EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Many brands of pet food make all sorts of eye-catching claims on their labels, but shoppers should not take them at face value.
The FDA and USDA regulate certain terms on the bag or can. However, Call 12 for Action found that not all claims are regulated, or even clearly defined.
"There are a lot of buzz words out there right now that pet food companies are putting on their labels," says Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian. "It's what hot in the market."
"Organic" is one of those buzz words. The FDA says there are "no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods for pets." The USDA also does not regulate the use of the word "organic," but the agency will certify a pet product if it meets current organic standards for humans.
Neither the FDA nor the USDA have a set definition for "holistic" either. As for clams like "premium," "super premium," and "ultra premium," the agencies say these foods are "not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients."
The Pet Food Institute says manufacturers comply with current laws and keep an eye on standards set by other agencies.
"As we learn more about the nutrition requirements of cats and dogs and as new ingredients evolve, the profiles are revised," says Pet Food Institute President Duane Ekedahl.
However, Nelson says a lot of the terms may be more about marketing. For example, the phrase "natural" does not have an FDA definition. There are industry guidelines for pet food companies to follow, which say natural food should not have artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
Nelson says those guidelines do not necessarily mean pet food labeled as "natural" is better.
"You can still be using by-products," Nelson says. "You can still be using all sorts of things that might not be the best quality, but they're still natural, so you can put natural on your pet food label."
Shoppers should look for pet foods labeled "complete and balanced," which is defined by law. A company must prove its pet food contains all the nutrients necessary for a healthy dog or cat.
The USDA says its working very hard to come up with rules and regulations to define criteria for organic pet food. Experts say people with questions about a pet food should call the company, or ask their vet.
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