dog cat pet food human grade

False + Misleading Claims Rampant in Pet Food Industry; Phony Human-Grade Claims Glut the Market

When a consumer asked me to help her find a human edible dog food, I said, “Sure! No problem!” But, after spending days – making phone calls, writing emails, speaking to pet food company owners, industry insiders, government officials – I found that all of the companies she asked me to look into were making false and misleading claims. All of them.

It wasn’t surprising she was having such a hard time, not only had she been shafted by the last company she dealt with, because, what I found was an impenetrable world of murky and unsubstantiated claims and hollow assurances. None of the companies I interviewed could verify or validate their claims. Not one.

The consumer gave me the names of several companies she was considering and asked me, “Mollie, are they really human edible?”

Considering they were the most expensive brands on the market in the U.S., I thought they had better be human edible.

USDA INSPECTED, MY EYE

I looked into the brands, and sure enough, they all made human grade claims. Perhaps not on the label itself, but the claims were found most frequently in brochure and Web site-based promotions. After scouring their websites for validation and finding none, I called them. They all assured me that their pet food was indeed human grade because it was “made in a human edible licensed facility that is registered and inspected by the USDA.”

But, when I asked for verification, they faltered. I was stonewalled, threatened, and treated with naked hostility. None of them could provide me with any method of substantiating their claims.

When I pressed harder, they became defensive and combative. One company told me, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, insisting, they could “make any claims we want to because they’re true.” I insisted they were mistaken.

Because, if there is one thing I do understand, and that is the law  – as it pertains to false and misleading claims – in pet food. In particular, the law with regards to human edible claims on pet food.

THE LAW

In the State of California, where I live, pet food companies cannot make human edible claims about a pet food. Period. Full stop.

Since the companies this consumer was considering happened to be in my state, I contacted the California Department of Public Health, who’s in charge of regulating pet food. Predictably, they referred me to California Code of Regulations, Title 17, Article 16, Processed Pet Food Regulations, § 19025. Labeling and Restrictions:

(g) The terms “fit for human food,” “fit for human consumption,” or any similar terms are prohibited on the labels or in advertisements of a processed pet food.

24K GOLD PLATES

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if their food was prepared in a sterile, hermetically sealed environment, or made on 24K gold plates, in a five-star restaurant using only the best ingredients money can buy – they cannot make human edible claims about pet food in the State of California. Period. Full stop.

If a company tries to pull a fast one and slip a so-called human-edible pet food into California, the California Department of Public Health can refuse entry of that product. But, because California is such a huge market – most manufacturers opt for leaving those claims off their labels altogether, but they leave the false and misleading human-edible claims on their websites.

The problem with that is, their websites are considered a form of advertising.

WEASELS

When I confronted the companies about this discrepancy, they tried to weasel out of it, by giving me excuses like, “well, it doesn’t say that on our labels – we’re very careful about that – it just says it on our website.”

Both federal and state laws state, that any representation – including all promotional material, which includes websites – must not make false and misleading statements or suggestions.

After arguing with the pet food companies, I asked them a simple question, “How can I verify your pet food is human edible?” They adamantly assured me their food was made “under USDA inspection in a human food facility.” Unfortunately, they made the mistake of assuming I would just take their word for it.

Let me emphasize: None of those companies I interviewed provided me with documentation to substantiate their claims.

STONE WALLS

If companies stonewall you – and believe me, they will – there is one simple tool to find out if their pet foods are made under USDA inspection. Go to the USDA and find out for yourself.

The companies that I looked into claimed to be under USDA rules for inspection. They would have applied for and received a Grant of Inspection from the USDA, and given an Offical Establishment number.

So, I went to the USDA website and checked their database of Official Establishments.

Were those companies listed?

Nope.

EVIDENCE? WHAT’S THAT?

To substantiate whether a human grade claim is truthful and not misleading, a manufacturer must have information from each of the individual ingredient suppliers that verifies the individual ingredients supplied to the manufacturer are fit for human consumption.  The manufacturer must have evidence that the finished product is manufactured under current good manufacturing practices for human food in a facility licensed to produce human food.  Such evidence may include, facility licenses or permits for operation of edible food manufacturing facilities or results of most recent inspections issued by local or state public health authorities.

The manufacturer or distributor should be able to unequivocally demonstrate that if a human food label were placed on the product that it would be acceptable to human food authorities to sell the product for human consumption.

Did any of those companies provide me with any of this required evidence?

Nope.

Nothing.

CORNERED

One company, realizing they were cornered, refused to answer any more of my questions. Instead, they told me they were “referring the matter to their attorneys”!

So, next time you’re shopping for a “human-grade” pet food, ask them one simple question:

“What is your Official Establishment number?”

If they give you their Official Establishment number (good luck with that!), then head on over to the USDA website and search their Official Establishment database to verify it.

It’s that dead simple.

BOTTOM LINE

Bottom line: If they can’t provide consumers with even the most basic evidence that their pet food is human edible – take a pass on it, ‘cause chances are, they’re bullsh*ttin’ you.

NOTE: Many will ask, which were the companies that stonewalled me. While it’s tempting to throw them under the Pet Food Safety Bus – and believe me, it is – I am unable to do so at present. Why? Because my investigation has now been expanded to include all pet food companies in the U.S. making human-edible claims. When my investigation is complete I will make a full report. Until then, the message I’m sending out today is that consumers need to ask for verification. Accept nothing less. And if consumers are unable to validate the human-edible claims, then they should report the companies to the state authorities. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call or a short email. To find out who

your state officials are, visit: The Directory of State and Local Officials.

UPDATE: I would like to acknowledge the valued contribution, Lucy Postins of The Honest Kitchen made, in helping me understand this problem, her knowledge and personal insight into this problem is unparalleled. No other company has fought harder for to obtain the legal status of human food for a pet food. In 2004, The Honest Kitchen received the first official statement of no objection from the FDA allowing a pet food company the legal status of human food, permitting them to use the term “Human-grade” on their product labels. To this day, The Honest Kitchen remains, the only pet food company in the USA that can legally claim to be human edible, because it is human edible. Thanks, Lucy for your all that you’ve done, for me, and for pets.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (11) Write a comment

  1. Ok I sure do like all of your work you put into this, but I’m still lost I need a food for my 6 weak old puppy. I started out on canned Blue Buffalo and he really likes it. So what do you think is a good food for him. He is a Chautauqua and wiener dog mix and he is the runt of the bunch, but the one with lots of spunk. THANK,

    Reply

  2. Thank you for this report. I really don’t think that most pet guardians even consider that any pet food is fit for human consumption. Pet food is for pets; human food is for humans. Pets can eat most human food, but humans can’t eat most pet food, and wouldn’t want to.

    Reply

    • That wasn’t the point of the study. Consumers are paying top dollar for something that may be absolute crap. Regardless, the laws are clear on this point – do not make false and misleading claims. Consumers should not get swindled by these sleazy hucksters.

      Reply

      • I agree that consumers “shouldn’t” be swindled by these or other hucksters. But the reality is that they are. I think about the expensive “prescription” pet foods that have the crappiest ingredients, but because the vet recommends them, no questions are asked.

        I wish that consumers could be more investigative before paying top dollar for crap, because of marketing or a vet’s recommendation. But the reality is that people only react after something happens to their pets, as a result of feeding or using a toxic product.

        And, as you’ve pointed out so well, labeling isn’t telling the whole truth, and even a manufacturer won’t tell the truth. I think the entire pet industry is based on lies and mis-information. I include most vets in this conclusion, and have learned the hard way, not to blindly trust any vet, no matter how “nice” they are. That’s not a reasonable criteria to judge them by. I’m searching for a “worthy” vet, after seeing four, and being “rejected” by one because I asked too many questions about what drugs would be used on my cat during surgery.

        Reply

        • Good! We’re in agreement. I have reported to my state officials all the companies in violation. Now, it’s up to the states to investigate these reports.

          Like most consumers, I didn’t know sh*t. I fed my cats what I thought was the best food on the market at the time. Then, when one of my cats became deathly ill, and almost died (several times), the doctor suggested it might be due to a kibble based diet. I did the research and I haven’t looked back since.

          It is my job to be the consumer “cop” – people come to me – I help them with where and who to make reports to. At that point, it is our of our hands. It is all that we can do.

          When we know better we do better.

          Reply

          • Mollie, I feed my 10 year old rescue kibble with one boiled chicken thigh twice a day, also 2 GNC Mega Glucosamine tablets. Is kibble bad for dogs & cats? If not, which kibble can you recommend? A private email would be fine. I feed my 4 year old canned food with one chicken thigh, twice a day, by the way.

    • Wow! I’ve been feeding my nine year old Shiba Darwin’s raw since he was a pup, but have noticed what seemed to my somewhat untrained eye to be some changes in quality in the past year. Changes in texture
      indicating that there might be more moisture in the food, meat that looked somehow “mushy” and less than wholesome. But worst of all, is that I had begun getting weird stomach problems myself. I think my food handling techniques have gotten sloppy and are less than pristine…and I cannot really blame Darwin’s for that part. Since tightening up sanitation in my kitchen, my stomach issues have disappeared. but I am still quite concerned about the seemingly dwindling quality of a product I am paying top dollar for…and a company that I have trusted and liked. Thanks so much for your “inquiring mind” and your diligent footwork.

      Reply

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