This is a very broad question. It seems like there are more things to think about when you are shopping for the best pet food these days. Everybody tries to pay close attention to the ingredients on their pet food bag. People have been trained to compare the percentage of protein and fat, they wonder is it supposed to be “whole chicken” or “chicken meal”. Should it be grain free, gluten free…vegetarian? If you as a consumer have to worry about where those ingredients come from that is another layer of complexity.
The source of the ingredients in your pet’s food can be important in some cases. Let’s look at the main ingredient groups:
Vegetables, grains and fruits: There is a marked divide between Americans and Europeans when it comes to the cultivation and regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods? In general, American farmers are more reliant on herbicides than Europeans, in part because Americans have moved away from the traditional practice of tilling etc. But there are other countries (besides the US) where GMO crops are commonly grown, they include Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Bolivia, Philippines, Spain, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Colombia, Honduras, Chile, Sudan, Slovakia, Costa Rica, China, India, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Portugal, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Myanmar.
If GMO free is important to you identifying the source may be important you. Ingredients sourced from countries that commonly use GMO’s doesn’t mean it will be genetically modified, but it certainly means you need to ask. Need to learn more about GMO’s? Take a look back at our article on this subject in November of 2015.
Proteins: Animal based protein is what you will most commonly find in pet food. A vegetarian diet is not recommended for cats and dogs. So regardless of what protein source you choose…chicken, lamb or salmon. These days maybe even exotic protein source such as kangaroo or alligator! The question is should you wonder where your kangaroo comes from? The goal is to choose the highest quality ingredient possible, regardless of which protein you feed. These considerations about protein are important regardless of the type of pet food you choose. Meaning there are good and inferior quality proteins whether you are feeding raw vs kibble or whole protein vs meal. While learning the source alone will not tell you this; it might give you an indication as to how important quality is to the producer. A couple of basic questions that might give you insight to protein quality are ash percentage and digestibility. Normal ash ranges are generally between 5%-12%. Elevated levels of ash can be an indicator that there was more bone contained in the protein source. A low digestibility percentage can be another red flag that poor quality proteins were used. Assuming you feel good about the quality of the protein further knowledge of the source can be important for other reasons such as the presence of disease in certain animals around the world. For instance, bovine animal sources should be free from scrapie (an illness similar to mad cow disease). So, if you were feeding a lamb-based product this map would give you an idea of the best sources to avoid diseased animals.
Another sourcing issue important to some people is “Ethical Sourcing”. This term relates less to the quality of the ingredients. This term lets you know products are obtained in a responsible and sustainable way, that the workers involved in making them are safe and treated fairly and that environmental and social impacts are taken into consideration during the sourcing process. This is something you as a consumer looks for if you care about the planet and the conditions of the people working in it.
Now that you have this additional information to consider you might be looking on that dog food bag to find this information. The FDA is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are properly identified on their packaging, have a net quantity statement, have the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and have ingredients listed from heaviest total weight to lightest. Additionally, states may outline their own labeling requirements based on the recommendations of the AAFCO. These regulations govern the product name, the guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements. Obviously, these requirements leave an awful lot of the details out. If you want any detail about your pet food that you cannot find out on the label or on the manufacturers web site email them and ask. Generally, they will provide sourcing information and digestibility percentages (if they have done trials).
Is sourcing important to you?