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Should ingredients from China be in “Made in the USA” pet food?

Ask any pet food consumer today, if they think that ingredients from China should be allowed in pet food labeled Made in the USA, and their answer would likely be a resounding, “Hell, no!”

American consumers are more sensitive than ever to claims that a product is made in America. That’s because of American’s fear of foreign ingredients is grounded in a long and tragic history of horrifying cases of food fraud; starting with the poisoning of hundreds, if not thousands, of American pets following the Chinese melamine contamination of ingredients used in pet food in 2007. Around the same time, dogs began to suffer from an unknown illness linked to jerky treats imported from China.

And the problem continues today, dogs continue to die from some, as yet unnamed, toxin in treats imported from China. As unbelievable as it would seem to anyone who the suffered the loss of a pet due to a suspected imported food or treat, there are still some pet food manufacturers who still import jerky treats, poultry, pork, vitamin and mineral premixes and a multitude of other ingredients for making pet food.

Are consumers being deceived?

The difference today is, because of the well publicized problems with foreign imports, that some pet food companies – instead of being honest about where they get their ingredients – are deliberately deceiving consumers about the true origin of some of their ingredients by slapping American flags and USA made slogans on nearly every pet product they bring to market.

The problem is, that most consumers believe that products made in America, are made using ingredients that were made, grown and harvested in America too. They believe that because, not only are they trusting, but they believe in the American legal system that exists to protect them from deceptive marketing practices.

But, just as there are a multitude of strict Federal and State laws governing deceptive Made in the USA claims, there are also plenty of pet food companies whose only motivation is to increase profit at any expense by skillfully skirting those laws.

Who’s in charge of protecting consumers?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has jurisdiction to act against deceptive acts and practices over any US. origin claim, such as Made in USA, that is expressly or implicitly conveyed in product labeling or advertising.

As the FTC advises, US. origin claims can be conveyed not only by statements regarding the domestic origin of products, but through the use of “U.S. symbols, geographic references, or other symbols or statements that suggest a connection between the product and domestic origin (e.g., U.S. flags, outlines of U.S. maps, patriotic symbols, etc.). A U.S. origin claim, like any other objective advertising claim, must be truthful and substantiated.

In order to make an unqualified U.S. origin claim, the FTC has long held that companies “must possess and rely upon a reasonable basis that the product is in fact all or virtually all made in the United States” and that “[T]he product should contain no – or negligible – foreign content.

For pet food manufacturers, this will generally require them to know not only the origin of the ingredients they acquire to make finished product, but also the origin of the sub-components of those ingredients.

How essential are vitamins and minerals in pet food?

But what happens when the food has a trace amount of foreign ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals? The FTC has never defined what “all or mostly all” made in the U.S. means, but what they consider is, not only the final cost of producing the product (including the ingredients, packaging, and processing), but whether those foreign ingredients and processing are significant to the final product and their importance to its function.

I would argue that with regard to pet food vitamins and minerals are not only significant, but essential to the final product.

Consider: in order for a pet food to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient profiles, it must contain every nutrient listed in the profile at the specified level. To have “complete and balanced” in the nutritional adequacy statement, a dog or cat food must either meet one of the Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles established by AAFCO.

Therefore, while the cost of the vitamins and minerals may be small relative to overall manufacturing costs, if it is integral to the function of the product, it may be significant enough to negate a claim of Made in the USA.

Why do pet food companies fudge Made in the USA claims?

Sourcing every single last ingredient from the US can be challenging for manufacturers who rely on cheap vitamin and mineral premixes. Therefore, I suggest, if US sourced vitamins poses such a prohibitive cost, they may wish to reconsider making any unqualified claims, and just stick with the much safer alternative: the qualified claim (such as “Made in the USA with vitamins and minerals sourced from China”).

What should consumers do about questionable claims?

Did you know, that for the FTC to investigate a potential concern regarding food labels, a complaint must be filed? Therefore, if you find a questionable USA claim on a pet food (including the packaging, the labels, brochures, or on the manufacturer’s website), the FTC would like to hear from you.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. So, make them earn their pay and file a complaint with the FTC or to get more information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). If you suspect noncompliance, you may file a complaint online with the FTC Complaint Assistant at or send an e-mail to MUSA@ftc.gov.

More resources for consumers faced with iffy claims

If you know about import or export fraud, file a complaint with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They handle country of origin laws (completely unrelated to Made in the USA claims).

You also can contact your state attorney general to report a company. The state attorney general is the chief legal advisor to the state government and the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Find your state’s attorney general can be found by clicking on their photo and it will take directly to your state attorney general’s web page where there will be a link to file a complaint.

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Mollie Morrissette

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

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