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  • What The Pet Food Label Doesn’t Tell You – Part Three

    What The Pet Food Label Doesn’t Tell You – Part Three

    Most pet food manufacturers identify the primary meat source contained within their pet foods on the front of the pet food label. A chicken pet food may be introduced with words such as  “chicken flavour”“with chicken” “rich in chicken”, or, “chicken dinner” to name but a few of the all too familiar phrases we find on the front of many of the well-known brands of pet food.  If you thought these were just phrases being used to make your pet’s food sound more interesting, then think again.

    If you were asked whether a pet food that claimed it was “chicken flavour” contained chicken you would assume the correct answer was yes. You’d be wrong. A pet food or treat, which is labelled as “chicken flavour”, is not required by law to contain any chicken at all.1

    As explained in Part 1 & 2 of this series of articles the European Pet Food Industry Federation “FEDIAF” represents the national pet food industry associations in the EU, including the Pet Food Manufacturers Association in the UK (“PFMA”). FEDIAF has produced a Code of Good Labelling Practice For Pet Food (the “Code”)2. The Code considers the claims that pet food manufacturers can make and what is required before they can make these claims. The Code is published on the PFMA’s website and is largely based on the legislative requirements imposed on the pet food industry.

    FEDIAF in its Code confirms that:

    “ The prime purpose of a label is to facilitate the buying act of the purchaser by delivering clear, concise, accurate, true and honest information on the composition, characteristics and use of the product.”

    The problem is that the Code is only a code of practice, and neither the Code, nor, the current legislation is ensuring transparency in pet food labelling. The Code and legislation ensure that the ingredients, or, categories of ingredients are listed on the back of the pet food label. The Code does not ensure the same degree of transparency on the front of the pet food label when it comes to how much of a particular type of meat is contained in the pet food. For instance if a pet food claims to be a “Chicken Flavour” pet food and in fact all it contains is favouring and no real chicken, then wouldn’t you expect, in the interests of transparency, to see in clear writing on the front of the pet food label something along the lines of “This pet food does not contain any real chicken and only contains chicken flavouring” ?

    Annex 5 of the Code considers what “Component Claims” a manufacturer can make. It confirms the following:

    • A manufacturer can claim a pet food brand, or, treat is a particular meat flavour (i.e. “chicken flavour”) even if the pet food contains 0% of that meat (i.e. chicken). The chicken your pet will taste when it eats this food may not be chicken at all, it will be an artificial flavouring (which must be listed on the back of the pet food label).
    • A manufacturer of pet food can claim a pet food is “with”, or, “contains” a particular meat (i.e. “with Chicken”, or “Contains Chicken”) provided it contains at least 4% of that particular meat type. So if it contains 4% Chicken the front of the label can claim that it “contains chicken”, or, is “with chicken”.
    • A manufacturer of pet food can claim a pet food is “rich in”“high in”“with extra” of a particular meat (i.e. “rich in Chicken” “high in Chicken” or “with extra chicken”) if it contains at least 14% of that meat type.
    • A manufacturer may use the words “dinner” or “menu” after a particular meat type (i.e. “Chicken Dinner”, or, “Chicken Menu”) if it contains at least 26% of the named meat type. So a pet food calling itself “chicken dinner” must contain at least 26% chicken.

    So, its easy to see how a pet owner could assume they were buying their pet a meal which contained high levels of a particular meat because it claims to “contain chicken”, or, be “High in Chicken” or to be “Chicken Flavour” on the front of the pet food label, when in fact the real and identifiable meat content of the pet food may be very low, or, in some cases may just be an artificial flavouring with no identifiable meat type contained in the food at all. Instead, the consumer will be purchasing a pet food packed with meat and animal derivatives, or, by-product and a little bit of chicken on the side, or, a little bit of added chicken flavouring. So it’s important you check to see if the back of the pet food label identifies the quantity of the named meat type that is contained in the food. If it doesn’t actually name a meat type in the ingredients list, then perhaps it’s better to not purchase that pet food, and, if it does name a meat type, then ensure you have checked how much of that meat type is contained within the food.

    A classic example of where a consumer may assume they are purchasing a high-quality pet food with a high meat content, from an identified meat type, is where the front label asserts that it contains a particular type of meat and also makes a separate claim that meat is the main ingredient. Do not be fooled into believing that all that meat will be chicken.  If when you look at the ingredients list it states “50% meat and animal derivatives of which 4% is chicken”. What this means is that 46% of your meat source is unidentified meat and animal derivatives that may be full of indigestible proteins and 4% of it is chicken. So remember the word“meat” on a label can mean meat and animal derivatives and animal by-product, you need to ensure that you can identify the meat type from the ingredients list on the pet food label, don’t believe the marketing hype on the front of label, always read the ingredients list on the back of the label.

    So remember, check the label and assume nothing until you’ve read the list of ingredients. If you are unsure of what any of the ingredients are in your pet’s food then check the ingredients list against our glossary, or, send us an email, we’ll be happy to help.