On a cat food label, what is the proper definition for animal byproduct meal?

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The term “animal byproducts” can confuse even the most astute cat owner, because that phrase could mean a number of things.

Animal byproducts are commonly found in the majority of lower-grade pet foods and even many of the larger name brands that market themselves as manufacturers of “premium pet food.”

Many cat experts suggest only purchasing premium brands that avoid the use of byproducts, but here’s where the issue becomes especially confusing. If you look at a feral (wild) cat, you’ll see that it will eat a whole rodent or bird, but perhaps (though not always) leave the head and a few feathers. So, it can be argued that the less expensive brands, as long as they don’t contain carbohydrate fillers, would be closer to a cat’s natural diet than the premium brands..Those who oppose the use of byproducts argue that animal byproducts have been so misused, through the use of road kill or dead, dying decaying and diseased animals (often referred to as “4D Meat), that it has become a very dirty word in the industry.

To add to the confusion, we often see impressive-sounding phrases such as “inspected for human consumption,” when all this truly means it that the meat was inspected, but very likely rejected—and it’s still perfectly legal to use in cat food.

If the meat byproduct meal was just derived from the organs and bones of healthy animals, it wouldn’t be such a controversial ingredient thought. However, foods that contain that ingredient are usually unhealthy in many other ways. It’s not uncommon for them to contain more grain than meat, which can wreak havoc on a carnivore’s kidneys and digestive health.

The AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials), which sets the guidelines for pet food ingredients and labeling, defines animal byproducts (they call it “meat byproduct”) as “ground, rendered, and cleaned slaughtered meat carcass parts such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, bones, heads, and intestines (and a small amount of feathers in the case of chicken).” The quality of animal byproducts is very inconsistent between batches.

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