The Truth About Pet Food: Human Grade Is the Most Meaningful Choice You Can Make For Your Dog or Cat.
Google: “What does human grade dog food mean” and you are going to get a virtual boatload of conflicting answers. You’ll find misinformation propagated by well-intended bloggers. You’ll read disinformation promulgated by self-serving Big Industry. There’s obfuscation by officials, which is perhaps the most confounding of all. Isn’t it their job to look out for our pets and us?
And then there’s The Truth – spoken and shared by a handful of consumer advocates who fight for your pet’s welfare and your right to know.
Today, we share The Truth. And for many of you, you will never, ever look at a bag of pet food or beef jerky dog treats the same way again. Plain and simple: the distinction between legitimate human edible pet food and everything else, really, really matters.
Does Livestock Feed = Pet Food?
To answer that question, first you need to have a basic understanding of who has authority over pet food: Enter roughly 52 entities: FDA, AAFCO, and each state in the USA.
Legally, pet food falls under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act which states that all food - for humans and animals equally - must be edible. Unfortunately, the FDA has decided (in written compliance policies and in practice) that they will selectively interpret this law and allow inedible ingredients into pet food. These inedible ingredients can include condemned meat; or other food stuffs that are rotten, spoiled, or contaminated by filth, pesticides, herbicides, foreign matter. You get the picture.
AAFCO does not have enforcement authority, but they DO write the rules. They also protect these rules by copyright so that consumers cannot readily access them. That’s right. Flying in the face of American values like Consumer Protection and Freedom of Information is FDA’s handshake with AAFCO that permits the concealment of the regulations that govern your family member’s food. Talk about obfuscation of truth.
AAFCO decides, for instance, that “chicken” listed on a label of chicken jerky dog treats can come from condemned meat. What’s more, the regulations that govern farm animal feed are the same regulations that apply to pet food – meaning if it is acceptable for Wilbur the pig, it is good enough for Peaches, your dog. Animal feed = Pet Food.
This is where the 50 states enter. Since Pet Food = Animal Feed, enforcement of the regulations is the responsibility of each state in which a given pet food is sold. In most states, the regulating authority is the state’s Department of Agriculture (the Feed and Fertilizer Division).
Each of the 50 different Departments of Agriculture interpret and enforce AAFCO’s rules on their own. They do this in part by reviewing the labels of every product sold in the state to ensure compliance with AAFCO’s concealed rules. Interpretation and enforcement of the rules can vary widely from state to state.
So What Are Human-Grade Treats or Human-Edible Pet Food?
Contrary to what Purina has said on the subject, AAFCO has designated what human grade actually means, and a growing number of really great companies are meeting the requirements. There are three criteria for human grade:
- All ingredients are human edible (e.g. meats are USDA inspected and passed).
- All products bearing the designation Human Grade are made in a facility licensed to produce human food.
- Current Good Manufacturing Practices are followed – these are guidelines governing the manufacture, storage and transport of food for human consumption.
We talked about the importance of #1 above – you want to buy products that use exclusively edible ingredients because the quality of what otherwise is allowed into pet food is sickening. The second and third criteria, however, are equally important. Here’s why:
If you’re a pet food maker using only human grade ingredients, but processing those ingredients in unsanitary conditions, then the pet food you’re making is no longer human edible.
Human grade facilities are licensed and inspected. They fall under the purview of the state in which their manufacturing facility is located. Licensed and inspected facilities have food safety procedures that they must follow.
For example, there are standard sanitary operating procedures for maintaining a clean and sanitary working environment, and mitigating the risk of cross contamination of bacteria, allergens, or other things. There also are procedures for killing food borne pathogens that inadvertently may be carried on deliveries of raw materials (like salmonella on raw chicken). There also are procedures for forward and backward traceability, and for what to do in the event of a recall, and more.
Furthermore, human grade manufacturers are heavily regulated in each state where their products are sold – more than any ordinary pet food maker. Not only must the human grade manufacturer submit product labels for review by every states’ Department of Agriculture, but that manufacturer must produce compliance documents on every single ingredient they use – demonstrating that the ingredient is human grade, and that the ingredient’s supplier is licensed and inspected.
Human grade is a very, very high standard of excellence.
What Should Consumers Look For?
You may think looking for the words on a website “uses human grade ingredients” is a good first step. Or even finding the words "human grade" in a product description on your favorite online retailer tells the truth. Websites, however, are largely unregulated and sport all kinds of key words to game the search engines and consumers.
To ensure that a product is truly human grade – that it meets all three criteria and is in compliance with AAFCO’s definition – consumers should look for the words “Human Grade” printed on the product packaging. The reason: while website claims are largely unregulated, claims on product packaging are required to be proven to regulatory authorities. You also can call your state’s Department of Agriculture to request a list of the Human Grade products available for sale in your state.
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