First it was horsemeat getting into the human food chain. Now it seems pets are falling victim to undeclared animal ingredients such as chicken and pork in their meals, according to a study.
The vast majority of cat and dog “wet foods” contain animals not specified on the tin – while in many cases the species that is declared only forms a minority of the total meat it contains, say researchers.
Dishes with undeclared portions of beef, chicken and pork can cause problems for pets with allergies to those meats, causing a range of symptoms such as chronic ear inflammation, gastrointestinal problems, chronic diarrhoea and an itchy bottom, experts say.
The meals highlighted by the research include Sainsbury’s Basics superchunks in gravy with beef for dogs, where the animal protein comprises of 47 per cent beef, 52 per cent chicken and 1 per cent pork.
But unlike the horsemeat saga, there is no evidence of wrongdoing. This is because while the ingredients in human meals need to be clearly labelled, pet food makers are not required to spell out the exact contents of cat and dog dishes. They are able to market a product as a beef, chicken or pork dish as long as the species comprises at least 4 per cent of the animal proteins present – even if it is offal.
“It may be a surprise to shoppers to discover that prominently described contents such as ‘beef’ on a tin could, within the guidelines, be a minor ingredient, have no bovine skeletal muscle (meat) and contain a majority of unidentified animal proteins,” said Professor Kin-Chow Chang, lead author of the University of Nottingham report.
“Full disclosure of animal contents will allow more informed choices to be made on purchases which are particularly important for pets with food allergies,” he added.
Better labelling could also help those with religious concerns avoid pet foods containing unlabelled pork, he said.
The researchers examined 17 popular cat and dog food dishes and found 14 contained “unspecified animal species”, typically described on the tin in general terms such as “meat and animal derivatives”.
Professor Chang said he suspects that the meat content of many pet foods contains a good deal of liver, lung and other offal. However, he uncovered no sense food manufacturers were switching from more expensive species such as beef to cheaper ones such as chicken – given that some chicken dishes contained more beef than chicken.
A spokesman for the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association said: “We welcome this opportunity to talk about pet food labelling as it highlights a common misunderstanding of how pet food labelling legislation works.”