by Jessica Danelon, MSc
The term “by-product”, as found on pet food labels, does not actually describe the material it represents – not by a long shot! It is an antiquated term from the old school pet food industry (think 30 years ago). It badly needs updating, but the pet food industry is forced to use it nonetheless. It was created decades ago when the pet food industry could really only source ingredients that were left over from the human food industry.
“By-product” conjures images of waste, left-overs or poor quality material. Today, pet food manufacturers don’t just source left overs. They have the buying power to select the ingredients they wish to use and they do so alongside the human food industry. It just so happens the materials used in animal “by-products” are less visibly used by the North American human food industry (that means they are used in ways you didn’t even realize – think sausage, chicken nuggets, etc.).
In many instances though, ingredients the pet food industry must label as “by-products” are actually found on the high priced menus of fancy restaurants and are considered delicacies. Typical materials included in animal by-products are (my definition combines meat animals and fowl): Organ meats (heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, entrails [free of content], spleen), brain, blood, connective tissue, mechanically deboned meat, bone, feet (in the case of chicken only), undeveloped eggs and heads (except in the case of ruminants such as cows and sheep – those are completely excluded from the food chain because of BSE). Anything else at the grocery store considered by-product? Sure: chicken wings, meat typically used in sausages and cold cuts (aka mechanically deboned meat, as well as organs), chicken fat and animal lard, caviar (fish eggs), tripe, tongue, pork knuckles, marrow bones, etc. What about at the pet store? Also yes: pig’s ears, bull winkles (my greyhounds love these chew sticks…yep, they’re bull penises!), raw hide, bones, pig’s feet, liver treats, etc. Sound like a horror show? Maybe, but in reality these things are very nutritious and like I said before, considered delicacies in the human world and found on restaurant menus everywhere. If we use the “nutrients vs. ingredients puzzle” concept (see here), we can determine exactly how nutritious these food items are.
Are any parts not included in animal by-products? Of course! There are some parts of the animal that are not edible (unless they are further processed). Those parts include: hair, feather, horn, teeth, and hooves. There’s a lot of anti-by-product propaganda out there. Just like any propaganda, this material is misinformed, not factual, twisted by marketing, outdated and just plain wrong. Animal by-products, as part of a complete and balanced pet food formula, are not going to hurt your dog or cat. They are not indigestible, lower quality or crap. They just aren’t. What they are is fresh, nutritious and digestible. Most importantly, they are the source of essential and functional nutrients (and great flavour too!). One more thing: “by-products” also have a role to play in terms of respecting our planet’s precious resources and in sparing our increasingly limited human food supply. Thanks for reading. Until next time…