Pet Food Labels: Part Two
                 By Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DipABVP
             Educational Director,

The Statement of Adequacy

How do you know if the food you are buying is really any good? And can it be fed
appropriately to your pet? To address these issues, the Association of American Feed
Control Officials (AAFCO) was founded in 1909. This is the group that defines ingredients
and official nutritional terms, and determines the protocols by which pet foods are tested.

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (product XYZ)  provides
complete and balanced nutrition for the growth and maintenance of cats.”

This statement (copied verbatim from a can of product XYZ) means that this food was
tested on cats and kittens, and that it was found to provide optimal nutritional results.
Feeding tests such as these are expensive and smaller companies can’t always afford

The AAFCO allows for an alternative certification: a biochemical analysis. In this way the
biochemical composition of the diet is compared to known optimal quantities. This
enables a diet to become certified as complete without actually being tested on living
animals. Since nutrients in the food aren’t always digestible, a chemical analysis may not
really tell the nutritional story of the food. In general, it's better to feed a diet that has
been objectively studied and proven itself in real animals. If phrases such as “feeding
trials” or “feeding tests” aren’t used, it wasn’t tested on real animals. Words to the
effect of  “meets the standards of the AAFCO” mean only that it achieves the
biochemical analysis certification, and not that it was actually tested by feeding it to live

Product Identity: Where’s the Beef?

Product identity is more than the brand name; it is also a statement about the flavor and
content. Keep in mind that
the AAFCO is very strict about every term that can be
used on a pet label
. Is there a technical difference between a dog or cat food labeled
with “chicken flavor” or “with real fish flavor” and one labeled as “chicken dinner” or “fish

YES! The wording of the label the manufacturer is allowed to use on the food depends
on HOW MUCH chicken or fish (or other ingredient) is actually inside the can or bag of  
food! Knowing what the wording of the labels mean can help you make sure you are
feeding your pet what you think you are feeding them.

To illustrate what the wording on pet food labels mean, let’s look at some hypothetical
dog food. There are four “cans” of Joe’s Dog Food below, all with different amounts of
beef inside. The wording of the labels can tell you how much beef must be in the can to
legally be allowed to use the wording on the label.
Pet Nutrition
For Dogs
Beef must comprise at least 70% of the total product
For Dogs
Beef must comprise at least 25% of the total product
With Beef
Beef must comprise at least 3% of the total product
Beef Flavor
There can be less than 3% beef in the total product
(manufacturer must  show that animals can distinguish it as
beef flavor)
Reprinted from
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