More and more these days we’re hearing about pets being considered part of the family. They sleep in our beds, we dress them in clothes, they ride in the front seat – and yet they don’t eat our food. Why is this? Although in our hearts, we feel like our companion animals are like our own children and the commercial pet food industry would like us to believe that pet food is as healthy as the food we eat, the fact is pet food companies have decided for us that companion animals don’t deserve to eat food that is as good as our food. That’s why most pet food contains feed-grade ingredients instead of human-grade, by-products instead of whole ingredients, and other things that would be illegal to sell as human food.
So what exactly does it mean for an ingredient to be feed-grade? Basically feed-grade ingredients are those deemed not fit for human consumption. In other words, ingredients that don’t qualify as “human-grade”. They include expired food, defective food, moldy food, and by-products. By-products are the waste that is left after the production of ingredients for the human food chain. It is the damaged or defective material produced during or left over from a manufacturing or industrial process. When you eat a bowl of peanuts at home, the shells go in the garbage. But at the peanut plant, they’re sometimes sold to pet food manufacturers and wind up in your beloved dog or cat’s dish. Other examples include grain hulls, corn husks, middlings, peels, dust, stems, hair, and other waste products.
A quick look at the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) handbook gives you a glimpse into some of the ingredients that are sanctioned for use in commercial pet food. Imagine any of these “ingredients” at your dinner table … carcass meat trimmings, carcass residue, charcoal, spray-dried animal blood, processed animal waste, raw leather residue, animal digest – and the list goes on. This is not to say that these ingredients are present in every commercial pet food. But it does illustrate that the governing body commissioned to regulate pet food companies may not have your pet’s best interests in mind. The recent pet food recall has brought to light that some producers of animal feed have secretly supplemented their feed with a substance called melamine. Melamine, which is derived from coal, was intentionally added to wheat gluten to make it appear to have a higher protein content. This illustrates the worst-case scenario of what can happen when profits are put ahead of the health and well-being of your pets.
The good news is that there are a few companies, like Sojourner Farms, that only use human-quality ingredients in their natural pet food. The benefits behind using only human-quality ingredients are many. For one, testing protocols for human-quality ingredients are far more stringent than they are for feed-grade ingredients. Secondly, human-quality ingredients do not include any waste or out-dated fragments of anything not fit for human consumption. They are screened for contaminants, visually inspected, and tested for nutritional content before entering the human food chain. This insures that human-quality ingredients are robust and chock-full of naturally-occurring nutrients and enzymes. We at Sojourner Farms have been committed to only using human-quality ingredients in our products since we made our first bag of dog food mix all the way back in 1985.
The bad news for companies like ours is that currently AAFCO rules do not allow the term “human-quality ingredients” on pet food. The official reason is that there is worry that humans will mistakenly or intentionally eat the food. One has to wonder if it has more to do with large commercial pet food companies not wanting smaller companies that use human-grade ingredients to have a competitive advantage. However, even though it can’t be stated on the package, you can always contact pet food companies and ask them if they use human-quality ingredients. Thus far it is not illegal to let customers know that your ingredients are human-quality on websites, promotional literature, or over the phone. That way you can ensure that your furry little “children” are getting nothing but the best ingredients that mother nature has to offer.