Grain-free, gluten-free: ensuring your petfood claims stand up to scrutiny
There may not be any government regulations for these claims in petfood, but it’s wise to consider certain factors to make sure your products stay ahead of the game
No observer of the petfood market can miss the pervasiveness of claims such as "grain-free" and "gluten-free" on dog and cat food labels today. Frankly, though experts can reasonably disagree even in consideration of the same set of facts in my opinion there is a lack of scientific evidence that these qualities are of truly meaningful benefit to the average pet. Regardless of my perspective, the appeal of these types of claims to some facets of the pet-owning public is undeniable, so the incentive for manufacturers to capitalize on this marketing strategy is significant.
Although I am not aware of any regulations, policies or other official documents from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) pertinent to these claims as they apply to petfoods, there are important factors to consider when making a claim in order for it to survive possible regulatory scrutiny.
“Grain-free” claims began to appear on petfood labels mostly as a euphemism for "low-carb." Because AAFCO policy effectively disallows claims regarding carbohydrate content, a means to convey the concept by implicating grains as the culprits facilitated the popularity of this niche. Of course many of the replacement ingredients for grains (e.g., potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, legumes) can also be high in starches, which muted this purported benefit. Still, the perception of grains as a negative took hold, with some espousing other potential benefits of a grain-free feeding regimen (e.g., more "natural," avoidance of mycotoxins). Rightly or wrongly, many…