Pet food toxin levels ranked for 71 dog, cat food brands

The lab tested for 130 potentially toxic industrial and environmental chemicals, including the dangerous heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.

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(Andrea Gantz)
(Andrea Gantz)

Clean Label Project contracted an independent laboratory to analyze more than 900 of the most popular dog and cat foods from 71 brands, according to a press release. The lab tested for 130 potentially toxic chemicals, including the dangerous heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, and adulterants such as melamine.

The pet food contamination report lists the top and bottom 10 pet food and treats for each category and notes overall trends. The lists are publicly available with a rating of one, three or five stars.

Clean Label Project tested the most purchased dog and cat food products, both wet and dry, and dog and cat treats as reported by Nielsen for 2016. All of the products tested were purchased online and off store shelves.

10 pet foods ranked as low in contaminants by the Clean Label Project

  1. SmallBatch Pets Frozen Turkey Batch Sliders Dry Dog Food
  2. Sojos Raw Made Easy Complete Turkey Recipe
  3. Sojos Wild Wild Boar Recipe Dry Dog Food
  4. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Chewy’s Chicken Dinner Patties
  5. SmallBatch Pets Freeze Dried Raw Duck Batch Dry Dog Food
  6. The Honest Kitchen Grain Free Preference Base Mix Dry Dog Food
  7. Sojos Raw Made Easy Pre-Mix Original Recipe Dry Dog Food
  8. Eagle Pack Lage and Giant Breeds Natural Dry Dog Food
  9. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Dandy Lamb Dinner Patties Dry Dog Food
  10. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Simply Venison Dinner Patties

Pet foods with highest levels of unwanted chemicals

Clean Label Project reported lead levels in some pet food at 16 times the concentration of lead in Flint, Michigan, USA’s tainted drinking water and arsenic in concentrations of 555 times higher than the maximum contaminant level for human drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Image courtesy Clean Label Project

Clean Label Project suggested that a significant disconnect exists between what pet product consumers believe they are paying for and the products they actually receive. Many of the claims made on product labels aren’t regulated, such as “human-grade,” “highest quality ingredients” and “natural,” and are open to interpretation by consumers and brands, according to the Clean Label Project. The organization suggested that that price is not even a reliable indicator of "purity."

Contrary to Clean Label Project's assertion, pet food brands may not have much room to interpret certain claims. In 2016, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) adopted a new definition and guidelines for use of the term "human grade" on pet food labels

AAFCO has had a working definition and guidance for "natural" marketing claims on pet foods for decades, wrote David Dzanis, CEO of Regulatory Discretion in Petfood Industry, although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no formal regulations around the use of the term for foods for human consumption or pet foods.

“Companies may be unaware these chemicals are in their products, as many of these tests are not routine or required, but that doesn’t make the presence of these toxins any less dangerous,” said Jackie Bowen, Clean Label Project executive director, in a press release. “The real question is, now that they do know, what are they going to do about it?”

Clean Label Project Methodology

All the products Clean Label Project evaluated in the pet food contamination report were blind tested by Ellipse Analytics, an independent chemistry lab. Pet food contamination results were verified by two additional labs through random sampling. Blind data was then analyzed by Clean Label Project’s Technical Advisory Board of veterinarians, statisticians, epidemiologists and food safety scientists before being published. 

Over 900 products were tested from 74 brands including: 9 lives, Acana, American Farms, Artemis, Authority, Bil-Jac, Blue Dog Bakery, Blue Buffalo, Canidae, Canine Carry Outs, Catswell, Cesar, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance, Dingo, Dog for Dog, Dogswell, Eagle Pack, Earthborn Holistic, Feline Holistic Select, Freshpet, Fromm, Full Moon, Goodlife, Gravy Trains, Greenies, Halo, Henne Pet Food, Hill’s Science Diet, Hi-Tek Rations, Holistic Select, I and Love and You, Iams, Just Food for Dogs, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Lotus, Meaty Bone, Meow Mix, Milk-Bone, Milo’s Kitchen, Nature’s Logic, Nature’s Variety, Newman’s Own, Nudges, Nulo, Nunn-Better, NutriSource, Nutro, Old Mother Hubbard, Open Farm, Orijen, Pedigree, Petcurean, Pounce, Premium Edge, Primal Pet Food, Professional +, Pup-Peroni, Purina, Rachel Ray Nutrish, SmallBatch Pets, Smart Bones, Snausages, Sojos, Solid Gold, Stella and Chewy’s, The Honest Kitchen, Three Dog Bakery, Timberwolf, TruDog, Wellness and Whiskas.


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