From: Linda Iroff
Date: 2002-02-15 09:48:00 UTC
Subject: Symposium 2002 notes: Food Labels
Many people are asking about notes, videos or copies of presentations from
the Ferrets 2002 Symposium in Las Vegas. We did not have the sessions
officially videotaped. Some people did make their own tapes; if they want
to make copies available, they may do so with permission from the speakers
and with the understanding that they will not profit from doing do.
We will be posting some of the presentations on our symposium website, but
please note that our webmaster Shelby Kimura is in the process of moving
from Canada to Australia where she will be starting vet school next month.
(Congrats Shelby!!) So it may be a while before the web site is updated.
I did manage to take a few notes at some of the sessions. Here is a summary
of Dr. Bill Sadler's presentation on reading pet food labels.
Executive Summary: The bad news is that there is no overall federal
oversight of what pet food labels say. The good news is that most pet food
companies follow standard guidelines. The bad news is that we often can't
get much useful info from the labels anyway!
The FDA controls feed additives in animal foods. Weights and measures are
controlled at the state level. The AAFCO is an industry organization that
tries to encourage consistency across states lines, but it has no legal
authority or enforcement powers.
The minimum protein, minimum fat and maximum fiber contents are the only
"guarentees" required by law to be put on pet food labels. Also by law, the
amount of protein is defined as the amount of nitrogen times 6.25. There is
also no requirement to define or describe the amino acid levels,
availability of protein or digestibility of protein.
Only two states (California and Florida) require that the ingredients of
pet foods be listed in descending order, but the states don't have the
resouces to check. Companies are not required to disclose their formulas,
which are considered trade secrets, and thus there is no way to verify the
labels are accurate.
Still, most companies do list ingredients in the expected order. But that
may not tell us much. For example, one food may list "chicken" as the first
ingredient, while another has "chicken meal". We may think chicken is
better, since it is less processed. But ingredients are listed by weight,
and chicken includes water, perhaps up to 90% by weight, and once the food
is processed and dried, the amount of protein left may be far less than in
the product with chicken meal, which is already dried before adding.
In addition, the actual amounts can vary greatly even in lists that looks
similar. Dr. Sadler showed an example of several rabbit? foods that all
listed alfalfa as the first ingredient. Each food had similar things for
the next 4 or 5 ingredients, such as corn, oat hulls, etc. But the amount
of the primary ingredient ranged from 16 to 64%! There was NO WAY to get
that info from the labels. By the way, he said these were all good foods.
So in summary, pet food labels don't always tell you a lot about the food.
The best way to judge a food is by the company's reputation, proven
perfomance of the food, and the company's service and delivery.
(I am fully responsible for any errors or misinterpretations in this
report. Please let me know of any corrections.)