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Pet Food Wording: The good, the bad and the ugly

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

May 26, 2017

Most states require compliance with AAFCO. Some of those states however, only require the minimum compliance of guaranteed analysis of minimum crude protein and crude fat and the maximum for crude fiber and moisture. Crude refers to the testing method not the quality of an ingredient. Most states have adopted AAFCO’s “model laws” and use those to regulate the information allowed on your pet’s food packaging.

If a pet food product has the Nutritional Adequacy Statement, you are guaranteed that the pet food in that bag meets AAFCO’s nutritional requirements and it has been initially proven by testing of the product and/or a feeding trial. This Statement is located on pet food packaging that has passed these requirements.

Good news for us; the state of Ohio has adopted the AAFCO Official Publication “model laws” for pet food. Adopting the feed ingredient definitions, feed terms and process and procedures in the AAFCO Official Publication.

HINT! While labels are regulated, web sites, commercials, brochures etc. may be less so. Most states do not have the resources to review websites with the same scrutiny as they do labels, so it is quite possible that there is information on websites, commercials etc. that does not meet labeling requirements. Keep that in mind.

Some words besides ingredients are regulated (those words are in all CAPS here), it’s a short list: these words are key in letting you know important info about the food at a glance.

LITE or LIGHT or LOW CALORIE: regulated as weight control and must include on the label a calorie content statement, based on the percentage of moisture. Must conform to the regulated calorie amount that is allowed, when using these or words of similar designation.

Less or Reduced Calorie is NOT regulated for calorie content. Foods using these words must only have calories that are less than a product named for comparison, and feeding instructions that reflect a reduction in calories compared to the comparison product.

LEAN or LOW FAT regulated for maximum of crude fat allowed per amount of moisture.

Less or Reduced Fat is NOT regulated for maximum fat content. Pet foods using these words must only have less fat than a product named for comparison.

HINT! The named products for comparison may not themselves be Lite or Lean, definitely keep that in mind.

Want to know how much actual beef is in your Friskies Beef Dinner cat food? The label actually tells you the percentage if you know what to look for.

HINT! Water is NOT regulated but plays an important role in processing and is included in the required percentages for the following (which lowers the actual percentage required in the pet food).

*95% RULE Reg.PF3(b)(1): Applies to mainly canned products and with the water required for processing, still must comprise 70% of the product. Products usually are called Beef Dog Food or Tuna Cat Food etc. These products would have the main ingredient listed first then usually water and then the vitamins and minerals.

*25% RULE or DINNER Reg.PF3(b)(2): Must be comprised of at least 25% (10%) of the named ingredient, but less than 95%. Other words allowed that mean the same thing are- PLATTER, ENTREE, RECIPE and FORMULA. The ingredient in this product may be the 4th or 5th item listed, so check those other ingredients. Example Salmon Entrée Cat Food.

*WITH RULE RegPF3(c) (as in Friskies with Beef): at least 3% of the named ingredient must be present, minus the water needed for processing. The difference is great depending on wording. Beef Dog Food will contain a minimum of 95% (70%) beef. Dog Food with Beef need only contain about 3% beef. A big difference.

HINT! If multiple ingredients are named they don’t each have to meet the rule, but together meet the rule. If multiple ingredients are on the label the first named ingredient must be of a higher or equal percentage to the second named ingredient and so on.

Wording is so important! For example: (Natural Instincts with Venison and Turkey- 3%) (Venison and Turkey Natural Instincts- 95%) OR (Natural Instincts Venison and Turkey Formula-25%) See the difference?

FLAVOR RegPF3(d) the flavor designation conforms to the ingredient as listed on the label but no minimum percentage of product is required. Beef Flavor Dog Food could for example have beef in it providing the flavor, or beef meal or beef by-product in extremely minimal quantity. If the product producing the flavor is not the same, then the flavor source must be identified.

TARTER CONTROL GUIDELINES: Items bearing claims to cleanse, freshen, or whiten teeth by virtue of their abrasive or mechanical action are not objectionable. Items bearing claims for plaque or tarter reduction, prevention, or control of breath odor that achieve their effect, in part or in total, by means other than mechanical action must have an approved New Animal Drug Application or a letter of no objection from the FDA prior to being marketed.

NATURAL CLAIMS GUIDELINES: 1) In the AAFCO-defined feed term “natural”, the use of the term is only acceptable in reference to the product as a whole, when all the ingredients and components meet the definition. 2) The use of the term “natural” is false and misleading if any chemically synthesized ingredients are present in the product; however, AAFCO recommends exceptions be made in cases when synthesized vitamins, minerals or other trace nutrients are present as ingredients in the product, and that a disclaimer is used to inform the consumer that the vitamins, minerals or other trace nutrients are not natural. AAFCO also recommends exceptions be made when “natural” is used only in reference to a specific ingredient (e.g., “natural cheese flavor”), and the reference does not imply the product as a whole.

ORGANIC CLAIMS: (Process) A formula feed or specific ingredient within a formula feed that has been produced and handled in compliance with the requirements of the USDA National Organic Program (7 CFR Part 205). WATCH how organic is worded on the label. It may indicate that only one ingredient was provided organically, not the entire product.

Ohio has adopted the feed ingredient definitions, feed terms and process and procedures of the AAFCO Official Publication as their own. The good news, is that if you see these words on your pet foods label, they are regulated words and mean the same thing across the board. There is no guessing.

We hope this helps you understand your pet’s food a little better, and helps you in deciding what you want to give your pet.

Source: AAFCO 2012 Official Publication

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