What’s in YOUR Food? (Revisited)

In an earlier blog essay, “What’s in Your Food?” I reviewed the results of four published studies that compared the animal protein ingredients listed on various pet food labels with the actual ingredients found in the foods. Multiple instances of mislabeling occurred in which undeclared animal species were included as ingredients and/or protein ingredients declared on the label were completely absent.

canned dog food comic

This month, another study was published (1).  Although this work was conducted in the UK and examined canned pet foods only, it was unique in one important way. Unlike the four previous studies, this group of researchers revealed the brand names of every single product that they examined.

All I can say is; It’s about time.

The Study: According to the authors, the objective of their study was to “examine the correlation between the composition of different animal proteins and the animal species disclosed on pet food labels“. Now, a naïve person might assume that such a correlation would be, oh, in the vicinity of, say…..1.0. But, we now know that this is not only naïve, but an assumption that has already been shown to be patently false. The authors tested 17 different brands of canned (i.e. wet) dog or cat foods available for purchase at UK supermarkets for the presence of cow, chicken, pig and horse meat DNA.

Results: None of the foods contained horsemeat. However, there the good news ends. Of the 17 foods, animal species that were not listed on the food’s label were found in 14 (82 %) of the products. Several errors worth noting include:

  • Hill’s Prescription Diet R/D Feline Weight Loss listed chicken immediately after pork on its ingredient panel, yet contained no chicken (0 percent).
  • Seven products included the phrase “with beef” in their brand name or prominently displayed on the label. The protein in four of these foods came predominantly from pork and chicken (75 to 86 % of protein). These products included a Pedigree (Mars) brand, two Nestle’-Purina brands, and a UK private label brand.
  • A Mars brand (Chappie) that stated “14 % whitefish” on its ingredient panel actually contained no fish at all; 100 % of its protein came from chicken. An ALDI private label brand called “Salmon in Pate” listed fish first on its label, did not report chicken at all, and yet was 92 % chicken.
  • Of six pet foods that highlighted “chicken” on the label or in the brand name, two products, both private label brands, contained more pig or beef protein than chicken protein.


Up on my Soapbox: The authors of this study note that technically most (not all) of these foods were still in compliance with EU pet food regulations. The finding of large proportions of chicken and pork in foods that reported no such species on their ingredient panels was technically correct provided the term “meat and animal derivatives” was found somewhere on the list. Unbeknownst to most consumers, this term includes “all products and derivatives of the processing……of warm-blooded land animals“.  That covers everything from chickens to well, pretty much anything that has blood and feet. The second issue is the ubiquitous word “with“. Similar to regulations in the United States, EU standards require that pet foods using this descriptor contain….wait for it…..a minimum of only 4 % of the designated ingredient. (In the US, the minimum is a whopping 3 %). And as these products demonstrate, 4 percent is about what you get.

As the authors of this study note, and I agree, there appears to be a serious mismatch between label standards in the pet food industry and what consumers are lead to believe about the foods that they purchase for their animal companions. Is it not reasonable for my friend Alice to expect that the  food she selects for her Yorkie called “Gourmet Terrine with Chicken and Game” actually contain more than 1 percent of its protein from chicken, not as is the reality, almost 90 percent of it coming from beef? And when my elderly neighbor Joe carefully selects food for his beloved cat Pumpkin, is it silly for him to expect that “Felix Complete with Beef” contains a substantial proportion of, say……beef?

Just as we need increased transparency from the pet food (and human food) industry regarding the source of ingredients, processing methods, measures of quality, and safety records, it appears that we also need regulations that prevent rather than support misleading label claims and brand names. Is it really too much to ask that a pet food actually contains what it claims to contain (and nothing else)?

Cited Study: Maine IR, Atterbury R, Chang KC. Investigation into the animal species contents of popular wet pet foods. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2015; 57:7-11.




17 thoughts on “What’s in YOUR Food? (Revisited)

  1. Dog foods are so confusing. I don’t buy canned food just the dry food. I use to buy nothing but the expensive dog foods. Then I started reading about how these foods have lied about the ingredients or people are find metal and other stuff in the food. I now buy Purina one and my pets have done real good on it. My daughter has feed Purina one to her dogs for years. I wish there was a list of dog foods that are the best and and don’t lie about the ingredients.


  2. I have finally had a reply from Mars (after 2 reminder emails). I asked them to comment re the lack of fish in Chappie.

    Dear Nicky,

    MARS Petcare is aware of the recent media story regarding European petfood labelling, and are familiar with the background. At Mars, providing high quality, safe products is our number one priority. We produce a wide variety of products with a range of labelling styles, all of which comply with the strict European regulations. However, we understand that petfood labelling generally can be confusing to consumers so with this in mind MARS provide more comprehensive information, on all of our product, through our websites and through our consumer care lines, where our experts are happy to help.



    Thank you for your reply.

    Were the statements anything to do with the general election? I ask because it’s the best political non-answer I have seen in a long time.

    The patronising reply about dog food analysis has been noted. 14% fish is not that complicated.

    Kind regards

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for continuing to share vital information!

    Do you have any information on the methodology of the study? Were multiple samples used? Purchased from multiple locations? Did the researchers buy samples from different lots? I’m wondering how widespread the issue really is. Of course, odds of finding this many discrepancies simultaneously is slim and the results are indicative of a pervasive problem.

    Also, do you know if any of the manufacturers have responded?


  4. That is dreadful… but given what you have already written about in your absolutely wonderful book Dogfood Logic, unfortunately not entirely surprising. And some people still wonder why I bother to feed a home-based diet….
    PS, Love your Dogfood Logic book and recommend it widely. One of my ‘must haves’.


  5. Excellent post. If dog owners are buying something based on a label, the label should be accurate. This is especially true for people whose dogs have allergies to certain meats.

    I’d love to see a study like this conducted in N America, naming names. Most of the papers I read about commercial foods don’t mention the manufacturer or brand name, likely for fears of lawsuits by big companies with deep pockets.

    Thanks so much for the information, I am sharing it today.


    • Hi Selma – I agree. While I am thrilled that more studies of this nature are being conducted and published, they cannot really help pet owners (and animals) unless the brand names are published as well. Kudos to these researchers for having the integrity and courage to do this. Let’s hope that more follow! Thanks for reading and for sharing! Linda


  6. I’m really surprised at the lack of horse meat. I know us Brits are more emotional about our horses than our Eupopean neighbours, but honestly though that was where they ended up.

    I’m particularly interested in the Chappie. It is the only complete tinned food that I know of and feed it to our dogs, mixed with Chappie kibble. It has always had a good reputation and was always recommended by vets (in the days before they stocked Hills etc to boost profits)

    Since reading your blog, I realised that the Chappie doesn’t smell as bad as it used to. It used to have an oily fish smell. Perhaps it’s because it now claims white fish?

    Looking at the study, neither fish nor turkey were tested for. Is this being a little unfair to Chappie? I’m not sure if the 100% chicken just means nil beef, nil pork? I suppose total protein figures would be confused by the grain content?


    • Hi Nicky – I agree that the lack of testing for all types of possible animal proteins is a limitation of the study. I am not sure why these were not tested for. However, the proportion of protein that came from chicken in the Chappie food that was tested was reported to be 100 percent, which leaves no room at all for the inclusion of the fish that is reported on their label. (This is probably why you have noticed the lack of a fishy smell…..since it has, according to this report, no fish in it). As someone else mentioned, it seems that at least a few of these transgressions would be liable under false advertising claims, at the very least. So sorry to be the messenger with bad news for you. What continually bothers me is how research such as this study, which can be helpful to pet owners and important for pet health, is buried in the academic realm and is not making out to consumers where it is needed. (My little soap box again…. 🙂 ).


  7. I have a question rather than a comment. (My comment, naturally, would be unprintable, since I agree that while the labeling may be legal it is WRONG!). My question is, have any of the studies come up with brands, varieties that ARE typically true to their labels? The studies are telling me what not to buy. I would like some advice on what to buy. Any thoughts?


    • Hi Cynthia – The only group of researchers that identified brands was this most recent study. And, they only looked at a relatively small number of canned foods that are sold in the UK. (For help on choosing a good dog food, feel welcome to read my book, Dog Food Logic! 🙂 ).


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