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PFMA Statement on 'Trust me I'm a Vet', regarding the Nottingham University research

Pet food manufacturers must adhere to strict requirements to ensure the food they produce is safe for pets and meets the nutritional needs of the animal.

PFMA members regularly test their own products to ensure compliance with industry standards using recognised, validated methods which are set in EU legislation. This is done either internally or with external labs that are accredited for pet food testing. The results recorded by our members report a very high level of compliance. In the unusual event of non-compliant results, they have robust procedures in place to address and rectify any formulation issues. 

PFMA and our members have serious questions over the accuracy and relevance of the research undertaken by Nottingham University and aired by the BBC. We do not believe the findings reported reflect the actual situation with products on the market.  Conversations with representatives of Nottingham University have led us to question the research methodology and testing regime used in this study, which does not follow the strict legal requirements our members routinely follow when testing their own products. We also note that the Nottingham University laboratory is not accredited to carry out tests on pet food.

We are disappointed that Nottingham University have to date failed to provide requested details of their study and the products tested so that manufacturers can investigate this matter further.  We are also disappointed that despite discussing our concerns in detail with the BBC, they have broadcast the piece despite the obvious shortcomings in the research, which has led to an unbalanced and inaccurate portrayal of the industry.

PFMA members are committed to compliance and the safety and wellbeing of animals is at the heart of everything they do. We are confident the foods produced are safe and contribute to the health and wellbeing of pets. Furthermore, it is widely recognised by the veterinary profession that pets are now living longer, healthier lives and the widespread feeding of commercially prepared pet food has played a key role in this. PFMA has good contact with the veterinary profession and monitors all issues related to animal health. If vets were diagnosing widespread conditions as a result of mineral deficiency in dogs and cats, we would be aware of this.  

Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist Dr Marge Chandler advises: “Good quality commercial pet foods from reputable companies are the best option for nearly all dogs, puppies, cats and kittens.  Complete and balanced commercial pet foods are formulated to fulfil the 40 nutrients required by cats and the 37 nutrients required by dogs, which virtually no homemade diet is able to do without exact supplementation.  The top companies spend years researching the ingredients and formulations they use to provide the best possible nutrition, and have extraordinary standards of quality assurance for ingredient quality.” 

For more information on the legislation governing the pet food industry, how pet foods are made and the ingredients used, please visit www.pfma.org.uk

Q&A

How do manufacturers ensure their pet foods meet the nutritional needs of pets? Members of the PFMA formulate their diets in line with the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines. These industry guidelines, produced by the European Pet Food Federation, detail the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at varying life stages from growth through to senior.  Like humans, cats and dogs have different nutritional needs at these different life stages and diets are adapted accordingly. The guidelines are peer reviewed by independent veterinary nutrition experts throughout Europe to ensure they are robust and current. The guidelines are revised on an annual basis to include any new science on cat and dog nutrition.  The guidelines can be accessed on the FEDIAF website.

Pet foods come in two formats – complete and complementary – and you will find these terms on the pet food packet. The term “complete” is legally defined and it means that the product must contain by law all the nutrients a pet needs for healthy bodily function when fed as directed. “Complementary” means that another food must be added in order to provide nutritional balance, for example a mixer biscuit or treat. 

If manufacturers are formulating a complete diet, the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines help them meet the legal requirement of ensuring all required nutrients are present in the correct proportions.  

Who is responsible for enforcing this legislation? There is strict legislation governing the pet food industry and we are subject to over 50 pieces of legislation.  In terms of this specific area, the responsibility is divided between central and local authorities. The central authorities are the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the devolved Agriculture/Rural Affairs Departments and their agencies (e.g. the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Animal & Plant Health Agency). At the local level, in Great Britain, Environmental Health and Trading Standards Services carry out much of the enforcement of feed law in local authorities.

How can the results from Nottingham University be so different to the findings of the PFMA? The FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines require that, when testing for compliance, investigators follow the official methods set out in Commission Regulation (EC) No 152/2009 laying down the methods of sampling and analysis. This is the same legislation that covers the official control authorities (Food Standards Agency & local authorities in the UK). This European legislation sets out how to obtain representative samples and how they should be analysed. Using these robust testing methods, PFMA members report a very high level of compliance.

Conversations with representatives of Nottingham University have led us to question the research methodology and testing regime used in this study, which does not meet the strict legal requirements our members routinely follow when testing their own products. We also note that the Nottingham University laboratory is not accredited to carry out tests on pet food.

According to the results reported by Nottingham, there is a difference between wet and dry products in terms of compliance – why is this? We would like to reassure pet owners that PFMA members report a very high level of compliance for both wet and dry products when tested in accordance with the official methods set out in Commission Regulation (EC) No 152/2009. Using the correct sampling and analysis procedures is very important, especially for wet products, as achieving a homogenous sample is much more difficult than it is for dry products.

What is a mineral? A mineral is a naturally occurring chemical compound. In the context of nutrition, a mineral is a chemical element required as an essential nutrient to maintain healthy bodily function. Minerals originate in the earth and cannot be made by living organisms (that’s why they are called ‘inorganic substances’). Plants get minerals from soil. Most of the minerals in a human or animal diet come from eating plants, other animals and from drinking water. Some of the major minerals for humans and animals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and magnesium. Other minerals that also have important biochemical functions in the body include iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine (trace elements).

What does the term ‘minerals’ refer to on the pet food label? In the context of pet food labelling, ‘Minerals’ is a category name for ‘All inorganic substances suitable for animal feed’.  They are part of the range of feed materials that manufacturers use to produce complete and balanced products for your pet.  The ingredients used in a pet food recipe are listed in the ‘composition’ section on the pet food label and they are listed in descending order by weight. Pet food manufacturers follow two ways of declaring ingredients used in the pet food recipe: either by providing a list of specific ingredients (e.g. dehydrated chicken protein, wheat, soybean meal, corn starch, chicken fat, etc...) or by using category names as defined in EU legislation (e.g. meat and animal derivatives, vegetables, cereals, minerals, etc...). Some manufacturers may decide that rather than providing a long list of minerals in a recipe to use the category term ‘minerals’ (e.g. “minerals” instead of “calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, etc...”). If you have any questions on minerals or any other ingredients in your pet food, please contact the manufacturer.

What are ‘Analytical Constituents’? ‘Analytical Constituents’ is the title for the section of a pet food label that provides information about nutrient levels of the product – a bit like the nutrition section on a human food label. Some substances such as vitamins, trace elements and amino acids, can also be declared under the “analytical constituents” section. This can happen when special attention is drawn to their presence or when there is a claim about it on the label (e.g. with high level of Vitamin E). If they are declared under “analytical constituents”, the amount labelled is the total amount of the substance present in the finished pet food at the end of shelf life.

What do pet food manufacturers know about pet nutrition? There is a significant level of expertise on pet nutrition within the pet food industry. As a responsible industry committed to providing optimum nutrition, the pet food industry works with researchers, vets and nutritionists to discuss the latest advancements in the field of pet nutrition which are brought in to product formulation. There is a small number of board certified veterinary nutritionists in the UK and as a responsible industry, deeply committed to improving the welfare of pets through optimum nutrition, we work closely with them all.

Where can I find out more information about the pet food brand I feed? To support consumers, pet food manufacturers often provide full product details on company websites and all companies have care lines where consumers can get more information and feeding support.  For more information on how pet foods are formulated and the ingredients used please visit www.pfma.org.uk