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Dog food 101: What is meal when listed as an ingredient? Print E-mail
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Dog food 101: What is meal when listed as an ingredient?

July 6, 2:44 PM · Courtney Taylor - Denver Dogs Examiner

Chicken meal, lamb meal, and by-product meal are all examples of dog food ingredients. But, what is "meal", really?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines meal as "the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents." 

Meal is produced through the process of rendering in which ingredients are ground, boiled, spun to remove the fat, and dried. After rendering, only about 10% water remains allowing the end product to consist largely of minerals and protein (about 50 - 65% protein).

While they can be an excellent source of nutrition and protein, not all meals are created equal.

When describing meal as an ingredient in dog food, the FDA's website states: "In addition to the processing, it could also contain parts of animals one would not think of as 'meat.'"

Source-listed meals

Generally speaking, a "quality meal" is one for which the source of the ingredient is clearly listed, such as "lamb meal", "fish meal", and "chicken meal". Below are the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) definitions of these ingredients:

Lamb meal: "The rendered product from lamb tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices."

Fish Meal: "The clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, either or both, with or without the extraction of part of the oil."

Chicken Meal: Chicken which has been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size."

Chicken is defined as: "The clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails"

By-product meals

The AAFCO defines a meat by-product as: "The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."

The most commonly used by-product meal is defined below by the AFCO:

Chicken By-Product Meal: "Consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice."

As a rule of thumb, it is best to steer clear of by-products in your dog's food, whether as a meal or other ingredient.

Vegetable and Grain Meals

Grain and vegetable meals are generally used in dog food to keep the cost of production low. Manufacturers use products like corn gluten meal or soybean meal as an alternative to a more costly and higher quality ingredient.

Soybeans, linseed, and corn may appear as meals in pet food. However, none of these grains are easily digested and are classified as fillers.

Corn gluten meal in particular is commonly used and is a concentrated form of protein that is very difficult to digest. Using this type of ingredient allows the food to advertise high protein content even though your dog might not actually digest or benefit from any of it.

Meat and bone meals

This is the ingredient of highest concern when listed on a dog food.

Below is the AFCO definition:

Meat and Bone Meal: "The rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices."

The following is a list of some (not all) ingredients that may be included in the creation of meat and bone meal.

  • Tissue from slaughterhouses, including blood, feathers, heads, feet, bones, and entrails
  • Restaurant grease and butcher shop trimmings
  • Road kill animals, including pets, deer, raccoons, snakes, opossums, foxes, etc.
  • Euthanized animals from zoos, vet clinics, or animal shelters, including cats and dogs
  • Diseased animals, including those with Chronic Wasting Disease or "Mad Cow Disease"
  • Tumor-ridden, cancerous, or "wormy" tissues
  • Animal tissues containing drugs or pesticides and injection sites
  • Flea collars, ear tags, Styrofoam, and meat wrappers

Ann Martin states in her book, Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food:

"Pet Food Industry magazine states that a pet food manufacturer might reject rendered material for various reasons, including the presence of foreign material (metals, hair, plastic, rubber, glass), off odor, excessive feathers, hair or hog bristles, bone chunks, mold, chemical analysis out of specification, added blood, leather, or calcium carbonate, heavy metals, pesticide contamination, improper grind or bulk density, and insect infestation.

Please note that this article states that the manufacturer might reject this material, not that it does reject this material."

An Example:

Below is the ingredient list for PEDIGREE® WITH LAMB & RICE™ Food for Dogs. Notice that two of the first four most prevalent ingredients include a by-product meal and meat and bone meal. Also included in the top five ingredients are two fillers (Ground Whole Corn and Ground Wheat) and Animal Fat (what is spun off the ground and boiled mixture during rendering) preserved with two artificial and potentially hazardous preservatives. Later in the list are more fillers and artificial colors.

Ground Whole Corn, Chicken By-product Meal, Ground Wheat, Meat And Bone Meal, Animal Fat (preserved with BHA/BHT), Wheat Flour, Rice, Lamb, Corn Gluten Meal, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Dicalcium Phosphate, Vegetable Oil (source of Linoleic Acid), Caramel Color, Dried Beet Pulp, Titanium Dioxide, Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Dl-alpha Tocopherol Acetate [source of Vitamin E], L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate [source of Vitamin C*], Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Biotin, D-calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese, Proteinate, Potassium Iodide), Added FD&C and Lake Colors (Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Red 40.)

The Lesson

Know what's in your dog's food and always read the ingredient list on any pet food. For the most part, a meal with the source listed is a good source of nutrition. By-product meals and those of uncertain origin (including meat and bone meal) are poor ingredients and do not come highly recommended to feed to your dog.






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Courtney Taylor is an Examiner from Denver. You can see Courtney's articles at: "http://www.Examiner.com/x-8279-Denver-Dogs-Examiner"
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