Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Three in 10 pet foods tested in a Chapman University study contained a meat source not listed on the label, raising concerns for allergy-suffering cats and dogs and a call for greater oversight.
The study, published in the journal Food Control, also could not detect the listed meat in seven of the 52 samples.
In three cases—a wet cat food, wet dog food and dog treat—the absence and the addition of meat sources may indicate intentional or accidental substitution, said co-author Rosalee S. Hellberg, MS, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Chapman’s Food Science Program.
“Mislabeling of pet foods is misleading to the consumer and may result in economic deception or food safety issues,” Hellberg said. “Our study showed that 16 out of 52 products tested contained a meat ingredient not listed on the label. This could become a safety concern if a cat or dog has a particular allergy to one of these meat species.”
The foods, obtained from online and retail sources, were not identified by name.
The Pet Food Institute, a Washington, D.C., organization that represents manufacturers in the estimated $22.6 billion-a-year U.S. pet food market, noted that the majority of products—31 out of 52—were labeled correctly.
“The study points to some potential topics for further research,” spokesman Kurt Gallagher said.
Hellberg and Tara Okuma, an undergraduate student at the Orange, Calif., university, used a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to look at cat and dog treats and wet and dry food representing a variety of meat sources. DNA extracted from each product was tested for beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork and horse.
No horse meat was found, answering one of Hellberg’s initial questions.
“With the recent discovery of horse meat in ground meat products sold for human consumption in several European countries, finding horse meat in U.S. consumer food and pet food products is a concern, which is one of the reasons we wanted to do this study,” she said.
Nearly all the samples—51 out of 52—tested positive for chicken. Pork was found in 35 samples, followed by beef (34), turkey (32) and lamb (26).
Pork was the most common undeclared meat—seven out of 52 samples. Two wet dog foods, a wet cat food and a dog treat that claimed to contain beef actually had none upon testing.
Erin Gray, a spokeswoman for PetSmart, said the retail giant was “reaching out to the researchers to request product information.”
“We work with suppliers to offer safe, quality products that adhere to governmental and regulatory requirements, including those for safety and ingredients, and that meet our own requirements for performance,” Gray said.
B.C. Henschen, the co-owner of Platinum Paws pet store and grooming salon in Carmel, Ind., investigates all the brands he sells and has visited factories.
“To be sold in our store, the food has to meet certain ingredient requirements, has to be made in a facility that we know and trust, and the company must have complete transparency,” Henschen said.
The study raised concerns with Scott Whipple, the founder of Canidae Natural Pet Food Co. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“Pet owners who have to be considerate of their pets’ allergies should always be mindful of the food they’re buying, especially in light of these findings,” Whipple said. “It is important that customers understand completely what they’re feeding their pets in order to ensure their health and safety, specifically if they have allergies or sensitivities to certain proteins.”
Closer examination of pet food labeling may be needed, Hellberg said.
“I don’t believe consumers should lose trust in the labeling of pet food, but they should be aware that pet food mislabeling is an issue that may require increased scrutiny,” she said.
Federal and state authorities have jurisdiction.
“Pet food is one of the most highly regulated food products,” said Gallagher, of the Pet Food Institute.
“Responsible pet food companies collaborate with FDA and AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] and work hard to ensure their products are in compliance with federal and state regulations, which includes rules for proper labeling,” he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is aware of the study.
“Consumers should be able to trust that what is on the label is in the product, especially if their pet has a food allergy,” agency spokeswoman Megan Bensette said.
“FDA has the authority to inspect pet food manufacturing facilities and takes action when it finds violations,” she said.