Turtle, shark, livestock among undeclared species in cat food

Undeclared animal species in pet foods may cause both health problems and ethical concerns. Researchers looked at 138 canned cat food products from 62 brands.

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A team of researchers in Taiwan identified a variety of undeclared animal species in cat foods available on the local market. The team published their results in the journal Bioinformatics and Genomics.

Undeclared animal species in pet food cause both health and ethical concerns. Some pets may be allergic to undeclared species, such as cattle or chicken. Pet owners themselves may be opposed to the presence of certain animals’ tissues in their dogs and cats food. For example, the presence of pig in pet food could be problematic to Jewish or Muslim pet owners, likewise beef could be an issue for Hindu pet owners. For ecologically aware pet owners, silky sharks and other endangered species in pet formulations raise ethical problems.

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“To address this issue, we used DNA barcoding, a highly effective identification methodology that can be applied to even highly processed products,” the researchers wrote.

The scientists used genetic analysis to observe a specific mitochondrial RNA gene as a marker to identify species. The team looked at 138 canned cat food products from 62 brands purchased from Taiwanese retailers. Most of the products were produced in Taiwan or Thailand.

“We discovered that the majority of mislabeling incidents were related to the replacement of tuna with other species,” they wrote. “Moreover, our metabarcoding revealed that numerous undeclared ingredients were present in all examined canned products. One product contained CITES Appendix II-listed shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). Overall, we uncovered a mislabeling rate of at least 28.99%.”

Undeclared species found in cat food

Nine of the cat foods were be categorized as uncertain, while 89 were deemed correctly labeled. However, the researchers deemed the remaining 40 products as mislabeled. In these cases, either the genetically identified species was not included on the ingredient deck or was not the expected animal based on the declared ingredients.

Overall, the scientists identified 38 species not included on their respective labels.

  • 24 fish
  • two poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • three livestock (sheep/goat, cattle, and deer)
  • one reptile (softshell turtle)
  • three crustaceans
  • five mollusks

While some of these animals were clearly not supposed to be included in the formulations, others may have appeared because common names for species are not always stardardized in the Taiwanese pet food market.

“Unlike in the European Union and the USA, where there are official standardized lists of vernacular names for species used in foods and their corresponding scientific,” the scientists wrote. “Taiwanese authorities do not publish standard lists of vernacular names used in the food industry…Instead, many ‘umbrella’ terms are used in the Taiwanese market.”

For example, for Taiwanese customers, a fish represented by one character is red sea bream (Pagrus major), yet that same character can refer other marine fishes in the family Lutjanidae, commonly referred to a snappers in English.

Considering other fish, previous studies found evidence of endangered shark species in cat food. However, this study found only the endangered shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) in one sample.

Endangered species, allergens and religiously prohibited animals can cause numerous problems for pet food makers when these creatures are included in recipes without being declared on the label.

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