Reading pet food labels can be confusing for many pet owners. Manufacturers like to use terms like “made with” or “organic” to make a food sound healthy, but sometimes these terms are misleading.
While the terms technically have to be true, at least in part, to be on the label, they may not tell the whole story. Something can be “made with whole food ingredients” and still have poor quality ingredients or additives that are dangerous for your pet. Something may have “organic” ingredients in part, while still including numerous chemical preservatives.
Human grade is one of those terms that some pet owners find confusing. Does this term mean that this type of pet food is actually safer or healthier for your pet, or is it just clever marketing? What is human grade pet food, and how is it different from feed grade? This guide will explore these terms, what they mean and how you can transition to high-quality human grade pet food for your dog or cat.
Understanding the Term “Human Grade” Pet Food
For a food to make the claim that it’s human grade, it must meet all of the 100+ safety standards set by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. This does not simply mean the ingredients are safe for human consumption: It also means that they remain safe throughout the entirety of production, from the farm to the manufacturing facility, through the transportation process — all the way to the point when you purchase it in the store. In other words, the food is fully human edible from start to finish.
For many years, there was little regulation of the terminology applied to pet foods, but that is changing. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization that strives to make food labeling for pet food clearer and more regulated. AAFCO says this about the terms “human grade” and “human edible”:
“For a product to be human edible, all ingredients in the product must be human edible, and the product must be manufactured, packed, and held in accordance with federal regulations in 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food. If these conditions exist, then human grade claims may be made. If these conditions do not exist, then making an unqualified claim about ingredients being human grade misbrands the product.”
This robust definition is not easy to meet. The cost of handling food in this way is high, and companies are required to submit a significant amount of documentation to prove that their production processes meet these standards. Because of the time, money, and resources required, most commercial pet food brands simply opt not to pursue human edible standards.
However, there are some reputable companies dedicated to providing high-quality human grade pet food. The Honest Kitchen was the world’s first pet food company to offer truly human grade products that adhere to the FDA, USDA, and AAFCO definitions. If you are looking for food that follows stringent requirements for quality, The Honest Kitchen proudly fits the bill, with human grade ingredients and delicious recipes that pets love.
Understanding Feed Grade Pet Food
On the other hand, feed grade cat and dog food is food that has at least one ingredient that is not considered safe for human consumption. Feed grade formulas vary significantly between brands, but most types of commercial kibble and canned dog and cat food fall into this category.
Feed grade pet foods may be made from ingredients that start off as human grade. However, along the way in the manufacturing process, they are not handled properly and begin to degrade and lose quality. This includes if the pet food company chooses to include fillers and byproducts that aren’t safe for human consumption.
For example, some pet food companies use chicken frames, which is the meat left behind on the bone of a chicken after it’s processed for human consumption. This is safe for pets. On the other hand, some pet food companies use meat from diseased, disabled, dying, or deceased animals (4D meats). It’s important to note that these meats are unsafe for humans, but are technically considered feed grade for animals. The label on a commercial pet food that uses meat from a diseased cow may say “beef,” but doesn’t detail where this less-than-appealing protein was sourced.
That is where the problem lies. Pet food labeled feed grade can be technically safe for animals to consume, but some of it contains low-quality ingredients that most well-informed pet owners wouldn’t want to give their pets. Pet food recalls show that these foods may even contain potentially deadly ingredients, such as E. coli or listeria. Without the stringent requirements of human grade labeled products, pet owners simply can’t be sure.
Benefits of Feeding Your Pet Human Grade Food
Human grade pet food offers many benefits over animal feed grade products, so it’s an appealing choice for many health-conscious pet parents. Let’s explore some of the most significant benefits of high-quality human grade pet food.
Human Grade Pet Food Usually Offers Higher-Quality Protein
Because both dogs and cats need significant levels of protein in their food, it’s important to make the distinction between high- and low-quality protein sources.
While most pet foods have veggies and some fruits, the protein is where the contrast between human grade and feed grade foods is often most noticeable. When a company processes a protein source, it separates the human grade meat from the inedible meat. Rather than throwing it away, the company sends the inedible portion to be made into pet food. As a result, feed grade pet food may contain meat byproducts, which means the protein source is lower quality.
Balanced Human Grade Food Is Great for Digestion
A balanced human grade pet food formula is often easier to digest than feed grade food. The fresh vegetable and fruit content provides a higher fiber concentration, and the higher-quality protein is less likely to cause an upset stomach. Human grade food is also free from high levels of chemicals and pesticides that can make digestion more difficult.
In some studies, researchers have found that pets that eat human grade pet food create less fecal matter than those that eat feed grade food — two to three times less, in fact, which is a significant amount. This may indicate that the nutrients are more easily digested in human grade diets, leaving less behind as waste.
Human Grade Pet Food Offers More Nutrients That Support Shiny, Healthy Coats
One of the best parts about owning a pet is sitting down to pet their rich, silky, soft coats. Yet some pet owners find that, over time, their pet’s coat starts to lose some of its luster, which may be due in part to a poor diet.
Pet food made with completely human grade ingredients is less processed and typically more nutrient-rich than feed grade pet food. These additional nutrients can help your pet develop healthier skin and a shinier, softer coat. While feed grade food manufacturers often add nutrients to make their labels look good, it’s worth noting that the source quality matters here, too: Naturally occurring nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and high-quality protein are more beneficial than synthetic (added) nutrients.
There Are No Unknown Additives in Human Grade Pet Food
Do you want to feed your pet food you recognize, or food that contains unknown, untested ingredients? Human grade pet food will not contain the mystery additives and preservatives that are often found in commercial feed grade pet food products. Remember that in order for it to be human grade, the food must be safe for humans to eat — and thus, the ingredients will be those that you can research and understand.
Are Pets That Eat Human Grade Pet Food Healthier?
Simply feeding human grade pet food can’t ensure a healthy, balanced diet. For your pet to be as healthy as possible, you must feed a well-rounded diet that has the right balance of protein, carbs, fiber, and nutrients (which will vary depending on the species and breed of animal you have). Just because a food says it is human grade does not necessarily mean it has the right nutrient balance. Here again, quality is key.
Research finds that human grade food is more digestible and helps support good gut health in dogs. Based on stool testing, these foods appear to increase nutrient absorption — which means that your pet is able to pull more nutrients from their food. This, in turn, can lead to better health. Again, you still need to make sure that your pet is getting the right balance and blend of nutrients, but the quality of those nutrients is much higher with human grade food.
For example, The Honest Kitchen performs stringent laboratory testing to ensure our food is safe and free from dangerous bacteria, like E. Coli. We also use the highest-quality ingredients, then carefully protect them through the manufacturing process, meeting the same high safety standards as though we were making food for humans. This reduces the risk of contamination and lessens your pet’s chances of contracting food-borne illnesses.
Sadly, the feed grade pet food industry doesn’t have the same strict regulations found in the human food industry. As a result, the quality of ingredients and the nutritional profile of the ingredients are simply not up to par in many feed grade products. If you choose human grade, you can be confident that all FDA and USDA regulations are followed, giving your pet the best possible nutritional profile for their food.
Yes, pets can survive on feed grade products, but with human grade pet food, they often start to truly thrive.
How To Make the Switch to Human Grade
If you are ready to make the switch to human grade food for your pet, it’s important to do so in the right way. Even though you are transitioning from something less healthy to something healthier, switching cold turkey could affect the flora of your pet’s gut, causing stomach upset. It’s always better to make a gradual switch over seven days.
To do this, you will mix a portion of the new food with a portion of the old food slowly until the pet is eating 100% new food by the final day of the transition. Here is a sample transition schedule:
- Day 1: 25% new diet, 75% old diet
- Day 3: 50% new diet, 50% old diet
- Day 5: 75% new diet, 25% old diet
- Day 7: 100% new diet
Keep in mind that your pet could be allergic to an ingredient in any food you serve, even if it’s completely safe for humans and most other pets. This gradual schedule gives you the chance to watch for signs of allergies: itchy skin, paws, or ears, and digestive upset including vomiting and diarrhea.
If you do notice any problems, talk to your vet to determine what the problem ingredient might be and ask how (and if) you can make the switch more safely.
Try The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Pet Food Today
Pet food labeling can be complicated and unfortunately, misleading. Sadly, with little regulation in the pet food industry, you may find it difficult to discern what type of pet food is best to feed your pet. Clever (but dishonest) marketing terminology makes this decision even harder to navigate.
As a pet owner, it’s important to read pet food nutrition labels diligently and stay informed about the regulations (or lack thereof) affecting the food you choose for your furry friends. There are hundreds of feed grade and human grade options available on the market, but keep in mind that ingredient quality is an important factor.
The Honest Kitchen was the world’s first human grade pet food manufacturer, and today we continue to provide quality pet food made from wholesome, edible ingredients that even the pickiest eaters enjoy. Browse The Honest Kitchen’s complete line of human grade dog and cat food today!