How to determine food & supplement quality

by Nicole Cammack
June 19, 2020

Transparency, or Lack Thereof

Transparency has become a feel-good word for those who don’t know any better. However, for those that do, it’s become a cringe-worthy tagline that is an Achilles heel. In some ways, by leaning into companies who claim to be transparent, without holding them accountable to transparency one could argue that consumers and retailers are their own worst enemy.

The fact of the matter is that many products within the pet industry, including food and supplements, lack measurable transparency, and quality control. Meaning that their benefits, or claim of benefit, could be overshadowed by poor sourcing, toxins, and/or formulation errors.  As we have seen in the vitamin D and melamine recalls, pathogen recalls, as well as various other contaminant and formulation issues. 

Lack of Accountability & Standards

Pet food and supplement manufacturers have gotten away with cutting corners and not doing their due diligence because they have not been asked or been held accountable for nutritional adequacy and claims made.

Major organizations such as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), and the Pet Nutrition Alliance (PNA) do not have our best interests or the consumers best interests at heart. There are minimal standards, and even with those, it is impossible for them to police everyone all the time. Since standards are low and have multiple holes they would not mitigate many of the issues we see – there is a need for more.

These organizations allow foods, supplements, and etc., to be able to come to market with little to no adequacy testing, digestibility, or feeding trials. In fact, some of these organizations allow their standards, recommendations, and guidance to be influenced by corporate funding on various levels.

Unfortunately, many times animals have to become sick or die in order for red flags to go up to initiate an investigation to determine the source of the problem. And usually, the problem is something that would have been easily prevented with proper procedures in place. 

Ask Questions Verifying Pet Food Quality:

  • Do you conduct a 3rd party nutrition analysis on all of your finished products?
    • Do your products meet an AAFCO profile?
    • Are you willing to provide a copy of that analysis? Note that most companies are deceptive and provide Target analysis, which is predicted. This does not equal a typical analysis, be careful
  • Do you conduct 3rd party digestibility studies for each of your formulas?
    • Do you make those publicly available?
  • Do you source any ingredients from China? Are you willing to provide certificates of origin? 
    • Note that ingredients from China are not necessarily bad as long as they are well-sourced, they are ensuring and verifying quality and purity via analysis and contamination testing. 
  • Do you complete analysis of your final product to ensure the formulation is correct and ensure there are not any contamination issues?

Keep in mind that digestibility and typical nutrient analysis mean nothing without the other. Digestibility shows the amount of nutrients absorbed. The analysis shows the amount of nutrients contained within a product.

Beware of the word proprietary – this does not hold a strong argument and may imply a lack of testing, or inadequate testing.

Ask Questions Verifying Supplement Quality:

When looking for any supplement for yourself or your pets you must ask the manufacturing company the following questions:

  • Do you inbound test your raw and/or concentrated ingredients for contaminants such as heavy metals, fertilizers, and other agricultural chemicals?
  • Do you test your ingredients, specifically active ingredients to ensure their concentrations are correct?
  • Do you source any ingredients from China? 
    • Are you willing to provide certificates of origin? 
    • Note that ingredients from China are not necessarily bad as long as they are well-sourced and they are verifying quality and purity. 
  • Do you complete analysis of your final product to ensure the formulation is correct and ensure there are not any contamination issues? This is important to ensure that active ingredients match the label.
    • Are you willing to provide an analysis for each lot/batch of your final product?
  • Do your company and products meet requirements to utilize the NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) seal?
    • I would not recommend supplement companies that are not members of the NASC, especially CBD companies.

Advice to Consumers

This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch. The key take away is that consumers should start asking questions of manufacturers in order to encourage change. The reality is that very few companies can answer these questions because most do not adequately test their products at all stages. By opening up a dialogue about the importance of doing so can help prevent future issues within the industry.

If companies are unwilling to transparently answer these questions or use the excuse of information being proprietary I would strongly suggest that you find another brand. Not being transparent or testing products when it comes to ensuring safety is unacceptable. Brands that are not meeting these standards could potentially be poisoning the market for other companies who do their due diligence. As consumers demand better.