Ever wondered what it means when you contemplate the purchase of pet foods labeled “human grade”? 

I’ve always thought it a murky designation given the FDA’s lax regulation of pet food. When even our human supermarket fare gives off mixed signals on the labeling of everything from “green” and “organic” to “heart healthy” and “lower fat,” can you blame me for my yellow-eyed perplexity?

I mean, when a Dorito is considered a “human grade” food, I’ve got to wonder whether this moniker actually means anything.

So what exactly makes a pet food worthy of human consumption according to the food industry powers that be? Is it...

a) the digestibility of the ingredients? 

b) the lack of pig foot and bird beak “fillers”? or 

c) an abundance of laboratory testing for ensured wholesomeness? 

Apparently it’s... 

d) none of the above. 

No, “human grade” doesn’t mean that your pet’s food isn’t full of the standard corn and soy fillers. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s automatically better for your pets than the other foods out there. But it does mean that the ingredients were handled in accordance with safety standards the FDA requires for our human foods. 

In other words, that beef carcass that fell off the line and had to get the factory-floor blood washed off it, the downer cow that had to be condemned, goods from the processing plant that failed its recent inspection and might otherwise have to trash its amassed protein...all this is pet food acceptable but not suitable for human consumption. 

In case you’ve been reading PetConnection’s blog, you’ll recognize that I’m late to the party on this topic. Earlier this month, VIN (the Veterinary Information Network) produced a great news piece on this topic and PetConnection praised it roundly about a week ago. Good stuff in Gina’s post (as always) but VIN’s original is the can’t-miss read. 

Here’s the money quote from VIN’s news piece:

“Human grade” has no formal legal definition. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine has taken the position that if every ingredient in a product is edible, meaning that it was processed according to rules of sanitation required of food sold to people, then the product may be labeled “human grade,” said Dr. William Burkholder, a veterinary medical officer and the agency’s resident pet nutrition expert.

The key point to remember: “no formal legal definition.” Hmmm...could it be that’s because the FDA’s oversight of pet food has never extended to its wholesomeness and safety? I dunno, but that’s what this “human grade” news piece made me think.

I agree, there’s nothing wrong with feeding ground up bird beaks and feet. There’s no crime in the hair and feathers that may “taint” your pet’s food. After all, your average housecat would eat the whole mouse, leathery tail, spiky teeth and all. But when there’s no due process for assessing the safety of your pet’s food beyond calling it “human grade” when human safety standards are met, it calls the entire system of pet food production into question...for me, at least.