Some of you have probably heard numerous claims about pet foods using "human grade", "antibiotic and hormone-free", "meat-based", etc., and do not know what to believe anymore. Below I will try to address some of the claims that are really half true and that could be construed as being misleading.
“Our food is antibiotic free and hormone free.”
First let us say that federal labeling law precludes pet food manufacturers from including "misleading" statements on their bags. For example: Some say that they use only antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, lamb etc. That is not exactly true. It is against federal law for chicken to be labeled as hormone-free. That's because growers may not use hormones on chickens. To label your chicken as hormone-free would imply that your chickens are the only ones that are hormone-free when in fact they all are! What happens with other animals used for human consumption is that they must test free of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides before slaughter. It usually takes three to five days to clear their systems of any chemicals. Those animals that are earmarked for slaughter are kept free of chemicals for several days and then butchered. When I think of "antibiotic and hormone-free," I think of an animal that has been raised chemical-free, not just for a few days. A play on words, perhaps, but one that borderlines on fraud. Ask if it is Certified Organic, "pasture grazed only" or imported from a country that restricts the use of chemicals if that is what you want. Of course, you will pay a lot more.
Another one is:
"Our meat comes from USDA-inspected plants."
All slaughter houses that process for human consumption must be USDA-inspected.
One natural dog food company claims:
"Digest is the full guts, including the manure."
Not true. It is made from whatever it is named for (chicken digest, liver digest etc.) and is digested by enzymatic activity and then dried. We do not use digest in our formulas, but there is nothing wrong with it.
A natural food supplement maker that lists molasses as the second ingredient claims:
"We use molasses because it is a nutrient, not a sugar."
Molasses contains many nutrients and is technically not a sugar, but it contains 60% sugars by weight and 20% water. Maybe it is not thought of as a sugar in Fufu Land, but most of the world uses it as a sweetener. Dogs love sugar and it’s added mostly for palatability. If sugar must be used to help preserve a product, then molasses would of course be better than sucrose or dextrose, but only if it’s necessary.
The same supplement maker also claims:
"Our product contains natural enzymes and probiotics that are naturally present in food."
Even if that were true, because you are only adding 1 teaspoon of supplement, it would only contain enough enzymes to assist in digesting that one teaspoon. If you ask them what the enzyme levels are, they will not tell you. That is because they are so low, they cannot be measured. If you want to replace the enzymes lost in the food due to processing, you must add enough to assist in digesting the full amount of food you are feeding. However, this is expensive to do.
My favorite is "Made with only 100% human-grade ingredients."
One quick way to determine if this is not true (other than cost) is if the food contains any "meals." Guess what? There is no such thing as human-grade chicken meal or lamb meal. I don’t know of any restaurant where you can say, "Waiter, may I have some beef meal to go with my baked potato?" Or "May I have my chicken meal on a bun, please?" The meat starts out as human grade because, remember, it’s from an inspected plant, but does not receive an inspection sticker because it’s not intended for human consumption and therefore cannot be labeled as human grade.
There are different grades (classifications) of meals, however, and these are graded (classified) by protein content, ash content and price. Some are of very high quality. For example, our lamb meal is imported from New Zealand and is a special low ash high protein (8% ash, 70% protein) lamb meal that we have classified. Most of the bone is filtered out (all lamb, chicken, and beef meals contain a lot of bone because it’s made from what is left over from cutting away steaks or boneless chicken breast, for example). It’s the most expensive and probably the best lamb meal in the country as it’s made from the organs and contains a lot of blood, which gives it a very complete amino acid profile. Is it human grade? Come on, class, I'm listening. Most lamb meals are high in ash and are low (50%) in protein. We searched six different suppliers before finding the current suppliers for chicken meal and for lamb meal.
So you say, "Fine. What about dog foods that list meat?"
Good question! Oh, what clever readers you are! First, only a handful of mills have the equipment to add meat. Some companies may list meat but actually use meal. Of those that actually can add meat, it’s not quite what you would expect. It’s usually mechanically de-boned and mixed with water to make a slurry that is pumped into the extruder. The most you can use in a formula is limited to about 30%, although manufacturers can use as little as 3%. What starts out as chicken with 78% moisture is now perhaps 90% moisture cooked down to 10%. That 30% you started out with is now about 3.3% or less dry matter. To get the protein up, you must now add corn gluten meal or another protein source. Corn gluten meal is a good protein source; it’s high in sulfur-containing amino acids. But a lot of people (myself included) prefer an animal-based protein, which means you must add animal meals, which means it is not 100% human grade.
"What about the other ingredients?" you ask.
The brown rice we use in our Timberwolf Classic Formulas looks just like the brown rice on your supermarket shelf; it’s clean and looks indistinguishable. The only difference is that it doesn’t have an FDA tag on it. Our oats are of exceptional quality. Higher in linoleic and alpha linoleic acid than locally grown oats because of the cold (probably grown organically as well), and they’re the same oats that are supplied to food processors. Growers don’t have separate fields for dogs and people. The point I’m trying to make is that I have trouble believing that a company would pay five times as much for the same ingredient just to get that FDA sticker. Let me give you an example: I buy a chicken fat from a company that supplies soup manufacturers, etc. If we buy a tanker of fat, it doesn’t have to have an FDA tag and my price is $.11 per pound. If I buy less, it must have an FDA tag and the price goes to $.58 per pound. Same product. That chicken fat is apparently human grade, but I cannot call it that. A lot of my ingredients are human grade, some even certified organic, but at the end of the day, I cannot make the claim “100% human grade” because it ‘s not. Neither can any other company (unless maybe they are charging $2 - $5 per pound).
Another example is that if a truckload (40,000 lbs) of frozen whole broilers were purchased for $.50 per pound, and if a custom chicken meal were produced, it would be exorbitant in cost. Chicken meal is made from chicken meat (usually mechanically de-boned) that is put into a vat and is brought to the proper temperature and pH and then enzymes are added. The meat is broken down into a liquid and either spray-dried or roller-dried into a fine powder. Now go back to the truckload of chickens at $.50 per pound. It takes several pounds of chickens to make one pound of chicken meal. So let us say 7 pounds times $.50 equals $3.50 plus the rendering charge. Let us assume $4.00 per pound, okay? I am using about 50% chicken meal, so $4.00/2 is $2.00+ per pound of dog food, my cost. Just for ingredients. Not including herbs, oils, probiotics etc. Does any of this make sense to some of you?
One natural dog food company uses poultry meal but lists on their ingredient label “chicken meal, turkey meal.” AAFCO allows listing animal meals by particular animal if you know what animal was used in making it. If the meal is made from more than one animal or a composite, you may list all the animals used in making it. What they mean, however, is "chicken/turkey" meal for poultry. If you know the exact percentages, then you may list them where they should appear in order of weight on the label, but you cannot list “chicken meal, turkey meal” as the first two ingredients. Doing so gives the impression that the food is meat-based when in fact it is not.
One question you can ask a dog food company to determine if it’s meat-based or grain-based is, "What percentage of your formula is animal meals?" or "What’s the percentage of protein that is animal-based?" or "How many pounds of animal meals are used per ton of your formula?" They probably will not tell you or say, "That is proprietary." We use 48 to 52% chicken, lamb or fish meals by weight, or 900 to 1100 pounds per ton! Put another way, 91% of our protein is animal-based. That is meal, not meat. If someone tells you they use 1000 pounds of meat per ton, that is equal to only 200 pounds of chicken meal or ten percent. Another way is to look at the calcium content. Chicken, lamb and meat meals are usually 4 - 5% calcium (Special "classified" low ash meals with lower levels of calcium can be used but are up to 3 times as expensive), so if a company claims to be using 50% animal meals by weight and their calcium is only 1.2% then you know something somewhere does not add up. Or maybe they are using "new" math. The only reason we disclose this is that it’s VERY expensive. Not many other companies will do this, and those that do will have to raise their prices. Of course, someone may tell you they use a high amount. If so, the kibble should be very dark. Our Lamb, Barley and Apples kibble is almost black.
Now that you have read this page, at least you'll know what is in the food. If I decide to put in goat's eyes, tongue of wren and pickled fish pan-fried in roasted sesame oil, you'll know it. None of my formulas contain 4D animals, simple (read: white) carbohydrates, dextrose or other sugars for palatability enhancement, soy, BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin. We personally have sold and used a lot of specialty and super premium foods and have seen more positive results and heard more positive feedback with this food than any other. I invite you to go to the testimonials page and read some of the testimonials. I hope I have answered some of your questions, but don't take my word. Call the FDA or AAFCO or some feed ingredient suppliers and see what they say.
-Mark Heyward, Founder of Timberwolf Organics