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It also bears mentioning that no objective scientific evidence has yet demonstrated that feeding Grain Free, Natural, Holistic, Organic, or Raw diets to otherwise healthy pets, when compared to conventional diets, leads to a better outcome for the pet. And one can easily test this for oneself by trying to guess what a random sample of people feed their pet just by looking at the pet, before asking the owner.
Meat vs. Meal
Many pet owners are overwhelmed with conflicting information from varying sources regarding protein sources in pet foods. Many people have been led to believe that whole meat is better than meat meal, just based on the name. This is simply not true. As with all ingredients, the origin determines the quality. Meat meal is just like whole meat in that when it comes from a well-known provider and is of good quality, it can be an excellent source of protein. Meat meal is actually a more concentrated source of protein due to the fact that it does not contain the water content of whole meat, and therefore can be added in greater quantities to dry foods to achieve a higher protein content than whole meat because of the limitations of manufacturing machinery in their ability to include water beyond certain amounts. Depending on personal preference as to the type of diet fed (raw, homemade, canned vs. dry,) meat meal can provide a very economical source of high quality protein.
The AAFCO definitions of what constitutes “meats” and “meals” are:
Meat - "Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."
Meat Meal - "Meat meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for by this definition…. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin, it must correspond thereto."
Poultry - "Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto. If the bone has been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed term."
Poultry Meal - "Poultry meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto." (“By-products” meals are those that include offal, bones, undeveloped eggs in the case of poultry, etc.)
Fish - There is no AAFCO definition for fish, either generic or by species.
Fish Meal - "Fish meal is the clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, either or both, with or without the extraction of part of the oil. If it contains more than 3% salt (NaCl), the amount of salt must constitute a part of the product name, provided that in no case must the salt content of this product exceed 7%. The label shall include guarantees for minimum crude protein, minimum crude fat, maximum crude fiber, minimum phosphorus (p) and minimum and maximum calcium (Ca). If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."
Because of the variation in meal content, and in meat and meal quality, purchasing a food from a well-known company who stands behind their product and has the feeding trials and evidence to support its quality is best. Consulting a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist is always helpful. In some aspects of pet food, a little research is worth the time to avoid manufacturer marketing and cultural hype
Corn (and other grains)
In recent years corn has been described as a low quality “filler” in pet foods, and implicated as the culprit in pets with food allergies (typically by competitor food companies). In reality, corn provides a nutritious, affordable source of carbohydrate for energy, essential amino and fatty acids for healthy skin, coat and immune system function, and a variety of other nutrients. These nutrients are released during the manufacturing process, and are easily absorbed and utilized when included in complete diets.
With regard to corn as an allergen, few veterinarians or veterinary nutritionists believe that corn is a highly allergic food. They often cite the fact that other common ingredients, like wheat, dairy, soy, and beef, are much more frequently associated with food allergies. Moreover, we must remember that the problem in patients with allergies is with the immune system of the individual rather than with any external substance, which has no effect on those with healthy immune systems. For those pets that are proven to be sensitive to ingredients in foods through feeding elimination trails, the ingredient should obviously be avoided, but otherwise it remains a cost-efficient, quality nutrient source for pet foods.