- Ken Tudor DVM
When we shop for food, we trust that the container label accurately reflects the actual contents. This is especially important if there are certain foods or ingredients we need to avoid because they could cause serious medical reactions. That is why regulations require that labels accurately disclose the ingredients in food items. But is this also true for pet food labels? Apparently, the answer is no. A just published study1 found that 40% of pet food may be mislabeled.
Researchers from the Chapman University Food Science Program tested 52 dog and cat food products to identify the meat species in the foods. They used a new, sophisticated technology to identify DNA in the foods as beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork or horse. This same technology, called polymerase chain reaction or PCR, is used for accurate genetic fingerprinting in science and legal settings and is also used to accurately diagnose infectious and hereditary diseases.
Label ingredient lists were then compared to the PCR identified meat species for each food. 31 products were labeled correctly. One food contained a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be identified by the PCR test. Of the remaining 20 mislabeled foods, 16 contained meat species that were not listed on the label as ingredients. Pork was the most common undeclared meat protein. In 3 of the mislabeled foods, evidence suggested meat species substitution (poultry types).
Mislabeled foods are the greatest medical threat to animals with severe allergies to food ingredients. A food that does not disclose a potential allergenic meat source could cause severe itching and skin problems or severe stomach or intestinal adverse reactions. Worse, it might lead to an unnecessary or harmful changes in veterinary treatment based on the assumption that the food was as advertised.
Mislabeling is no small matter. American households spent $22.6 billion on pet food last year. If like this study, 40% of that food is mislabeled, the problem is huge. Fortunately, food allergies are not as common as insect or environmental allergies, so a smaller population of pets is at risk of food related health problems. This only makes the pet food makers lucky, not exempt.
This study raises some ethical questions. Is mislabeling intentional or accidental? How wide spread is the practice in the industry and is it common knowledge in the industry? Who is responsible for the oversight and what steps are being taken to address the issue? This is not the first study to identify mislabeling. I have postedtwice highlighting studies of contaminated hypoallergenic diets. How many studies are necessary to grab the attention of regulating agencies and the pet food industry?
This study is just another reason that homemade dog food is a much better option than commercial dog foods. It gives you complete control over the consistency, quality and safety of your dog’s food.
1-Tara A. Okuma, Rosalee S. Hellberg. Identification of meat species in pet foods using a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. Food Control, 2015:50:9 DOI.