Chicken Meal: What You Should Know

The topic of meat or protein sources versus meat or protein “meal” sources is one that has been discussed at great length over the past decade or so. Yet most conversations have remained cloudy, lacking information or insight. Don’t worry. We’re here to cut through the smokescreen involving protein and protein meals, and reveal the truths that are very much disguised or hidden by manufacturers.

About ten years ago, pet food manufacturers were asked, “Why don’t you use real chicken in your product?” Now this is a very easily answered question, depending on how much detail or variables you want to factor in.

The industry answered by saying, “We do use real chicken. It’s just in the form of chicken meal.” Immediately, customers came back with complaints about how only parts and pieces of chickens are used in chicken meal, and that nobody really knows what is in chicken meal.

What the public was referring to was actually chicken by-product meal. This is where the somewhat unknown parts and pieces of chicken come into play. Now, this is a far cry from chicken meal or chicken meat, so to discuss this further, we have to define what we are looking at.


A Look into the Guidelines

The guidelines that the pet food industry uses are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. AAFCO is the governing body in regards to animal feeds in the United States of America. It is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. This is accomplished by developing and implementing uniform laws, standards and definitions and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacturing labeling, distribution and sale of animal feeds, including dog feeds. The three meat forms are defined by AAFCO as:

Chicken By-Product Meal

  • Must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera
  • Free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice
  • If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto

This is similar to “meat by-products.”


Meat By-Products

  • The parts of the bird that would not be part of a raw, dressed whole carcass
  • That may include the giblets (heart, gizzard and liver) but also other internal organs, heads and feet

Chicken Meat Meal & Poultry Meal

  • The dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone
  • Derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof
  • Exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails
  • It shall be suitable for use in animal food
  • If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto

Basically the same as “poultry,” but in rendered form, so most of the water and fat has been removed to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.


Chicken Meat & Poultry

  • The clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone
  • Derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof
  • Exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails
  • It shall be suitable for use in animal food
  • If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto
  • If the bone has been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed term

In other words, chicken meat contains the parts of the bird you would find if you purchased a whole chicken or turkey at the grocery store. Frankly, it often consists of the less profitable parts of the bird, such as backs and necks. Unlike “meat,” it may include the bone, which when ground can serve as a good source of calcium. If the bone has been removed (typically by mechanical separation), it can be declared as “deboned poultry.” If a particular species of bird is used, it may be declared by the more common name, such as “chicken” or “turkey.”

We see by definition that chicken by-product meal is the poorest range of the chicken protein families because of it is allowed to contain such a broad spectrum of chicken parts—including those that are not considered part of a raw dressed carcass. Also, this may include heads and feet, which could equal out to by-product meal that is very low in any usable meat product. That could constitute a large portion of a general diet, and that is not good.

Now that we’ve determined by-product meal to be subpar for our pets, it’s time to consider chicken meat and meal. Chicken meat must be better than chicken meal, right? Well, that is where the real shenanigans start.

Boiling down chicken is essentially taking a roaster and grinding it up, mixing everything together. The water content averages roughly 75%, along with 18% protein and 5% fat. Take this ground chicken and carefully dry it to a moisture level of 10%. The protein content is now 65% and the fat level is 12%. This product is what we define as chicken meal.

Keep in mind that chicken meals come in roughly 20 different grades from 20% to 75% protein, depending on how much meat, skin or bone are in the ground-up chicken before the drying process begins. It would seem plausible that feeding a pet a whole, non-rendered chicken would be good. It would give the owner the feeling that the pet is eating somewhat pure chicken in their dog’s diet, somewhat similar to human food.

This is what some pet owners believe: they feel that chicken or any other pure “meat” ingredient is a superior to chicken meal. However, these ingredients make up only a very small, almost minute, part of the total dog food. And, most of how chicken meat is described comes down to marketing.

Read on to see how manufacturing meats and meals can change the quality.

Categories: Digestive Health, General, Macro Minerals

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