Oftentimes, people find a food their pets like and they stick with it for years.
Then, suddenly, their pet becomes ill, and it becomes a frantic race to figure out why, with the food they’re eating coming in at the bottom of the causality list. After all, Roxy has been eating the same food for years; why would it make him sick now?
Well, I’ve got some news for you.
FDA Label Requirements
Regarding pet food, the FDA states, “Pet food labeling is regulated at 2 levels. The current FDA regulations require proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, name and place of business of the manufacturer or distributor, and proper listing of all the ingredients in the product in order from most to least, based on weight.”
In essence, the label has to tell you what the food is, how much is in the package, who manufactured and/or distributed the food, and the ingredients, which must be listed by weight, with the heaviest ingredients at the top of the list. The FDA will also investigate specific claims, such as “good for weight control” or “urinary tract health.”
What the label or the package does not have to tell you is whether or not the manufacturer has decided to change an item in the recipe. Now, to be fair, this same practice happens in your food too. When it comes to people, the FDA does have stricter requirements about the quality of the ingredients in the food but no requirement to inform the consumer about a recipe change.
In a 2014 article by the Wall Street Journal, “stealth health” — the practice of altering a food’s recipe to make it healthier without informing the public — is addressed head-on.
“It might seem like food companies would want to trumpet their health initiatives as much as possible,” writes journalist Julie Jargon. “Many times they do, but companies are often cautious because altering the recipe of a successful product to cut salt, sugar, fat or other ingredients risks changing flavor and texture.”
The reason companies don’t want to tell you that they’re changing their recipe is that sometimes the response isn’t positive, which affects the company’s bottom line. Part of the hesitation is due to a type of consumer assumption.
“Healthier products don’t always sell well. McDonald’s salads, introduced a decade ago, have never amounted to more than 3% of U.S. sales,” writes Jargon. “And when the chain first announced in 2002 that it would start cooking french fries in oil free of trans fats — in line with health warnings about the artery-clogging dangers of the ingredient — its customer-service lines were flooded with complaints about the fries tasting different, even in cities where nothing had yet changed.”
This is all well and good for people — after all, it can’t be bad that we’re eating healthier foods — but when it comes to the pet food industry, the same type of stealthy alterations are happening, and they’re not always intended to better the health of the 4-footed consumer.
The motivation, however, is seemingly the same: profit. If a pet food manufacturer can replace an ingredient with something comparable but cheaper, it makes more profit on each package of pet food sold.
Iams Pet Food changed its recipe in the summer of 2016, according to the response to a consumer on its Facebook page.
On Feb. 20, 2018, consumer Motunrayo Olaniyan asked Iams on a post it made on Dec. 27, 2017: “Did you recently change the ingredients or add dyes? My dog’s food used to be one solid color but the new bag has 3 shades of brown. What was the reason for the change?”
Iams replied, “Hi, Motunrayo! We did make a change summer of last year. We added some color and lots of good fruits and veggies! If you have any questions about these changes, please give our consumer care team a call at 1-800-675-3849. Thank you!”
So what is “some color,” and what is it made from? What kinds of fruits and veggies? This consumer didn’t get much in the way of an answer — save the confirmation that the recipe had been changed.
Iams isn’t the only pet food manufacturer who changes its recipes; almost all brands have made major or minor changes to their recipes over the years. But most people never find out about it.
Learn how to read pet food labels in this video:
OK, so pet food manufacturers aren’t evil, malefic beings, but they are out to make a profit, and justifiably so. That’s what business is all about. If a manufacturer finds a cheaper, comparable ingredient and wants to make a change, it’s that manufacturer’s right to do so.
But we need to be proactive about reading and understanding what’s in our pet’s foods, and we need to be consistent about it. Making a habit of periodically reviewing your pet’s food label will ensure that you are not surprised by a potential sudden change in your pet’s health due to their food.
Pets suffer from all types of ailments, including skin conditions and allergies depending on what they eat, so a food that has recently had a recipe change may cause a problem if Roxy has a reaction to a new ingredient.
If you do see a recipe change, ask the manufacturer to tell you what the ingredient was changed to and why. Such information can only make you more knowledgeable while reminding the pet food industry that our relationship is symbiotic — it needs the trust of its consumers to make a profit.