Natural Foods Merchandiser
Secret Shopper: Is there horse meat in my pet food?

Secret Shopper: Is there horse meat in my pet food?

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: I’ve heard about horse meat in human food.
How do I know what meat is in pet food?

Store: Luckily, horse meat in pet food is illegal in the U.S., so you shouldn’t have to worry about that. Most dog and cat foods will list exactly what kind of meat is used in the ingredients list. Let’s look at one. See, here it says chicken meal and chicken fat. Let’s look at a beef option. Yep, this says beef and beef liver.

NFM: OK, but sometimes I see the word byproducts. That sounds kind of gross. Couldn’t that mean really anything?

Store: I suppose it could mean anything that has to do with that animal. Oh, and that’s another thing: Sometimes when a label says animal byproducts, you don’t know what animal you’re getting. It still shouldn’t be horse, but if you want chicken or lamb or another specific meat, then skip anything that doesn’t specify the animal.

NFM: And I can trust what the labels say?

Store: With any of the brands we carry, yes. We do our research to make sure these companies are solid.

How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Malden Nesheim, professor of nutrition emeritus at Cornell University and coauthor with Marion Nestle of Feed Your Pet Right
(Free Press, 2010)

Although the use of horse meat in pet foods is frowned upon, it is not illegal in the United States, as this staffer says. In 2007, Congress prohibited the U.S. Department of Agriculture from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, effectively banning horse slaughter in this country. However, unwanted horses are still shipped to Mexico and Canada, where slaughter is permitted. The meat is then exported to other countries that have a strong demand for horse meat for human consumption. Inedible parts of the horses are rendered into meat meals that can be used for animal feeds—including pet foods.

The employee is correct in that ingredients must be listed on pet food labels and that if meat comes from a single source, such as beef or chicken, it can be labeled as such. When the designation of the meat is simply meat meal, meat and bone meal or animal byproduct meal, that means it might come from several sources, which could include horse.


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