Flavour me kind

Updated on October 27, 2021
Table of contents

Flavoured Words …

The AAFCO has developed a feed term definition for what types of ingredients can be considered “natural,” and “Guidelines for Natural Claims” for pet foods. Those categories marketed as “holistic,” “ultra healthy,” and “premium” often emphasize the use of “human-grade” meat sources only, without meat by-products. Similarly, AAFCO has no official definition of this term, and wrote to pet food manufacturers in 2004, advising that using it is “false and misleading.” It is important to note that, AAFCO only governs its own approval for the dog food packaging itself and has no authority over websites or advertising. Also, the growing awareness of the realities of pet food manufacture subsequent to the 2007 recalls has led vendors to misuse the term “human-grade” without revealing that while indeed intended for human consumption, ingredients may in fact be rotted, mouldy, and vermin infested salvage of “human grade” warehouses.

Of three kinds:

  1. artificial flavouring,
  2. artificial colouring, and
  3. artificial preservatives.

Artificial flavouring is rarely used to make dog food, because those words would be noticed by the alert consumer, and, regulatory loopholes offer alternatives to the necessity of using such terms. A specific percentage is not required, but a product must contain an amount enough to be detectable and adequate to “impart a distinctive characteristic” to the food. “Flavour” as part of the name does not require any specific amounts of a product to be used, and “salmon flavour” can be made with broth or by-product meal.

As an explicit test method, using animals trained to prefer specific flavours, can be used to confirm this claim. In the example of “Salmon Flavour Dog Food”, the word “flavour” must appear on the label in the same size, style and colour as the word “salmon”. That ingredient may be salmon… but often it is a small amount of another substance that will furnish the characterizing flavour: such as grease, fish meal (likely, another less costly fish) or fish by-products (manufacturing debris retrieved from the parent company’s production lines of human foods).

One popular dog food manufacturer has decided to add pleasant descriptive language on its ingredient list following on the US FDA recognised pentobarbital suspect ingredient animal digest. On the label of one variety of dog feed, the ingredient list states “animal digest (source of chicken flavour)“. On another variety of dog feed, the ingredient list states “animal digest (source of grilled flavour)“. It’s difficult to imagine that a diseased euthanised animal, ground up into tiny pieces, thrown into a large vat and cooked with other euthanised diseased animals could be a source of flavour, never the less to provide multiple flavours like “chicken” and “grilled flavour“.

To develop flavours – and pursue “least cost mix” protocols – dog foods commonly contain animal digests, which are materials (fats: by-products and manufacturing waste) processed with heat (to stabilize rancidity), enzymes, and acids (thus: chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolyse) to form concentrated “natural flavours”. Animal digest is used as a palatant, in order to camouflage other, less desirable flavours. Only a small amount of a “salmon (fish) digest” is needed to produce a “Salmon Flavoured Dog Food,” even though no actual salmon (a costly ingredient) may be added to the food. Stocks (grease) or broths may be added. For example, whey (milk plasma: the liquid remaining after milk has been coagulated and strained) is often used to add a “milk flavour”.

We must assume that since large corporations don’t do anything without substantial consumer research, they learned that pet parents felt the words “animal digest” alone sounded a bit offensive. We can guess that consumer research told them “animal digest (source of xxx flavour)” sounded much more appealing. We also must assume that this pet feed company feels that as long as these “descriptive” terms sell dog feed, who cares if it’s stretching the truth and who cares if this ingredient might contain a euthanised animal.

Often labels will bear a claim of “no artificial flavours”, however, this term has little meaning, since artificial flavours are rarely used in dog foods, owing to innumerable ways to steer clear of that marketing stigma: rancid restaurant grease can provide the basis for natural meat flavourings. A lingering exception would be artificial smoke or bacon flavours, which are added to some treats.