Now that you know the difference between chicken by-product, chicken meal and chicken meat, it’s time to understand the loopholes that pet food companies use in the packaging of their product. As we all know, marketing can make dog foods seem more premium than they are. What manufacturers don’t show on the label is how these pure meat ingredients are prepared. To speak to this, we have to talk a little bit about the manufacturing process itself.
Typically, all of the ingredients, including proteins, carbohydrates, superfoods and vitamin and mineral packs are all mixed together and carefully baked into what is called a preconditioner, before it is pushed through a machine called an extruder.
The preconditioner cooks the mixture by adding steam and water. The result is the familiar kibble coming out of the extruder, which is then subsequently dried. Fat is added after drying. This is the same process for making many of the breakfast cereals.
The final product has a moisture level of around 10%. Going in, chicken meat has about 75% moisture. But, as we mentioned above, the preconditioner elevates the cooking temperature with the addition of steam and water. Chicken meat will have most of the water cooked out, but chicken meal that is 300% to 400% more nutrient dense to begin with stays the same.
By taking that large percentage of water out of the chicken meat, it now falls down on the ingredient label. But the label still lists it first, and labels are regulated by AAFCO, right? The loophole here is that AAFCO mandates the ingredients be listed in the order of wet matter ingredients first. That means chicken, no matter how little of it there is in the bag.
This is what pet food manufacturers don’t tell you and frankly wouldn’t want you to know. If this process were broadcast and regulations adjusted, manufacturers would have to move their real meat products far down on the ingredients list. Meat protein would no longer appear as the mainstay of their product.
Why is this allowed? Why can a product have chicken meal as the first ingredient while another lists chicken, despite the obvious difference in quantity? Certainly the product with chicken meal makes a far greater contribution to the total protein value of the product than the one with chicken as the first ingredient.
Both are providing the same profile of amino acids, or what we refer to as “protein building blocks,” right? Actually, they’re provided in far different amounts than advertised on the label.
Also, keep in mind that when formulating a recipe with real meat proteins, only a very limited amount can be used because of it ability to gum up the manufacturing equipment. It’s actually roughly a maximum of 35% wet matter weight.
Here’s the process of preparing chicken meat for dog food in a nutshell.
- You start with 100lbs of chicken protein
- Only 35lbs of it can be real chicken meat because of the equipment
- Then, you take that 75% water out during the preconditioner process
- That leaves us with just under 9lbs of protein from that real chicken
The real chicken falls down the list of ingredients, likely below even carbohydrates in the final formula. But not on the packaging, because of the wet matter ingredient rule.
For chicken meal, 65% or 65 lbs remain after the manufacturing process.
So, is there any benefit to using real chicken or real meat products in dog foods?
To us? Not so much. Chicken meat and chicken meal are essentially the same product. Meat is delivered to the manufacturer in a wet form, whether it’s frozen or refrigerated, while meal is delivered to the plant in a dry form.
Both are derived from the same chickens and chicken parts, yet are able to be used in the manufacturing process in different amounts.
To us, the quality of the chicken is more important.
A good chicken provider can ensure that the product is delivered in a bacteria-free manner with a high percentage of meat and low amount of bone. A high-quality provider of chicken meal will deliver meal products that are also bacteria-free, with a guaranteed analysis that is high in meat protein and low in bone.
The lesson here is that chicken meal is a much more nutrient dense, and used in much higher quantities in a higher quality dog food formula. On the other hand, chicken meat can only be used in very small amounts in the manufacturing process, and when this process takes place, the water content is cooked off—leaving very little chicken in the final product. Yet, because of packaging rules and marketing, it can look just as good on the label.
Have more questions about chicken meal? Send us a message. We’d love to keep discussing this very important topic.