One of the tasks I like the most about my job at the store is talking to pet food manufacturers. Especially when I can talk to the owners. See, since the companies I trust when it comes to pet food are usually small to at the best medium sized businesses, they give you their honest, untainted opinion about the issues on hand. And because most of them are also the founders of their companies, they typically are very passionate about their product and you find out the real reason why they got involved in this business. Typically they are pet owners themselves and have had their fair share of bad experiences with commercially produced and mass marketed pet food. While all of them are in business to make money, their main objective, unlike presidents and CEO’s of companies traded on Wallstreet, is still their product and less market shares and profits.
Recently I had a chance to once again catch up with Mark Hayward, founder and owner of Timberwolf Organics. We discussed the subject of myths and misconceptions of dog foods. I (PFE) asked: “Mark, many pet food manufacturers make certain claims about their pet food. These include phrases such as human grade, antibiotic and hormone free and meat based, to name just a couple of them. What’s your take on this? Are these just true facts or just misleading marketing claims, or should I better say, false statements? I knew I am going to get him going again on this subject. Here is what he (MH) told me:
“We all know about these manufacturer claims about pet food. It got to a point where a pet owner does not know what to believe anymore. Let me say this up front: Many are really half true and that could be construed as being misleading.
It is a fact that federal labeling law precludes pet food manufacturers from including "misleading" statements on their bag. For example: Some say that they use only antibiotic and hormone free chicken, lamb etc. That is not exactly true. It is against federal law for chicken to be labeled as hormone free. That's because growers may not use hormones on chickens. To label your chicken as hormone free would imply that your chickens are the only ones that are hormone free when in fact they all are! What happens with other animals used for human consumption is that they must test free of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides before slaughter. It usually takes three to five days to clear their systems of any chemicals. Those animals that are earmarked for slaughter are kept free of chemicals for several days and then butchered. When I think of "antibiotic and hormone free" I think of an animal that has been raised chemical free, not just for a few days. A play on words perhaps but it borderlines on fraud. What the consumer needs to do is ask if it is Certified Organic, "pasture grazed only" or imported from a country that restricts the use of chemicals if that is what he wants. Of course he will pay a lot more.
Another one is: "Our meat comes from USDA inspected plants".
All slaughter houses that process for human consumption must be USDA inspected.
One natural dog food company claims: "Digest is the full guts including the manure".
Not true. It is made from whatever it is named for (chicken digest, liver digest etc.) and is digested by enzymatic activity and then dried. We do not use digest in our formulas but there is nothing wrong with it.
A natural food supplement maker that lists molasses as the second ingredient claims: "We use molasses because it is a nutrient not a sugar.
Molasses contains many nutrients and is technically not a sugar but it contains 60% sugars by weight and 20% water. Maybe it is not thought of as a sugar in Fufu Land but most of the world uses it as a sweetener. Dogs love sugar and it’s added mostly for palatability. If sugar must be used to help preserve a product, then molasses would of course be better than sucrose or dextrose, but only if it’s necessary.
The same supplement maker also claims: "Our product contains natural enzymes and probiotics that are naturally present in food".
Even if that were true, because you are only adding 1 teaspoon of supplement, it would only contain enough enzymes to assist in digesting that one teaspoon. If you ask them what the enzyme levels are they will not tell you. That is because they are so low they cannot be measured. If you want to replace the enzymes lost in the food due to processing you must add enough to assist in digesting the full amount of food you are feeding. However, this is expensive to do.
My favorite is "Made with only 100% human grade ingredients."
One quick way to determine if this is not true, other than cost, is if the food contains any "meals". Guess what? There is no such thing as human grade chicken meal or lamb meal. I don’t know of any restaurant where you can say, "Waiter, may I have some beef meal to go with my baked potato?" Or "May I have my chicken meal on a bun please?" The meat starts out as human grade because remember it’s from an inspected plant, but does not receive an inspection sticker because it’s not intended for human consumption so cannot be labeled as human grade. There are different grades (classifications) of meals however and are graded or classified by protein content, ash content and price. Some are of very high quality. For example, our lamb meal is imported from New Zealand and is a special low ash, only 8% and high protein, 70% lamb meal that we have classified and most of the bone is filtered out. All lamb, chicken, beef meals contain a lot of bone because it’s made from what is left over from cutting away steaks or boneless chicken breast for example. It’s the most expensive and probably the best lamb meal in the country as it’s made from the organs and contains a lot of blood, which gives it a very complete amino acid profile. Most lamb meals are high in ash and are low (50%) in protein. We searched six different suppliers before finding the current suppliers for chicken meal and for lamb meal. Is it human grade? Come on, man, I'm listening?”
PFE: “No, you just said that there is no such thing as a human grade meal. Already then. But how about foods that list meat?"
MH: “Good question, pretty clever! Let me tell you: First, only a handful of mills have the equipment to add meat. Some companies may list meat but actually use meal. Of those that actually can add meat it’s not quite what you would expect. It’s usually mechanically deboned and mixed with water to make a slurry that is pumped into the extruder. The most you can use in a formula is limited to about 30% but can be as little as 3%. What starts out as chicken with 78% moisture is now perhaps 90% moisture cooked down to 10%. That 30% you started out with is now about 3.3% or less dry matter. To get the protein up you must now add corn gluten meal or another protein source. Corn gluten meal is a good protein source, it’s high in the sulfur containing amino acids, but a lot of people, myself included prefer an animal based protein which means you must add animal meals which means it is not 100% human grade.”
PFE: "What about the other ingredients?"
MH: “The brown rice I get in looks just like the brown rice on your supermarket shelf, it’s clean and looks indistinguishable. The only difference is that it doesn’t have a FDA tag on it. Our oats are of exceptional quality. Higher in linoleic and alpha linoleic acid than locally grown oats because of the cold, probably grown organically as well and they’re the same oats that are supplied to food processors. Growers don’t have separate fields for dogs and people. The point I’m trying to make is that I have trouble believing that a company would pay five times as much for the same ingredient just to get that FDA sticker. Let me give you an example: I buy a chicken fat from a company that supplies soup manufacturers etc. If I buy a tanker of fat it doesn’t have to have an FDA tag and my price is $.11 per pound. If I buy less it must have an FDA tag and the price goes to $.58 per pound. Same product. That chicken fat is apparently human grade but I cannot call it that. A lot of my ingredients are human grade, some even certified organic but at the end of the day I cannot make the claim 100% human grade because it ‘s not, but neither can any other company unless maybe they are charging $2 to $5 per pound.
Another example is that if a truck load, that’s 40,000 lbs of frozen whole broilers were purchased for half a buck per pound, and if a custom chicken meal were produced, it would be exorbitant in cost. Chicken meal is made from chicken meat, usually mechanically de boned, that is put into a vat and is brought to the proper temperature and pH and then enzymes are added. The meat is broken down into a liquid and either spray dried or roller dried into a fine powder. Now go back to the truck load of chickens at half a buck per pound. It takes several pounds of chickens to make one pound of chicken meal. So let us say 7 pounds times .50 equals $3.50 plus the rendering charge. Let’s assume $4.00 per pound okay? I am using about 50% chicken meal so $4.00/2 is $2.00+ per pound of dog food my cost. Just for ingredients. Not including herbs, oils, probiotics etc. Does any of this make sense to you?
One natural dog food company uses poultry meal but lists on their ingredient label chicken meal, turkey meal. AAFCO allows listing animal meals by particular animal if you know what animal was used in making it. If the meal is made from more than one animal or a composite you may list all the animals used in making it. What they mean however is "chicken/turkey" meal for poultry or if you know the exact percentages than you may list them where they should appear in order of weight on the label but not chicken meal, turkey meal as the first two ingredients. Chicken meal and turkey meal gives the impression that the food is meat based when in fact it is not.
One question you can ask a dog food company to determine if it’s meat based or grain based is "what percentage of your formula is animal meals?" or "what’s the percentage of protein that is animal based?" or "how many pounds of animal meals are used per ton of your formula?" They probably will not tell you or say, "That is proprietary." We use 48 to 52% chicken, lamb or fish meals by weight or 900 to 1100 pounds per ton! Put another way, 91% of our protein is animal based. That is meal not meat. If someone tells you they use 1000 pounds of meat per ton that is equal to only 200 pounds of chicken meal or ten percent. Another way is to look at the calcium content. Chicken, lamb and meat meals are usually 4 to 5% calcium, special graded low ash meals with lower levels of calcium can be used but are up to 3 times as expensive, so if a company claims to be using 50% animal meals by weight and their calcium is only 1.2% then you know something somewhere does not add up. Or maybe they are using new math. The only reason we disclose this is that it’s very expensive and not many other companies will do this and those that do will have to raise their prices. Of course someone may tell you they use a high amount but if so the kibble should be very dark. Our Lamb, Barley and Apples kibble is almost black.
Now that you have listened to me, at least you'll know what is in the food. If I decide to put in goat's eyes, tongue of wren and pickled fish pan fried in roasted sesame oil you'll know it. None of my formulas contain 4D animals, simple or white carbohydrates, dextrose or other sugars for palatability enhancement, soy, BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin. I personally have sold and used a lot of specialty and super premium foods and have seen more positive results and heard more positive feedback with this food than any other. I invite you to go to my testimonials page and read some of the testimonials.”
PFE: “Thank you Mark, this was quite interesting. As always, when talking to you, I have learned a lot”
MH: “I hope I have answered some of your questions, but don't take my word. Call the FDA or AAFCO or some feed ingredient suppliers and see what they say.”
If you want to find out more about Mark’s line of pet food go to Timberwolf Organics.