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Pet Food Labels: Terms You Need To Know (Part One)

Dog Nutrition Pets
There are so many terms to understand when it comes to human food. Pet food labels aren't much easier. Luckily, there’s this handy glossary to help consumers understand a few basic terms we often see on labels.
Food Labels

In the pet food world, by-products are often the leftovers from human food manufacturing.


The short answer: By-products are secondary products. Basically, they are what is left over once the product we are really harvesting or producing, has been created. In the pet food labels world, by-products are often the leftovers from human food manufacturing.
The longer answer : Many raw foods are processed in order to create a final product for human consumption. In an effort to diminish waste these secondary products are then used for animal consumption. It doesn’t necessarily mean they lack nutritional value. It just means they aren’t part of the original primary product. Bran is an example. Wheat bran is a byproduct of the process of milling flour. It’s used for human and animal consumption.
Why it matters. Byproducts are controversial for several reasons. One concern is that products not fit for human consumption should not be fit for animal consumption as animals deserve the same opportunity for primary food as any other living being. There are also concerns over disease transmission, health, and the economics of food production. For some, aesthetics matter. Some foods are not considered appetizing, although they may contain nutritional value. Byproducts may be internal organs and pieces of the carcass like tendons and tissue that are not used in human consumption.
2-6 Food Labels

Yes, we do deserve the same opportunity for primary food as anyone else.


The short answer: The ingredient isn’t synthetic. The materials are either naturally occurring or they maintain their natural origin even though they may be exposed to some processing. The longer answer: an ingredient derived from plants, animals, or mined sources. It can be something that has been subject to certain types of processing including, physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation. It cannot be called natural if it has been produced through a chemically synthetic process. It also cannot contain any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic.
Why it matters. It’s a pretty grey area because the controversy is rooted in opinion. Many feel that natural is better because there is such a history of well-intentioned man-made materials turning out the be harmful and cancer-causing. However, there are plenty of people who support the use of synthetic ingredients, while noting that there are plenty of naturally occurring substances that can be incredibly dangerous and toxic to humans and animals. Synthetics allow us to create materials that will better suit our needs without the limits of natural compounds. Wherever we fall on the spectrum, knowing whether ingredients are natural or not is important and therefore is commonly added as a voluntary label.
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It cannot be called natural if it has been produced through a chemically synthetic process.


The short answer: The term ‘organic’ is widely used, but commonly misunderstood. It refers to the way food is handled during the production process, which means growing plants and animals for food and then harvesting them. The USDA organic label ensures that 95% of the ingredients are organic.
The longer answer : Organic foods are grown and harvested in a way that is aligned with cultural norms, biological needs, and with mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources. The process also need to promote an ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. The degree to which all these terms and processes are met is determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge, and synthetic fertilizers common to non-organic methods are restricted or eliminated from the organic production process.
Why it matters . Our understanding of biodiversity as well as our cultural practices and attitudes toward our food change over time. What was considered an acceptable and safe means of food handling or slaughter a decade ago, isn’t the same now. Regulations have to change according to the popular understanding of, for example, what is humane and how much being humane matters. Another example is our understanding of what synthetic fertilizers do, whether it is causing a negative outcome, and how much that negative outcome matters. The organic label on human food and on pet food labels, is a measure of the preferences of two segments of the population. One values natural solutions that come at a premium because more agriculture and livestock will not survive without the use of some fertilizers and medications. The other values efficient production methods that produce more food at a price more people can afford.
4-6 - Food Labels

The term ‘organic’ refers to the way food is handled during the production process, which means growing plants and animals for food and then harvesting them.

cover-5 -Food LabelsA great option for all dog families is EcoEats . It’s a dehydrated food, which means it’s one step away from and the closest we can get to giving our pups nothing but fresh, whole foods. And it’s all-natural, grain-free, gluten-free, allergen-free, preservative-free, and vet-approved, with no byproducts, and it serves all life stages. Phew! That’s a lot of goodness packed in a single bag. Plus, it’s formulated to taste delicious to dogs. Check out our EcoEats pet food labels and we are confident you'll be impressed.

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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*Results may vary based on factors such as age, size and physical condition of your pet.