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PFMA comment on the Pets At Home campaign

As the leading trade body, representing more than 90% of pet food manufacturers in the UK, PFMA is concerned by the current Pets At Home campaign, which could cause pet owners unnecessary worry over the quality of food they feed their pet.

Pets at Home’s intention to help owners understand pet food labels is a step in the right direction. However, it falls short in the information provided. We are concerned about the potentially misleading process by which comparisons are made between dry dog food brands as part of the current campaign.

We are also concerned that certain ingredients such as 'meat and animal derivatives' or 'derivatives of vegetable origin' are portrayed as bad ingredients when this is NOT the case. They are simply labelling terms, set in legislation, for specific ingredients categories.

We recognise that pet food labelling isn’t always consumer friendly and that sometimes the terminology can be confusing. Pet food labelling falls under EU legislation for farm animal feed, meaning that the way information is listed on the pack is not always easily understood. 

Despite these regulatory constraints, PFMA and its members are committed to providing pet owners with complete clarity in relation to what is in their pet’s food. This is why many pet food manufacturers provide full product information on company websites and have dedicated customer care lines to provide further support. 

All diets manufactured by members of the PFMA are carefully formulated in line with the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Federation) Nutritional Guidelines. This ensures that whatever product you choose for the life stage of your pet, it will meet his or her nutritional needs. 

Further information:

 

What do I need to consider when choosing a pet food?

First and foremost, it is important to point out that nutrients and ingredients are not the same thing. Ingredients contain the nutrients that your pet needs to provide energy for healthy living as well as on-going nourishment for optimal body function.  There is no single ingredient that will contain all the nutrients your pet needs on a daily basis, so pet food manufacturers formulate recipes to ensure the correct blend of ingredients according to life-stage and lifestyle. Once you’ve established the products appropriate for your pet, we advise choosing the most suitable, ‘complete’ food for your pet, always taking your dog or cat’s preferences and changing circumstances in to account. 

How do manufacturers make sure their pet foods have the right nutrients in them?

All diets manufactured by members of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) are carefully formulated in line with the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Federation) Nutritional Guidelines. These guidelines are written and reviewed by independent experts such as vets, scientists and animal nutritionists many of whom are based in European academic institutions. The Guidelines detail the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at the varying life stages and are continually reviewed and updated to include the latest nutritional science.

What ingredients are typically used in pet food? 

All materials that are used in pet food must be safe, and appear either in the Catalogue of Feed Materials or the Register of Feed Materials. In addition, there are strict EU rules about the animal based raw materials that can be used in pet food. The by-products come from animals that have been inspected under veterinary supervision and are considered fit for human consumption at the time of slaughter. For more information, please visit the PFMA website.

When a label says meat and animal derivatives (4% chicken) on the pet food label does this really mean that there is only 4% meat in the products?

No. There is a legal requirement that if attention is drawn to an ingredient, then the amount of that ingredient must be labelled on the pack.  This is similar to the requirements of human food labelling. However, since the industry uses by-products that are surplus to the requirements of the human food industry, sometimes the exact combination of materials will differ - the 4% declaration indicates that the level of the named ingredient will always be present in the product. In addition, the use of the term “meat” is strictly regulated, and does not include some ingredients that your pet will find delicious, such as liver and kidneys – so if you don’t see the term “meat” on the label, it doesn’t mean the product will be any less tasty or nutritious.

Why do pet food companies use terms and phrases instead of listing the ingredients?

Current legislation means that manufacturers can label ingredients by categories which are legally defined e.g. meat and animal derivatives, or by providing a full list of the ingredients present.  A concern we have with the Pets At Home 'What's in this recipe' leaflet is that category terminology is used for all the pet foods listed, even those who do not use category descriptions, which could be misleading to pet owners. 

The decision on whether to use category or ingredient listing lies with the manufacturer and can be based upon:

1. The want or need to vary raw materials depending on supply.

Industry uses by-products from the human food chain; because of this, raw material supplies can vary during the year.  Manufacturers creating products with an ‘open formula’ may therefore use ingredients from different animal species based on supply levels.  All the materials selected are of equal quality and provide the same nutritional benefits to your pet.  Listing ingredients by category means that some producers can select ingredients based on supply without having the high cost of changing labels constantly.  This means that they can deliver an economical product of high quality.

2. Labelling space restrictions

There are limitations to the space available on a pack, particularly when a product is distributed to multiple countries, meaning many languages are necessary on the label. Where space restrictions are encountered, category listings are often useful. 

3. Marketing choices

Some manufacturers choose to draw attention to certain features of their products and find that individual ingredient listing assists them in communicating this to consumers. 

Why don’t pet food labels provide more information on ingredients?

There is limited space on a pet food label and it is important that the minimum legally required information (e.g. description, directions for use, ingredients and feeding guidelines) is provided to the consumer. To support consumers, pet food manufacturers often provide full product information on company websites and via telephone help-lines.  All companies provide contact details to allow consumers to obtain further information and are legally required to disclose the specific ingredients within a labelled category on a product upon request.

Considering a change of diet?

Any sudden change in diet might cause a stomach upset in your pet.  If you’re switching diets, this should be done gradually over a period of 5-7 days. Start by introducing a little of the new diet to your pet’s regular food gradually increasing this over a few days whilst decreasing the old food. Follow the feeding guidelines as these can vary between the different products and brands.

For more information on the legislation behind the pet food industry, pet food ingredients and how pet food is made (including a short 2-minute film animation), please visit: www.pfma.org.uk