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The Science of Pet Food Labels

Friskies_cans.jpgThe pet food recall initiated by Menu Food on Mar. 16 was expanded once again on Thursday. The chemical melamine, previously found to have contaminated wheat gluten used in pet food production, is now believed to have also contaminated rice protein concentrate. Both the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate were imported from China.

The list of over 100 recalled dog and cat food products runs the gamut from store brands, such as Meijer's Main Choice, to more expensive brands like Nutro and Science Diet. Regardless, the labeling of all pet food products is regulated at the federal level as well as the state level in some states.

Here are a few of the regulations:

  • 95% rule: Applies to pet food products consisting primarily of ingredients of animal origin. At least 95% of a product must be the named ingredient (e.g., "beef dog food," "tuna cat food"), not counting water added for processing. (At least 70% of the product must be the named ingredient if water is counted.) If a product is a combination of two named ingredients (e.g., "chicken and liver cat food"), then they must in combination make up at least 95% of a product. The predominant ingredient is named first. Because this rule only applies to products that are primarily meat, the name "chicken and rice cat food" would only be accurate if the product were at least 95% chicken.
  • 25% or "dinner" rule: If a named ingredient makes up at least 25% but less than 95% of a product, not counting water added for processing, the ingredient must be accompanied by a "qualifying descriptive term" (e.g., "beef dinner for dogs," "tuna platter for cats"). The ingredient label will reveal whether or not the primary ingredient is the same as the named ingredient.
  • 3% or "with" rule: Applies to ingredients that are "highlighted on the principal display panel, but outside the product name" or qualified with the term "with." Both "beef dinner for dogs" that has a "with cheese" side burst and "dog food with cheese" must include at least 3% cheese.
  • Flavor rule: As long as it's detectable (e.g., "beef flavor dog food").
  • Use of terms such as "premium" and "gourmet" is not regulated. That is, pet food products labeled as such are not required to have higher quality ingredients.

Interpreting Pet Food Labels (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Pet Food Recall, including list of recalled pet food products (FDA)

Photo: Cat food cans by malingering.


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