Pet food manufacturers should tell shoppers exactly what’s in their products, say researchers who found several brands contained unspecified animal species.

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Various proportions of beef, chicken and pork not explicitly identified on the product labels were also found by researchers from the University of Nottingham.

Kin-Chow Chang, professor of veterinary molecular medicine, who led the research, said the pet food industry needed to show greater transparency to customers in the disclosure of the types of animal proteins in products.

“Full disclosure of animal contents will allow more informed choices to be made on purchases, which are particularly important for pets with food allergies, reducing the risk of product misinterpretation by shoppers and avoiding potential religious concerns,” he said.

The researchers determined the relative presence of DNA from cow, chicken, pig and horse in 17 leading dog and cat wet foods and compared their results with the animal species details disclosed on the labels.

While no horse DNA was detected, a major finding was the relative abundance of proteins from unspecified animal species in 14 of the 17 products. Among these 14 samples, cow, porcine and chicken DNA were found in various proportions and combinations, but were not explicitly identified on the labels.

Seven products with prominent descriptions containing the term “with beef” comprised between 14% and 56% of cow DNA. Two of the seven were found to contain more cow DNA (greater than 50%) than pig and chicken DNA combined. With the remaining five samples, three contained more pig than cow DNA.

Another six headline labels that highlighted “chicken” or “with chicken” contained as little as 1% to a full 100% of chicken DNA, and two contained more pig or cow than chicken DNA.

The Nottingham team says while the labelling is within regulatory guidelines, its findings highlight weaknesses that could adversely affect pets and their owner expectation.

Prof Chang added: “It may be a surprise to shoppers to discover prominently described contents such as ‘beef’ on a tin could, within the guidelines, be a minor ingredient, have no bovine skeletal muscle (meat) and contain a majority of unidentified animal proteins.”

The study was limited by the relative amount of DNA detected for each host species calculated as a percentage of total detected DNA. This meant the figures did not represent the species DNA content as a percentage of the entire product. This was because DNA from species other than cow, horse, pig and chicken would not have been recognised.

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