How To Read a Pet Food Label Part 2

How To Read a Pet Food Label Part 2

How To Read a Pet Food Label Part 2

How To Read a Pet Food Label Part 2: Ingredient Statement and Feeding Guide

Ingredient Statement

The ingredients in a product must be placed in order of their weight and formulated basis. As the ingredient list goes from the highest percentage to the lowest in a product this would appear straightforward, sadly although this is not the case. Using beef as an example, if it was the first ingredient on an ingredient list, it would naturally be perceived that this would relate to muscle tissue from the animal. Confusingly however an examination of the AAFCO official publication shows this is not correct, with tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus and skin all coming under the “beef” descriptor.

Putting aside the broad stokes painted with regards to ingredient names, all must use approved food additives and be included on the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

With the exception of treats or supplemental products, if a product uses “complete and balanced,” this claim must be proven. As such, the nutritional adequacy statement on packaging  must also state for which life stage the product is made for. Those recognised are:

  • Gestation/lactation
  • Growth
  • Maintenance
  • All life stages

Within the growth life stage, a “subcategory” is also present (growth of large size dogs 70 lb. or more as an adult). The defining factor whether or not a product falls into this, is the calcium and phosphorus content of the diet. Next, there are essentially two ways in which a product gains the complete and balanced seal of approval. The first consists of formulating a diet to meet the nutritional profile for a given lifestage (see point one below). If a product is formulated in this way, the first statement below is used on the packaging.

The second method involves a feeding trial for a six month period, basic blood work, bodyweight measurements and a few other simple measurements. At the end of this timeframe, if these requirements are met, a product passes and statement two below can be used on a product label.  

Nutritional adequacy statements: American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

A number of academic and nutritional scientists have expressed views that a diet should meet both formulation requirements and pass a feeding trial. This opinion can however be challenged for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, the nutritional profile (to achieve complete and balanced via formulation) has a significant amount of nutrients lacking a maximum value, this essentially means currently we don’t know at what level of inclusion these nutrients become detrimental (or toxic) to a dog. Secondly, a feeding trial for six months may not be a sufficient timeframe to necessarily highlight a nutritionally deficient diet. Moreover, the very basic blood work completed does not provide a comprehensive oversight of how a diet, impacts on the health of a dog.  


What meets “complete and balanced” requirements can be nutritionally challenged 

Feeding directions

A diet meeting complete and balanced requirements for any or all life stages must include feeding directions. More specifically, the amount of food that should be given to a certain bodyweight of the animal per day. Commercially this is a significant issue for the pet food industry; Why? Firstly, this is not an accountable process, meaning no one checks this. Secondly, companies want to make it “appear” that a pet owner gets more meals per bag, essentially making it appear that a bag of food is better financially than it is, on a cost per serve basis. The simple way to achieve this is to “recommend” a pet owner feeds less food than the animal needs. Of course, the result of this is that animals will loss bodyweight, with owners then feeding more to correct this issue. Ultimately the only approach to stop this is to firstly get laboratory data to clarify the energy density of a diet, and then secondly, ensure that a well respected feeding formula (for example, Waltham or the National Research Council) is applied universally.    

In summary

The aim of this discussion was to provide an insight into understanding several of the key areas of a pet food product label. The complexities of this subject are such that to examine every detail of a label and its requirements would require reading the AAFCO Official publication.

Nevertheless, this review has clearly established that presently, requirements for pet food labels are inappropriate for several reasons. These include misleading statements for pet owners, such as product name or ingredient name criteria, what actually is complete and balanced, and feeding requirements which can be significantly under the energy needs of the animal, and generally do not take specific animal’s activity levels into consideration (EG: A farm dog vs other dogs).

Moreover, another major issue is that the nutritional statements made by a given company, such as the guaranteed analysis or feeding guide, rarely undergo the scrutiny from the relevant departments. In essence, this means that these factors are solely down to the discretion of a respective pet food company, and relies on their honesty.

Until these issues are adequately addressed, consumer understanding of a pet food label will remain confusing and potentially misleading, impacting pet owners, retail stuff, veterinarians and anyone else involved in trying to make the best decisions of what to feed a dog or cat.