Blog: Consumer research demonstrates need for pet food label reform

Blog: Consumer research demonstrates need for pet food label reform

Most veterinary clients have no idea what labeling means for their pets' health.
Feb 17, 2014

Attention, veterinarians: Do your clients read the labels on the food they feed their pets—the list of ingredients, the feeding guide or the “guaranteed analysis”? Do these labels influence how and what they feed? Do they make sense and are they easy to understand?

According to recent research conducted by a major U.S. pet food manufacturer, most pet owners would answer “no” to all of the above questions. Most consumers do not read pet food labels, and when they do, they often find them overwhelming and confusing. As a result, the information provided is not meaningful and is not used as intended to guide consumer purchasing and feeding decisions.

Look at the typical ingredient list, for example. Many ingredients listed are a mystery to consumers (i.e., pyridoxine hydrochloride, sodium tripolyphosphate), and it’s not clear what purpose each ingredient serves.

The “guaranteed analysis” table on the back of pet food labels can be equally confusing. Unlike the nutrition facts panel on human food products, the guaranteed analysis table says nothing about how much of each nutrient a pet needs daily and how the particular food product stands up to those requirements. Instead, minimum and maximum levels of nutrient content are provided, leading to even more consumer confusion as to what those levels are meant to represent.

Another point of confusion is the manufacturer’s statement. Right now, many pet labels indicate only who distributes the food product, not where it’s actually made. In recent years, more than ever before, consumers are looking for information about where a product is actually made, and this should be easy to find on product packaging.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to release proposed regulations later this year to update pet food labels. This will be a prime opportunity for the FDA to reform pet food labels so that they’re not only easier for the consumer to understand but at the same time provide consumers with the information they really need to choose the right food for their pets. If this recent consumer research is any indication, there’s a clear need for clearer pet food labels.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.