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Pet foods contain animal contents not explicitly identified on labels

March 31, 2015

Several brands of pet food contain unspecified animal species, and various proportions of beef, chicken and pork that are not explicitly identified on the product labels, according to research in the open access journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham determined the relative presence of DNA from cow, chicken, pig and horse in 17 leading dog and cat wet foods, readily available in UK supermarkets. They then compared their results with the animal species details that were disclosed on the pet food labels.

While no horse DNA was detected, a major finding was the relative abundance of proteins from unspecified animal species in 14 of the 17 products.

Amongst these 14 samples, cow, pig and chicken DNA were found in various proportions and combinations but were not explicitly identified on the product labels.

Seven products with prominent descriptions containing the term "with beef" comprised between 14% and 56% cow DNA. Only two of the seven were found to contain more cow DNA (>50%) than pig and chicken DNA combined. With the remaining five samples, three contained more pig than cow DNA.

Another six headline labels that highlighted "chicken" or "with chicken" contained 1% to 100% chicken DNA of which two products contained more pig or cow than chicken DNA.

Whilst the present practice in pet food labelling is within current regulatory guidelines, the findings highlighted weaknesses in product labelling that could adversely affect pets and their owner expectation.

Lead author Kin-Chow Chang from the University of Nottingham said: "It may be a surprise to shoppers to discover that prominently described contents such as 'beef' on a tin could, within the guidelines, be a minor ingredient, have no bovine skeletal muscle (meat) and contain a majority of unidentified animal proteins.

"There is a need for the pet food industry to show greater transparency to customers in the disclosure of the types of animal proteins in their products. Full disclosure of animal contents will allow more informed choices to be made on purchases which are particularly important for pets with food allergies, reduce the risk of product misinterpretation by shoppers, and avoid potential religious concerns."

The study is limited by the relative amount of DNA detected for each host species calculated as a percentage of total detected DNA. This means that the figures do not represent the species DNA content as a percentage of the entire product. This is because DNA from species other than cow, horse, pig and chicken would not have been recognised.
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Notes to editor:

1. Full results table for the products tested can be found in the research article:

Isabella R Maine, Robert Atterbury and Kin-Chow Chang
Investigation into the animal species contents of popular wet pet foods
Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2015
DOI: 10.1186/s13028-015-0097-z

For an embargoed copy of the research article, please contact Joel.Winston@biomedcentral.com

After embargo, article available at journal website here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13028-015-0097-z

2. University of Nottingham academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email mediahub@nottingham.ac.uk or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

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The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is 'the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain' (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and winner of 'Research Project of the Year' at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world's top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University's vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future.

3. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica is an open access journal encompassing all aspects of veterinary research and medicine of domestic and wild animals.

Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica is the official journal of the Veterinary Associations of the Nordic Countries but welcomes submissions from veterinary colleagues worldwide. Founded in 1959, Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica became an online, open access publication in 2006.

4. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. http://www.biomedcentral.com

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