Many pet owners have heard of the terms “natural pet food”, “organic pet food”, but what do they mean? Does “natural” mean “organic”?
The definition of "natural" pet food actually varies among different countries. According to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), their official definition for “natural” is:
NATURAL - A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.
However, AAFCO allows the addition of synthetic vitamins and minerals in natural pet food. Since pet foods have to undergo high temperature and high pressure cooking, some vitamins and minerals will be lost in the process. Pet food manufacturers will add vitamins and minerals back as supplements. But extracting vitamins and minerals from natural sources can be very costly, the vitamin and mineral supplements in the market today are often synthetic.
Some countries have stricter requirements for “natural” food, even if the ingredients come from natural sources, they cannot be called “natural” if they are processed.
In short, natural pet foods mean that they are free from artificial colors, flavors, chemical preservatives and other synthetic additives. Therefore, they are a more healthy food for your pets.
But “natural” is not equivalent to “organic”, so some pet owners who demand top quality products would look for organic food for their pets.
So what is organic food? Organic means that no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used to grow the crops, the farmland should be free of chemical inputs for a couple of years (usually 3 years or more). No antibiotics and growth hormones should be used to raise the livestock, and there are certain requirements for animal welfare. Plants and animals should not be genetically modified. No sludge sewage is allowed to water the crops, and the farming practices should cause minimal impact on the environment. The food or food products cannot undergo irradiation. There are also strict regulations to trace and monitor food production from farmland to finished products. Organic foods need to be certified by certification organizations in order to have the “certified organic” label. There are many organic certification organizations internationally. In the USA, organic certification is regulated by USDA. USDA Organic label means that the product has over 95% organic ingredients.
There are many organic pet foods in the market, but some only put the word “Organic” in the brand name without organic certification. The main ingredient of some "organic" pet foods are not organic at all. For example, some manufacturers do not use organic meat but add organic grains and organic vegetables in the food. Consumers should be careful in choosing organic foods. First of all, check if the product has organic label (preferably USDS / EU Organic Certification). Secondly, check the ingredient list and see if the first few ingredients are organic (the first 5 ingredients are the most important as they make up the major portion of the food).
In summary, “natural” does not mean “organic”. Organic certification needs to follow strict guidelines. Having the name “organic” in the brand name or product name does not necessarily mean that it is really an organic product.