Most pet parents are drawn in by pet food labels promising “All Natural” or “Organic” ingredients. But how are “All Natural” and “Organic” legally defined? Is All Natural pet food really all natural?
Many regulations relate to these terms, but the FDA says there is no legal definition of the term “All Natural.” The FDA and AAFCO (Association of Animal Feed Control) requirements simply dictate that if the product doesn’t include added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances it can be marketed as All Natural pet food. Surprising, isn’t it?
It may also be surprising to know that pet foods processed with certain synthetic substances like petroleum products or hydrogenated sugars are often classified as “organic” as well as meet the requirements for “all natural.” The National Organic Program of the USDA helps create a guideline for products labeled “Organic,” and is authorized to establish the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This National List contains both synthetic substances that are permitted and certain natural substances that are prohibited for so-called organic production.
Most of us assume “organic” means “occurring naturally.” Most of us also assume that any product that can be labeled as organic must automatically be “All Natural.” But neither assumption is currently correct. That is why class action law suits against certain products labeled “All Natural” and/or “Organic” were successful in adding two new components to the definition of “All Natural”
- A natural ingredient is one that comes from or is made from a renewable resource found in nature.
- Minimal processing involves only kitchen chemistry; processes that can be done in a family kitchen and do not negatively impact the purity of the natural ingredient.
These definitions have not yet been legally adopted by the FDA, and as yet have no legal impact on pet food labels. They are, however, important to an accurate evaluation of products labeled All Natural pet food and/or Organic pet food.
When evaluating pet foods, it is also important to know whether they contain the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes necessary for the absorption of those nutrients. Foods in their original state, as grown or as raised, contain nutritional values that include vitamins, minerals and the enzymes needed for the absorption of those nutrients. But most pet foods today use added supplements that are chemically and structurally different from those commonly found in foods. The majority of vitamin supplements used are USP vitamins, also known or labeled “Natural” or “pharmaceutical grade.”
The USP or U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention is a non-profit scientific organization, whose goal is to standardize and verify vitamins. It says: A supplement successfully meeting our rigorous testing and auditing criteria receives the USP Verified Mark. When you see the Mark, it means the supplement:
- Contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the declared strength and amounts,
- Does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants,
- Is made according to FDA and USP Good Manufacturing Practices, using sanitary and well-controlled processes.
The second bullet point – “Does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants” – raises a concern. This statement exists because “natural” or USP supplements are created by extracting and concentrating the vitamins from a food source in a laboratory. Unfortunately, this extraction requires a chemical process that in most cases utilizes petroleum derivatives or hydrogenated sugars. Those are the same potentially harmful “synthetic substances” that could be considered harmful contaminants.
My personal effort to create a pet food providing 100% of nutritional needs per feeding, without synthetic substances, ran into disturbing realities. “All Natural” doesn’t always mean all natural. Products labeled as “organic” can include inorganic synthesized compounds. By the manufacturer’s definition, “organic” includes no measures for quality. It only concerns itself with how an ingredient was grown or raised. In fact, organic ingredients sold for pet foods regularly include things that cannot be sold for human consumption, including dying, disabled, diseased and dead animals, plus fruits and vegetables showing signs of rot.
Look carefully as you choose your next bag or can of pet food. Is it really Organic or All Natural pet food, as you understand those terms? Does it have a host of supplements? If the answers to those questions are “No,” “No,” and “Yes,” is it really the food you want to buy?
Michael Rosenstock is the founder of Finest Fetch, a new dog treat company.