22 Jan Defining by-products ( not used by Totally Ferret)
The Facts about By-Products and Pet Foods- Definitions, Nutritional Values and What it all Means For Your Pet
By Pet Nutritionist Thomas R. Willard, Ph.D.
Regulatory Requirements for Pet Food Labeling
The pet food industry is governed by the food or agriculture departments within each state. Each state publishes regulations which follow the guidelines established by the national organization known as AAFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S Department of Agriculture are represented on the AAFCO pet food committee.
Pet food manufacturers are required to properly label their products according to AAFCO regulations, and it is both unethical and illegal not to follow approved AAFCO definitions. In particular, this refers to the “guaranteed analysis” and “ingredient label”, but also includes the way manufacturers describe their products as well as the claims they make.
The AAFCO manual defines over 700 acceptable ingredients for use in pet foods today. More than 50% of these ingredients are vitamins, minerals or amino acids (protein building blocks). Among the remaining 200 feed ingredients, there are less than 20 which include the word “by-product” in their name. However, by definition, the majority of these ingredients are in fact, “by-products”, or secondary products produced as the result of various food manufacturing processes for products for human consumption. The official AAFCO definition of “by-products” is, “… Secondary products produced in addition to the principle products”.
Let’s use “corn” as an example. Within the AAFCO manual, there are 27 different corn ingredients, yet none of them have the word “by-product” associated with their name. Ingredients such as corn grits, corn gluten meal, corn gluten feed, corn bran, and corn and cob meal are all “by-products” of various corn milling operations which make human food products. The majority of ingredients used in pet food are therefore remnants from the human food processing chain. Ingredients such as lamb meal, chicken meal, chicken, fish meal, chicken fat, beef tallow, oat groats, beet pulp, brewers yeast and over 100 other ingredients are all “by-products” of the human processing chain and are listed as not meant for human consumption. This does not mean however, that they are not nutritious for your pet. Without “by-products” our pets would not receive the level of nutrition they enjoy today. The food would simply be too expensive, and only the wealthiest of individuals could afford to own pets.
Protein By-Products; Where They Come From
Now that we know what they are and where they come from, let’s talk about how they are used to make healthy, balanced and complete foods for our pets.
Ingredients such as “chicken”, “chicken meal”, and “chicken by-product meal” are all by-products which come from plants processing chickens for human consumption. However, the AAFCO definition and quality of these three by-products is different.
Chicken is defined as “the clean combination of flesh and skin, with our without accompanying bone, derived from parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. Few if any pet food companies use the whole chicken or the chicken parts intended for human consumption in their products.
Chicken Meal is the “rendered (cooking to remove water and fat from fresh meats) dried meal from flesh, skin and parts such as bruised legs, thighs, breast and whole de-boned carcasses (including connective tissue) of chicken..
Chicken by-product Meal is the rendered (cooking to remove water and fat from fresh meats), dry product of chicken parts such as the intestinal tracts (guts), spleens, pancreas, livers, gizzards and hearts (giblets). These intestinal tract and internal organs provide the very highest nutritional quality for dogs and cats.
Poultry, or poultry by-product meals may include chicken, turkey and geese. In the U.S. most processing plants can only handle either chicken or turkey, due to the different sizes of the birds. Poultry by-product processing plants are required to separate the feathers and the blood from the other parts of the bird.
Each of these chicken ingredients by definition are by-products. Even though all these ingredients come from a human processing plant and were at one time technically human grade food. Why don’t pet food manufacturers use human grade chicken? Cost. Human grade ingredients and food costs 5 to 20 times more than ingredients labeled “not for human consumption” food. Does this mean that they are not safe for our pets? NO. In fact, the processing of these ingredients (drying, cooking, freezing, etc.) preserve the nutritional quality of the ingredients and make them healthy for our pets.
By-Product Grades and Quality; What’s Best for Your Pet?
Since the introduction of super-premium foods like High Hopes, Iams, etc., manufacturers of these products have demanded that the by-product poultry or chicken meals meet certain nutritional standards as it relates to nutrient levels and digestibility. To meet these requirements, it is necessary to omit the feet and heads prior to processing. Though the heads and feet do contain a great deal of protein and fat, they also contain a great deal of connective tissue, which is poorly digested by most dogs and cats.
Lower quality chicken and poultry meals and by-product meals may contain the feet, heads and connective tissue which reduce digestibility and may lack the balance of essential amino acids necessary for proper nutrition.
Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to claim the quality of the meals they are using. If you are not sure about the quality of the product, ask the manufacturer to tell you. And while from an aesthetic point of view, some may not like the idea of using chicken by-products such as guts, hearts, livers, etc. in pet foods, from a nutritional point of view, these are the best sources available for our pets today. Better quality ingredients also translate into better taste for your pet!