Navigating a pet food label

With pet ownership on the rise, and more and more of those pets being considered part of the family, it makes sense that the pet food industry continues to grow ahead of GDP and that human food trends are now also making their way into the pet world. The combined result is that there are now more pet food brands and more types of diets available for you to choose from than ever before. To aid pet owners in making an educated decision on which pet food to choose for their pets, the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) has compiled the below check list for navigating a pet food label:

  1. A product registration or “V number” indicates that the product is legally registered and that it meets the minimum nutritional standards set out by Act 36 (that are a balance of published international standards). Without this number there is no assurance that the product has been approved for pet consumption.

  2. Legally, the nutritional values contained in the pet food must be outlined on the packaging:

  3. Crude protein, moisture, crude fat, crude fibre and crude ash must be displayed.

  4. Other nutrients that are often displayed, but are optional, include calcium, phosphorus and taurine (found in cat food).

  5. If a nutrient is displayed on the packaging it must be included in the product.

  6. Ingredients, in their macro format, must be declared on the packaging, including cereals, vegetable derivatives, meat derivatives, minerals, vitamins and approved anti-oxidants. Each ingredient must be listed separately – either by its official name or its common name – or as a member of a group of ingredients (grouped on the basis of their similar type or common source). No single ingredient may be highlighted. Ingredients must be listed according to the international convention, which means they are listed in order of highest to lowest inclusion.

  7. A guaranteed analysis (or, on some imported products, a typical analysis) indicates the amounts of specified nutrients in the product, allowing you to compare various products, but when doing so keep in mind the recommended feeding guide as differences in nutrient density will be matched by a changing feeding guide.

  8. PFI membership, though not mandatory does indicate a brand’s commitment to producing safe, quality food, manufactured with your pet’s nutritional wellbeing as its primary concern and in a way that meets internationally accepted standards. Some member brands have added the PFI logo to their packaging otherwise confirm membership on the PFI website (pfisa.co.za).

  9. Feeding guidelines must be included and it is critical that they are followed to ensure your pet is being fed the correct quantity of food. These guidelines differ per food and are aligned to the food’s makeup and are based on the animal’s weight, age and sometimes breed. The full recommended daily amount can be split into two or three meals a day. Most premium brands have a higher fat and protein level and therefore provide more nutrition per 100g, which means meal portions are generally smaller. When calculating how economical a specific brand of food is remember to consider the size of the bag or tin, the cost per kilogram and the quantity you’ll need to feed your pet per meal.

  10. The batch number and/or manufacturing date is important and acts as a traceable link for the manufacturer in case of issues or should the need for a recall arise.

  11. The best before date is a guarantee of quality to a certain date and also offers an indication of how old the product is. After this date the product may not deliver the nutritional value indicated on the packaging with specific reference to vitamins and fat quality. Vitamins listed are listed according to what can be found in the food at the best before date.

  12. A product description that states the type of food (dry, semi-moist, canned or frozen) and whether it is nutritionally complete or complementary is needed. Complete pet foods will satisfy all of the pet’s nutritional requirements. Complimentary indicates that it should be fed in conjunction with additional food or supplements or should only be fed for a reduced period of time, such as treats.

  13. Images on the packaging need to be an accurate representation of the contents.

  14. Health claims, such as disease cure, should not be included on the label, though some foods have been designed to assist in the management of certain health conditions and some foods are registered prescription foods for this purpose.

The PFI busies itself performing random tests on foods found on shelves, to ensure that claims made on the packaging are a true representation of the contents. Issues of noncompliance are addressed with the Act 36 inspectors. Consumers are urged to direct pet food queries and concerns to the PFI via their website.

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