Shell Games

Updated on October 27, 2021

Wheat, Corn and Soy

You should be wary of the means used by manufacturers to disguise less desirable ingredients. Corn and wheat are especially common in dog foods – often, the main ingredient – as a base, and as a cheap protein source. Breaking a major ingredient into several different smaller ingredients (ground yellow corn, corn bran, grits, or middlings; corn gluten or corn gluten meal, corn germ meal, corn cellulose) and listing them individually is used to push these undesirable components farther down the ingredient list, where they might appear to be more minor additives.

The practice, known as “ingredient splitting,”.

Likewise, consumers should recognize that the presence of fruits and certain vegetables in premium brands is often based on marketing appeal (or the need for starch as a binding agent), since many of these ingredients don’t provide significant health benefit, the quantities are small, and are commonly rejected from human food processing.

Corn

Dogs and Corn Even this lab isn’t the least bit interested. Corn is one of the most commonly used ingredients in pet foods. When reading ingredient labels of pet foods, you will see corn listed in various ways, including:

  • Whole Corn: Whole corn is the entire corn kernel, including the bran, before it is ground.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is the moist, protein portion of a corn kernel. It is used to increase the amino acid profile of the food. It DOES NOT have the same qualities of whole corn, corn meal, or corn flour.
  • Ground Corn: Ground corn is a meal ground from dried whole corn, but does not include the bran.
  • Corn Flour: Corn flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the corn kernel.

But, contrary to popular belief, corn is difficult for your pet to digest and pales in comparison to meats as a healthy source of protein and energy. Processed corn is also known to quickly raise the blood sugar of dogs, which can lead to diabetes.

Wheat

Wheat is another ingredient commonly used in pet foods…and believed to be one of the most common causes of pet allergies due to its overuse in foods. White Flour White flour shouldn’t be a mainstay of your pet’s diet. Pet food manufacturers—and human food makers—use white flour so frequently because of its low price point. You’ll find wheat listed under several names:

  • Whole Ground Wheat: Whole ground wheat is a meal ground from the entire wheat kernel, including the bran.
  • Ground Wheat: Ground wheat is a meal ground from whole wheat, but does include the bran.
  • Wheat Bran: Wheat bran is the outer coating (the fiber) of the wheat kernel and is used to reduce the likelihood of constipation.
  • Wheat flour: Wheat flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the wheat kernel.

Don’t mistake “wheat flour” for the nutritious brown whole wheat flour in your human breads. Wheat flour is standard white flour, and has no place in the diet of a healthy pet. Whole grain wheats may contain some fiber, but not enough to outweigh the frequent complications, such as allergies, itchy skin, ear infections, hair loss, and skin infections.

Soy

Soy is not an ideal source of protein for carnivorous pets. Soy is not an ideal source of protein for carnivorous pets. Many pet food companies like soy because it is a cheap source of protein. Pet food manufacturers use soy in a few forms:

  • Soy Bean Meal: Soy bean meal is the by-product result of the soybean oil extraction process that includes the protein portion of the soybean.
  • Soy Flour: Soy flour is the highly-processed starch and endosperm of the soybean.
  • Soy Protein: Soy protein is isolated protein made from soybean meal after the soybean has been removed from its outer layer and has had the fatty acids removed.
  • Soy Oil: If farmed responsibly and processed minimally, soy oil is actually a beneficial ingredient, offering Omega-3 fatty acids to balance Omega-6s in fish oil.

Not only is processed soy a less-than-healthy ingredient in pet foods, but the overuse of pesticides in its farming may cause long-term health problems for your pet when used by unscrupulous manufacturers.

Splitting

Assume the pack of McKibble included the following list of ingredients (by weight):- chicken, chicken by-product meal, whole grain corn, soybean hulls*, barley, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, rice, poultry by-product meal, glycerin, egg and chicken flavour, beef fat naturally preserved with mixed-tocopherols, poultry and pork digest, oat meal, calcium carbonate, salt, dried apples, dried carrots, dried green beans, mono and dicalcium phosphate, potassium chloride, choline chloride, iron oxide (colour) …

After splitting, the manufacturer can use different corn, wheat, rice, potato, and pea products, and list them separately (split them). In this way, 30% by weight “corn” appears as “corn gluten meal” (15%) + “corn flour”, (15%), perhaps with added qualifiers such as “whole” thrown in to confuse (“whole ground wheat” or “ground” or “whole yellow corn”); and 30% “rice” can become “rice gluten” (10%) + “rice bran” (10%), “rice flour” (10%); while a 30% pea ingredient can be broken 3 ways: into peas, “pea flour”, and “pea fiber”, and so on. In each example, the total weight of the ingredient is split in thirds.

Because the grain ingredients have now been split, their apparent quantities are decreased, making [the smaller amount of meat ingredient— the quantity of which has not changed] — rise to the top of the list: which is enough to convince many consumers that the food is more meat-based and higher quality than it really is. Moreover, in the example above, the “peas” outnumber the meat by almost a 3:1 ratio; however, it can now be legally labelled “pork and peas” because of splitting.

Pet parents must remember that the total protein percentage on most pet food labels does not reveal how much of that protein is animal-sourced, the most species-appropriate for dogs. In fact, much if not most of the total protein in most processed pet foods is sourced from plants, not animals.

It’s important to understand that AAFCO rules are based on precooked weight. The meat itself is commonly 2/3 water, and once extruded, the moisture is removed and left at around 10%, so the pork (in this example) will have shrunk to 25% of the original amount while dry ingredients, (the three pea categories), will not have changed. Because manufacturers have seized upon the “first ingredient rule” as a marketing focus, it should be regarded cautiously. It is better to examine the first 15 ingredients: that way, you’d spot the numerous times that an ingredient is listed, and you’d recognize the splitting.

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