Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's in pet food?

The pet food industry, including pet foods and other pet products and services, is a growing market in the United States. Over the past five years, U.S. pet industry expenditures have increased by approximately $10 billion, with close to $21 billion spent on pet food alone in 2012. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 75% of U.S. households own pets, totaling about 218 million pets, not including fish. On average, each U.S. household spends more than $500 on pets annually, equating to about 1% of household expenditures.

Although the numbers above have been estimated only for the U.S. I consider it very likely to find similar expenses in many other countries. As pet owners (we share the house with two cats) we want to ensure that our little companions live at least as well as we do and one important component is their food. It might come to no surprise that despite existing regulations for pet foods, the growth of the international trade and the globalization of the food supply increased the potential for food fraud to occur. In addition in recent years the amount of products with specific diet formulas skyrocketed. Now you can buy pet food with various combinations of ingredients. 

Two researchers Chapman University in Orange, California conducted a study in which they tested 52 wet and dry foods and treats using real-time PCR assays. The study was, in part, a response to Europe’s 2013 horse meat scandal, which involved burgers and lasagna meat sold as beef. That led to product testing in 27 countries, with horse DNA found in about 5 percent of products labeled as beef, according to the European Commission. 

Of the 52 tested products, 31 were labeled correctly, 20 were potentially mislabeled. 13 products of theses potentially mislabelled products contained meat from species not listed on the label, four lacked one or more meats listed on the label, and three had both problems. One wet cat food tested in the study contained meat from an undetermined species.

It comes to no surprise that pet food industry officials expressed doubt that the test results are a reflection of accuracy of pet food labeling in general. Indeed it is possible that mislabeling is unintended, resulting from formulation mistakes or mislabeling by suppliers. That can be prevented, in part, by requiring documentation of sources from suppliers and testing raw materials as well as by training employees to prevent product cross-contamination. But, mislabeling can not only result from sloppy operations but also through fraud. 

The authors conclude and suggest:
Although there are pet food regulations in place in the United States that are enforced by federal and state entities, there is still a lack of information on meat species authentication as well as accidental mislabeling and intentional food fraud. To date, few studies have been published on the prevalence of meat species mislabeling in pet foods. While this study suggests the occurrence of pet food mislabeling on the commercial market, further studies are needed to determine the extent of mislabeling and to identify points in the production chain where mislabeling occurs.

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