Did You Know Dinner, Formula and Flavor are Pet Food Packaging Code Words?

Did You Know Dinner, Formula and Flavor are Pet Food Packaging Code Words?

You know human foods labels are guilty of it. Take juice cocktails for example. Just look at the ingredient label on any cocktail blend and you will see a very low percentage of juice in the mix and a whole lotta sugar.  Turns out, pet food labels employ the same code word tactics. Being able to recognize key words, and what they really stand for, makes shopping a lot simpler since you can automatically weed out most of what you see on grocery store shelves with a glance.

Maybe you already knew this, but until I watched Pet Fooled, a documentary about the pet food industry, I didn’t know how sneaky this was.  I DID think labels were basically attractively presented marketing-speak, specifically designed to target consumer emotions (yours, not your pet’s), but I didn’t know that simple words like “dinner”  had been co-opted to mean something very specific and not at all what the pet guardian had in mind when purchasing these products. You can read all about it at the FDA, but here are some highlights you should know:

“The product name can be a key factor in the consumer’s decision to buy the product. For that reason, manufacturers often use fanciful names or other techniques to emphasize a particular aspect of the product. Because many consumers purchase a product based on the presence of a specific ingredient, many product names incorporate the name of an ingredient to highlight its inclusion in the product. The percentages of named ingredients in the total product are dictated by four AAFCO rules.”

Before you think that “dictated” means something more than it does where your consumer protections are concerned, it is important to know that the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials, (AAFCO)  is a voluntary membership  organization that “does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way.  AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard” (quote and highlighting from their website).

According to the FDA, there is a 95% rule (not counting added water) for foods labelled very simply with the meat ingredient as in “Beef for Dogs”.

But how boring is that name?

Add the catchier, “Delicious Beef Dinner for Dogs” and guess what? The can now only needs to contain 25% meat!

Okay, that isn’t exactly true. The truth is a bit worse due to that whole “not counting water added for processing” thing.

Allow me to once again quote from the FDA:

“Counting the added water, the named ingredients still must comprise 10% of the product. Many descriptors other than “dinner” are used, however, with “Platter,” “Entree,” “Nuggets” and “Formula” being a few examples.”

Ten percent.

And we go DOWN from there.  Those fancy packages with the burst of “Now with Bison!” just below (apart from) the primary pet food name…that ‘with’ is a 3 percenter.

The FDA shows you how a very simple bit of word play can take a consumer from 95% meat to 3% without their realizing it:

“Now, even a minor change in the wording of the name has a dramatic impact on the minimum amount of the named ingredient required, e.g., a can of “Cat Food With Tuna” could be confused with a can of “Tuna Cat Food,” but, whereas the latter example must contain at least 95% tuna, the first needs only 3%. Therefore, the consumer must read labels carefully before purchase to ensure that the desired product is obtained.”

As for ‘flavor’…

“Under the “flavor” rule, a specific percentage is not required, but a product must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected.”

Want to dig further? Do check out the documentary, Pet Fooled. It will just take one hour of your life and could add years to your pet’s.

And also check out these links:

Best to Worst Pet Food Rankings (Dr. Karen Becker, an integrative wellness veterinarian, has informative articles on many subjects, including pet food)

The Truth About Pet Food

Filed under: Pet Health and Safety

Leave a comment