by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pet food

May 10 2024

Weekend reading: pet food (oh why not)

I haven’t said anything about pet food in a while, in part because I’m waiting to see what the FDA is planning to do about it, if anything.  The FDA currently regulates pet food the same way it regulates feed for farm animals.  Pet food labels look like feed labels.  They do not have Nutrition Facts or Pet Food Facts labels, making their contents difficult to understand.  There is a push to improve that situation and I .wish it were stronger.

FDA regulation of pet food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food similar to that for other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.

I don’t see much sign that is changing.  Members of Congress introduced the PURR [Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform] Act to give the FDA authority over the  labeling and ingredient review process for dog and cat foods, currently up to the states.

As explained by Pet Food Industry,

The Pet Food Institute (PFI) noted in a press statement that the proposed bill language solely impacts pet food label reviews and codifies ingredients and marketing claims in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication.

AAFCO sets ingredient definitions, label standards and laboratory standards and everybody uses them.

I wish it would propose Pet Food Facts labeling.

The pet food marketing—news

  • U.S. pet owners spend over $2B on Valentine’s gifts for pets: February 14 iwas another chance for American pet parents to express their love to their companion animals…Today’s most popular gifts include heart-covered knitwear, scarves, tiaras, plush toys, cozy ‘human dog beds,’ and, of course, healthy treats.

Pet food ingredients—news

My book with Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right, has a lot to say about these issues.  It’s still useful for understanding what they are about.  It’s really not a manual for feeding pets (although we did include recipes).  It’s an analysis of the pet food industry, something I still think worth knowing about.

Aug 8 2023

Big changes coming to pet food labels—and about time too

AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, says its membership has at last agreed to fix pet food labels so they look more like Nutrition Facts labels.  When this happens, you might possibly be able to understand them.

Here’s what the nutrition information on a pet food label looks like now.

Pet food labels follow the regulations for animal feed, not human food.

This might have made sense when dogs and cats were on their own to hunt or be fed household scraps, but it makes no sense at all now that pets are considered members of the family—fur babies.

The agreed-upon changes have to be incorporated into state regulations, and manufacturers need time to adopt them.  Everybody gets 6 years to do this, although some companies will undoubtedly start using the new rules right away.

The changes will be in four areas of the labels:

  1. Nutrition Facts Box – Updated to resemble human-food labeling more closely.  This will be a Pet Nutriton Facts panel.
  2. Intended Use Statement – Updated to new location on the lower-third of the front display panel to help consumers easily identify the purpose of the pet food.
  3. Ingredient Statement – Updated to clarify the use of consistent terminology and allow parentheticals and common or usual names for vitamins.
  4. Handling and Storage Instructions (optional) – Updated and standardized with optional icons for greater consistency.

This is a great step forward.  One reason why I think so is that the new Pet Nutrition Facts label is exactly what Mal Nesheim and I recommended in our book, Feed Your Pet Right.

That book came out in 2010; these rules go into effect in 2029.

It pays to be patient—and to persist!

Jan 16 2023

Industry-funded study of the week: pet food!

I’m working on a book chapter on pet food and was interested to hear from Phyllis Entis, author of TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, who sent me this.

The study: Isabella Corsato Alvarenga, Amanda N. Dainton & Charles G. Aldrich (2021).  A review: nutrition and process attributes of corn in pet foods, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2021.1931020

Background: “Corn is one of the largest cereal crops worldwide and plays an important role in the U.S. economy. The pet food market is growing every year, and although corn is well utilized by dogs, some marketing claims have attributed a negative image to this cereal.”

Purpose:  “the objective of this work was to review the literature regarding corn and its co-products, as well as describe the processing of these ingredients as they pertain to pet foods.”

Findings: “Corn is well digested by both dogs and cats and provides nutrients…In conclusion, the negative perception by some in the pet food market may not be warranted in pet foods using corn and its co-products.”

Conflicted interests: “The authors are with the Department of Grain Science and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA.”

Funding: “This work was commissioned by the Kansas Corn Commission.”

Comment:  For the record, substantial research supports the ability of dogs and cats to digest and use the nutrients in corn.  This has been documented for a long time.  The purpose of this review is to reassure pet owners that it’s to feed corn-containing products to their dogs and cats.  Corn is the most prevalent ingredient in commercial complete pet foods.   Lots of pet owners believe that grain-free foods are bad for pets and are buying grain-free products.  These must be cutting into sales.  Once again, this is an industry-funded study with predictable results.


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Mar 23 2022

International food ingredients: endangered shark in Singapore pet food

Pet food, as I am fond of repeating, is an essential part of the human food supply because it uses the waste from human food production.

Also, whatever is happening with pet food indicates what could well be happening with human food.

That’s why I was fascinated to read this account in Pet Food Industry of finding DNA from endangered sharks in any number of pet food brands.

Researchers identified shark genetic material in cat foods purchased in Singapore, including Fancy Feast, Sheba, Whiskas, Kit Cat and Aixia Yaizu. The scientists suggested that endangered silky sharks and other species ended up in pet foods. However, the study’s authors couldn’t determine the route by which the shark meat made its way into the pet food supply chain. Likewise, they didn’t have easy solutions for how pet food companies could avoid inadvertently allowing endangered sharks into their products.

The evidence comes from a report of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Pet Food Industry further explains:

The silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), listed as CITES Appendix II, was the second most frequently encountered species in the pet foods. Silky sharks face tremendous hunting pressure for their fins. The researchers speculated that the presence of the silky sharks may reflect the use of the rest of their carcasses in pet food.

Blue sharks, Prionace glauca, were the most common species in the samples. Blue sharks are not listed in CITES or classified as threatened by the IUCN, but scientists believe it is being overfished and needs regulation.

None of the pet foods’ ingredient decks mentioned sharks. Terms such as “ocean fish,” “white fish” and “white bait” appeared though.

I wrote about the pet food supply chain (particularly as related to melamine contamination) in Pet Food Politics and, with Mal Nesheim, in Feed Your Pet Right.  

The point: If we don’t want to encourage destruction of endangered species, we ought to be checking cans of tuna for people while we are at it.

Mar 15 2022

The food politics of the Ukraine War

My NYU department is hosting a discussion of this issue: Feeding Resistance and Refugees of Ukraine: The Humanitarian Crisis in Eastern Europe.  March 22, 1-3 pm (EDT).  Free, but register here.

This panel brings together experts and scholars studying Eastern Europe to share their observations and reflections about food access; local, regional and global supply chains; food production and sovereignty; as well as the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Participants include Agata Bachórz (Sociology, University of Gdańsk, Poland), Eszter Kovacs (Geography, University College London), Simone Piras (Agricultural and Food Economics, The James Hutton Institute, UK), and Mihai Varga (Sociology, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany).  Moderated by Diana Mincyte (Sociology, CUNY City Tech) and Fabio Parasecoli (Nutrition and Food Studies, NYU)

And now, for the items I’ve been collecting.   Not much good news to report.

The big picture

Disruptions in global food systems

Immediate effect: rising food prices

And a small ray of sunshine

Mar 10 2022

The Ukraine War and food systems: items

The tragedy of the Ukraine War is beyond comprehension.  Like everything else, it affects food systems, and not just for the people caught up in it.

I’ve been collecting items, starting with Jose Andres @chefJoseAndres and World Central Kitchen @WCKitchen who are providing hundreds of thousands of meals to people fleeing from the Ukraine.

And then this one:

Why the silence?

  • “Unlike other chains, McDonald’s owns the vast majority of its 847 restaurants in Russia. According to a page for investors, Russia accounts for 9 percent of the company’s total revenues and 3 percent of its operating income.”
  • “Last year, Russia accounted for $3.4 billion, or more than 4 percent, of PepsiCo’s $79.4 billion in revenues.”

Other items are about what this war means for agricultural trade, food prices, and specific food businesses—especially pet food.

Here are the pet food items:

Nov 8 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: pet food!

I have a long-standing interest in pet food (see Feed Your Pet Right, and Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine) and in conflicts of interest in research (see Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat).  Knowing of both, a reader, Teresa Reinhardt, alerted me to this one.

The study:  Investigation of diets associated with dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs using foodomics analysisCaren E. SmithLaurence D. ParnellChao-Qiang LaiJohn E. Rush & Lisa M. FreemanScientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 15881 (2021).

Purpose: to identify specific pet food ingredients associated with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.

Methods: Metabolomic profiling of 25 diets associated with canine DCM and 9 diets not associated with DCM.

Results: “Four diet ingredients distinguished the two diet groups (peas, lentils, chicken/turkey, and rice). Of these ingredients, peas showed the greatest association with higher concentrations of compounds in 3P/FDA diets [the ones associated with DCM].“

Funding:  “This work was funded in part by Nestlé Purina PetCare and the Barkley Fund. This work was funded in part by United States Department of Agriculture project number 8050-51000-107-00D, and this entity had no part in the design of the experiments, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, nor in composing the manuscript.”

Conflicts of interest: “In the last 3 years, Dr. Freeman has received research funding from, given sponsored lectures for, and/or provided professional services to Aratana Therapeutics, Elanco, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina PetCare, P&G Pet Care (now Mars), and Royal Canin. In the last 3 years, Dr. Rush has received research funding from, given sponsored lectures for, and/or provided professional services to Aratana Therapeutics, Boehringer Ingelheim, Elanco, IDEXX, Nestlé Purina PetCare, and Royal Canin. None of the other authors has any competing interests to declare.”

Comment:  DCM is a common heart disease affecting dogs, with a prevalence that exceeds 50% in some breeds (e.g., Doberman Pinschers). More than 1100 cases have been reported to the FDA.

Despite endless speculation, its cause is unknown.  Much attention has focused on one or another dietary deficiencies or specific components (e.g., grains).  As the authors explain:

The diets reported to be associated with DCM often are marketed as “grain-free” and often contain certain ingredients that became part of commercial foods relatively recently (e.g., pulses, potatoes, and sweet potatoes) and lack others (such as rice or corn). Most of the ingredients that are included in the associated diets are also found in human diets, but dogs often eat them in even higher quantities because most dogs eat a single commercial pet food, rather than a variable mixture of multiple foods as humans do.

I think there three issues need further discussion.

(1)  Grains. Some pet owners believe that dogs should not eat grains. They buy pet foods that do not contain them.  This study identified grains only in the pet foods that were not associated with DCM.  Ms. Reinhardt also sent a link to a commentary from someone who questions this finding and raises other critical points about the study.  Dogs are fully capable of digesting grains and grains have been used safely in pet foods for decades.  The FDA describes the association of DCM with on its website.  What’s needed to resolve the peas question is a long-term (years, not months) trial of diets with and without peas.  The pet food industry has no incentive to pay for something like that.

(2)  The funding effect Nestlé Purina PetCare [no relation] paid for the study, and two of the authors consult widely for pet food companies.  Grains are inexpensive pet food ingredients and it is to Nestlé’s interest to have evidence demonstrating that grains do no harm.  How much influence did this company have over the research?  The conflict of interest statement is oddly worded.  The USDA funder is stated to have stayed out of the study, but the statement does not seem to apply to Nestlé, suggesting company influence.

(3)  Pet food research funding in general.  This study had some USDA funding, but government funding for pet food research is rare.  Most pet food research is funded by pet food companies, and most focuses on taste preferences.  Remarkably little research is designed to answer questions about which diets are better than others—a big issue because most pets eat commerical pet foods designed to take care of their complete nutritional needs.

This study identified peas as most strongly associated with DCM.  Pea protein is a main ingredient in plant-based meat alternatives.  It would be good to know more about the dietary effects of peas and pea proteins.

If nothing else this study demonstrates why pet food research matters.  We only have one food system, and pet food is very much a part of that system.

Jul 1 2021

The latest on pet food politics

­­­My most recent collection of items.

  • Pets in Europe88 million households own pets, thereby creating an enormous market for pet foods.
  • Pets in the U.S.:  Pre-pandemic, there were 77 million dogs and 58 million cats, at least those that can be counted.
  • Global market for pet food:  it’s estimated at $75 billion.
  • People love pets:  If anyone in the pet food industry still needed proof that humanization of pets was the foundation for the market’s ongoing growth, consider this: Results of a recent study show that the dietary routine of owners was among the top three reasons for why consumers chose certain types of dog food, particularly grain free.
  • Pets and the Covid-15:  Cats and dogs might have gained the “Covid 15,” but new data reveals a pet obesity epidemic existed long before quarantine.
  • Insects are the hot new ingredient in pet foodsInsect protein demand in pet food may be 165k tons by 2030.
  • Raw pet foods are still a source of toxic Salmonella: A study on a deadly E. coli outbreak in the United Kingdom linked to raw pet food adds to the evidence of such products being a risk factor for human infections, according to researchers. In August 2017, four people were infected with related strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157:H7. One person died after developing the… Continue Reading
  • The FDA frequently recalls or withdraws pet foods: Recalls – of which there are three types – are actions taken by a firm to remove a product from the market. Recalls may be conducted on a firm’s own initiative, by FDA request, or by FDA order under statutory authority.

And one long read:

  • What Will Become of the Pandemic Pets?  The New Yorker says “In a time of stress and isolation, we turned to them for comfort. Now it’s time to think about what owning animals really means.”