Ingredient Label Tricks – Ingredient Splitting
Looking at the ingredient list on a dog food label is tricky. In many cases, the lists are long and contain names of ingredients that we are not familiar with. Today we begin a multi-part series that explains some simple ways to judge the ingredients in your dog’s food and provide some tips to help you spot label ‘tricks’ that might hide the food’s real quality.
First is Most
Like human food, dog food labels are required to list ingredients in order of their prominence in the food. Specifically, according to AAFCO, ingredients are “required to be listed in order of predominance by weight. The weights of ingredients are determined as they are added in the formulation, including their inherent water content.[…]”
In theory, this means that the first ingredient on the label is the most predominant ingredient (by weight), the second ingredient is the second most predominant, etc. Pretty straight forward, and why many people look for foods with a protein as the first ingredient.
Still, we must be careful when looking at the ingredients as the lists can sometimes be deceiving. Why? Because lower quality ingredients can be ‘split’ on the label so that it appears that their contribution to the food formula is less than it actually is while simultaneously improving the position of higher quality ingredients even though the amount of the higher quality ingredient is not changed at all! An example can help illustrate.
Here is a list of the first several ingredients of an actual dog food:
Chicken Meal, Ground Whole Wheat, Wheat Flour, Corn Gluten Meal, Ground Rice, Rice Bran, Chicken Fat
Although Chicken meal is the 1st ingredient, notice that a form of wheat is the 2nd and 3rd ingredient, and a form of rice is the 5th and 6th ingredient. It is quite possible that if you added the wheat and rice ingredients together, that the food list might look a little different. For example:
Wheat, Rice, Chicken Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken Fat
Not quite the same story, especially if you look for a food with a protein as the 1st ingredient. What appeared to be a predominantly meat based food now looks more like a grain based food.
How Common is Splitting?
Ingredient splitting has been called a “trick” (and worse) that some dog food manufacturers intentionally use to make inferior products look better to the average consumer. That may or may not be the case. Yet, we couldn’t help but wonder how prevalent split ingredients are in today’s commercially available food. So we combed through our database of about 2,200 foods and treats and looked for cases where ‘filler’ ingredients were named more than once in their ingredients list. In this experiment, we defined filler as being Corn, Rice, or Wheat. We found that there were 370 such cases, or about 17% of our entire data set. Further, we found that in 64% of these cases the filler was Rice; about 18% of the cases were Corn and another 18% were Wheat.
Although 17% seems like a reasonably low value, we can’t say with certainty whether or not these statistics are good or bad because we don’t have a reference point. It would be interesting to have been able to compare these values to dog food labels 10 or 20 years ago—as an exercise to see if ingredient splitting is becoming more or less common. Our hope is that these numbers are lower than they were in the past, which would be a reflection of the increasing proportion of higher quality foods and food brands that have been created to satisfy consumer requests for high protein, low grain/filler diets.
Just for fun, we decided to count how many foods and treats contain any of the filler ingredients, even if they are listed only once. Before disclosing the stats, which we will do next week, are there any guesses?
What percentage of the 2,200 foods and treats do you think contain Rice, Corn, or Wheat? We’ll give a hint: it is greater than 17% (which is the percent that have these fillers listed at least twice in the label).