tremendous possibility that either of these ‘meal’ ingredients contain the cooked remains of a diseased animal and a tremendous possibility that either of these ingredients contain a lethal drug (pentobarbital) used to euthanize the diseased animal. Thus…these ‘meal’ ingredients easily could be considered ‘bad’ (risk) pet food ingredients.
On the other hand however, there is the common dog food or cat food ‘meal’ ingredient ‘chicken meal’ (or similar specific meat meal ingredient such as ‘turkey meal’). Chicken meal is as well a ‘rendered’ ingredient; however it from a completely different processing facility as those that provide ‘meat and bone meal’ and ‘meat meal’ ingredients. In most cases, facilities that produce chicken meal (or similar meat specific meals) ingredients are attached to human meat processing plants (versus independent meat rendering facilities that produce meat and bone meal and meat meal ingredients). Chicken meal, is generally perceived to be a higher quality pet food ingredient. However, just like all meal ingredients, chicken meal can vary in quality too.
Chicken meal (or similar specific meat meal ingredients) can be made from muscle meat only, or it can contain bone and or internal organs. Thanks to a recent study by Environmental Working Group (non- profit consumer advocacy organization), meat meal ingredients that include bone have shown to contain high concentrations of fluoride. http://www.ewg.org/pethealth/report/fluoride-in-dog-food Science has proven that high levels of fluoride are related to serious health risks including bone cancer. Thus, pet food meal ingredients that contain bone could be considered a risky ingredient and of lesser quality. Some pet food manufacturers use a muscle meat only chicken meal, while others use muscle meat and bone.
Thanks to confusing and conflicting AAFCO ingredient definitions, chicken meal (and similar specific meat meal ingredients) can also include internal organs which by definition (AAFCO’s definition) is considered a by-product. Within recent months, this ‘by-product’ confusion in chicken meal (and similar specific meat meal ingredients) has been the foundation for one pet food to call another pet food names. Science Diet Pet Foods has challenged Blue Buffalo Pet Foods claim of human quality ingredients because it was reported that Blue Buffalo Pet Food’s chicken meal includes internal organs, thus technically including by-products which would not be considered human quality. http://www.truthaboutpetfood.com/articles/354/1/The-Pet-Food-Pot-Calling-the-Kettle-Black/Page1.html To date, pet owners have no scientific research to prove or disprove the quality of chicken meals (or similar meat specific meat meals) that include by-products (internal organs).
Just because a pet food has a ‘meal’ ingredient doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. Investigate the type of ‘meal’ ingredient before making your judgment. Dog food and cat food (and pet treats) ingredients ‘Meat and Bone Meal’ and generic ‘Meat Meal’ are considered by the FDA to be high risk to contain pentobarbital, thus high risk to include a euthanized animal. For other meat meal ingredients call the manufacturer and ask if the chicken meal (or other meat specific meal) is made from muscle meat only or if it includes bone and/or internal organs.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author, Buyer Beware
Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
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