Duck, chicken, peas, potatoes, apples, rice -- it's not your shopping list, it's the ingredient list on Buster's dog food. The ingredients may make a good stew for you, but that doesn't mean his food is human grade. Everything in the food must be edible to humans and processed properly to be human grade.
Making the Grade
Human food is subject to more control than pet food; the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are responsible for ensuring the food supply is safe. The pet food industry isn't as strictly regulated and much of the regulation comes from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The terms "human grade" and "human quality" have no legal definition, so AAFCO requires pet food with labels using "human grade" or "human quality" to contain all human edible ingredients and be processed to meet human edible requirements. That means you could eat everything in Buster's food and that the food was manufactured in a human-grade facility, with the ingredients subject to inspection for approval for human-grade status.
Why All the Fuss
Many ingredients in pet food are straightforward, but when you start adding "meal" and "by-product," as well as various hard-to-pronounce words, you may wonder exactly what Buster's eating. To keep costs low, many pet foods use feed-grade ingredients, which are not fit for human consumption. Some manufacturers will use animal parts from diseased, dying or dead animals; others may include old or moldy grains. While the ingredients may not immediately harm or injure a dog, there is question about the long-term health risks from feeding a diet based on feed-grade ingredients.
Though manufacturers aren't allowed to claim human grade on their packaging if their products don't meet the criteria, they are allowed to insinuate the status in their promotional material or website. Look for specific statements noting every ingredient is USDA and FDA compliant for human-grade food. If you can't determine if the food you're considering is human grade, study the label to gauge quality. Veterinarian Dr. Michael Fox recommends avoiding foods mixing more than three different species. As well, know the meat you're buying; "meat meal" can mean anything, including dead barnyard animals, diseased organs or roadkill. Keep an eye on the meal, and steer clear of "animal meal," "poultry meal," "blood meal" and "meat and bone meal."
One way to compare dog foods, no matter how they're labeled, is to add and subtract points for ingredients. If the food has "by-product," a non-specific animal or fat source or contains BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin, subtract 10 points. Subtract 5 points for each non-specific grain or if the same grain is listed more than once. Food with ground or wholegrain corn, artificial colorants and fewer than two meats in the top three ingredients should lose 3 points. Deduct 2 points for food with corn among the top five ingredients, animal fat other than fish oil, lamb as the sole protein source and the presence of soy, soybeans or wheat. Subtract 1 point if the food contains salt or beef.
After you've deducted points for problem ingredients, you can add points for good ingredients. Food that is baked and not extruded, uses organic meat sources and is endorsed by a major nutritionist or breed group earns 5 extra points. Probiotics, fruit and vegetables that aren't corn or grain gains 3 points. Add 2 points if the animal sources are hormone- and antibiotic-free and if the food contains barley or flax seed oil. Oatmeal, sunflower oil and vegetables that have been tested to be pesticide-free gain 1 point.