Pet Food, People, and the FDA

By Jean Hofve, DVM

Pet food labels are plenty obscure, but labels on human food are just as bad. As you get better at assessing pet food, you’ll also want to check out a few labels at the grocery store, too.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, in Food Labels May Be Inaccurate Despite FDA Inspections, “It’s unfortunate that food labels, which are ideally designed to help you make educated purchasing decisions, have deteriorated over time into little more than deceptive advertising. There are a large variety of ways for food manufacturers to bend the truth on their labels, and some go as far as being outright fraudulent. The report, “Food Labeling Chaos” (warning: this will automatically download as a PDF) created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), outlines the many problems consumers now face when reading food labels. “

As to pet food labels, this article will help you sort out the definitions and specifications.

Pet food labels are regulated by the FDA and state governments in cooperation with AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The feed control officials in each state are the ones who go out and actually look at pet food labels to make sure they’re compliant with state law; and some states also test foods to make sure they meet their label claims.  Click here for more info on pet food regulation.

With human food, things are a little different. FDA does check food labels, but only to see if the Nutrition Facts panel is present, and not whether it is true and accurate.

The truth is that the FDA estimates that roughly one out of every 10 food product labels contain inaccuracies. Additionally, you need to be aware of the fact that a food label must be more than 20 percent off in order for it to violate federal law, and government food labs have a 10 percent margin of error. This means that an item labeled as having 400 calories can legally have up to 480 calories, and the 10 percent margin of error can bring it up to over 500 (according to Dr. Mercola’s article).

Since I developed an allergy to wheat and corn, I’ve had to become a careful label reader. Even so, a few wheat or corn-derivatives still get past me. Who would think that things like white vinegar, honey, iodized salt, or fruit juice concentrate could contain corn? What used to be a 10-minute trip to the store now takes 45 minutes. But label-reading is an almost addicting pastime, and highly educating. All I can tell you is that it’s pretty scary out there.

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