Every now and then I get a sample of food for the dogs to try. As I’ve said before, I rotate through multiple brands, and if I’ve written about a specific food on the blog, it’s one I’ve given to the dogs at some point.
I don’t mind trying new brands- my local pet store just started carrying some new brands this week, and I bought a couple to try out. I’m not averse to new foods, as long as giving the label a good once over doesn’t give me reason to feel otherwise. I look for several things:
1. Ingredient list, first and foremost. A named meat high on the list, a high quality carbohydrate source, recognizable ingredients, no cutesy shapes or colors requiring artificial coloring. Once you’ve compared ingredients for enough foods and know what a cheapo food has in it versus a super premium food, you can determine pretty quickly if it’s a good choice or not.
2. AAFCO statement. I prefer a diet that has undergone a feeding trial, but logistically speaking most companies rely on formulations simply because feeding trials are cost prohibitive for smaller companies. Either is acceptable. No AAFCO statement is not.
3. The BS factor. This is probably the hardest once to discern, and I’m still learning myself. Marketing is everything these days, sure, and in a competitive field like the pet food industry, companies have to do everything they can to set themselves apart. I get that. It still doesn’t mean I am cool with deceptive labelling.
Take, for example, the word ‘natural’. They’ll put that meaningless label all over their pet food as if it means something- which it doesn’t. (Unlike the term “organic”, which is strictly defined by the FDA and USDA, the word ‘natural’ has no legal definition.) Botulism and gangrene are all natural too, doesn’t make it any more desirable.
This goes for human products too. I saw a “Crystal Light Natural” on the shelves at my grocery store the other day and almost died (no, really- I’m allergic to aspartame) when I saw the ingredient list: Citric acid, maltodextrin, instant tea, corn syrup solids ++, aspartame +, contains less than 2% of natural flavor, magnesium oxide, acesulfame potassium , red 40 lake, red 40, yellow 6 lake, yellow 5, blue 1 lake, blue 1, bha (preserves freshness). Mmm, just like grandma used to make.
So anyway, when I see a label like that, I get leery. It’s not technically wrong, per se, but it makes me proceed with caution when evaluating the rest of the label because it’s not really right either, is it. Getting back to this food I was sent: the ingredient list was fine- good, actually. AAFCO statement was present and accounted for. But then I read the rest of the label, and here’s where they lost me:
On the back, in a big fluorescent box, was this statement:
REAL MEAT VS. MEAL- WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Blahdiblah Food doesn’t contain beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or fish meals of any kind. This enables us to formulate these recipes without high-glycemic ingredients such as corn, wheat, soy, potato starch, or rice.
What’s the difference, you ask? Water.
I had to read it twice to make sure I was reading what I thought I was reading. But there you have it, the BS Test: Failed.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
Everyone scurries in fear at the thought of meat meals, but in simplest terms, all it means is meat that has been cooked down to remove the water and some of the fat. It’s dried protein.
Ingredients on pet foods are listed by weight, and a big watery whole chicken is much heavier than cooked-down chicken meal, so any whole meat tends to be primary on an ingredient list. Companies like to show that off. But once the ingredients are turned into dry kibble, a product with chicken first on the ingredient list might actually have less protein than a product with chicken meal second or third on the list.
OK, so now that we know what that means- the presence or absence of water- can anyone explain to me why choosing meat versus meal would make a difference in what carbohydrate source you would use? Their statement implies if you use a meat meal, you MUST also use corn or potato starch or some other less fashionable carbohydrate. You make a turkey meal diet with a low glycemic index carbohydrate just as easily as you could one that used whole turkey. One has nothing to do with the other.
Which leads me to one of two conclusions:
1. Either this pet food manufacturer really thinks this is how diet formulations work, in which case they can’t be trusted to make a decent product; or,
2. They know it’s irrelevant and misleading but will say it because it sounds good and they assume you’re too easily swayed by smoke and mirrors to actually care to think it through, in which case they can’t be trusted to be telling the truth about anything else.
I don’t like being misled. There are lots of things in the pet food industry which toe the line, but to me, that flat out crosses it. Now, without that statement I wouldn’t have had a problem with the food at all. You did it right! Why couldn’t you just let your ingredients stand for themselves without making wildly inaccurate statements?
I know the answer, and it is that marketing people think we’re all idiots. I know this is not the case. Let’s prove them wrong. What’s the most annoying/ misleading thing you’ve seen on a pet food label?