It’s important for consumers to understand exactly what feed grade is. Feed grade pet food isn’t all bad, it’s murky; feed grade requires consumers to trust your pet food manufacturer.

Cat and dog foods are termed ‘food’ but most are not – legally – food. Most are feed or feed grade. The exception to this is human grade pet foods; human grade pet foods – legally – are food. It’s simple to understand what a human grade pet food is – all ingredients and all manufacturing processes meet human food law. But it is not so simple with feed grade.

The legal definition of feed grade is:

“Material that has been determined to be safe, functional, and suitable for its intended use in animal food, is handled and labeled appropriately, and conforms to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act unless otherwise expressly permitted by the appropriate state or federal agency (suitable for use in animal food).”

Explaining this definition piece by piece…

With “Material that has been determined to be safe, functional, and suitable for its intended use in animal food…”
Some feed grade ingredients have been scientifically proven to be safe and functional, some have not. As an example in 2016, our consumer association ( filed a Freedom of Information Act request with FDA asking for the science proving certain feed grade ingredients are indeed safe. We asked the agency to provide documentation to the safety of dead/non-slaughtered animals or diseased animals allowed to be processed into pet food. The FDA responded with “After searching our files, we did not find the requested records.” In other words, there has been no determination that some feed grade ingredients are safe.

Some feed grade ingredients are ‘determined to be safe’ only based on historical use of the ingredients – taking no consideration of what long-term consumption of waste material (such as dead/non-slaughtered animals or diseased animals) actually does to pet health.

With “is handled and labeled appropriately…”
Feed grade ingredients or pet foods are not required to be ‘handled’ – transported, stored – the same as with human food. As an example a meat meal ingredient (chicken meal, beef meal) is delivered to a pet food company in a dump truck/trailer; not under refrigeration or in pristine conditions. There is no meat ingredient that is EVER delivered to human food in a dump truck. The term ‘handled appropriately’ means what is considered appropriate for animal food (which is not the same standard as human food).

‘Labeled appropriately’ means – as for example – chicken by-product meal should be labeled chicken by-product meal, not chicken meal. It should apply to the finished pet food – such as a feed grade pet food should be labeled as Dog Feed or Cat Feed…but…it doesn’t.

And with “conforms to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act unless otherwise expressly permitted by the appropriate state or federal agency (suitable for use in animal food).”
This means the pet food or pet food ingredient might abide by federal law, or it might not. Using the example of the pet food ingredient beef meal – beef meal is allowed through its legal definition to be sourced from non-slaughtered cattle; cattle that could have died from disease and laid in a field for 3 days, hauled to a renderer, ground and processed into a beef meal. Law says any food that contains a non-slaughtered animal in it is illegal, but…FDA says it is ‘suitable for use in animal food’.

Now…here’s the part where confusion begins.

Not all feed grade pet foods sourced ingredients from non-slaughtered animals and not all feed grade pet foods have ingredients delivered in a dump truck. Some feed grade pet foods source 100% human edible ingredients and those ingredients are safely transported and warehoused under clean, refrigerated conditions. The problem is…trying to determine who is using quality ingredients and who is not.

Consumers who purchase feed grade pet food should ask the manufacturer some questions…

  • Are meat ingredients sourced from USDA inspected and approved for human consumption meats?
  • Are vegetable and fruit ingredients sourced from human edible vegetables and fruit?
  • Are ingredients transported and warehoused under refrigeration?

And then comes the trust part. You will have to trust the pet food company is being honest with you. Not all feed grade ingredients are bad, not all are good. Some pet food companies will be honest, some will tell you what you want to hear. Ask plenty of questions to determine if you can trust your pet’s life with a feed grade pet food.

By the way, this is where working with a good independent pet food store helps. Many independent pet food stores validate the quality and country of origin of each ingredient in every pet food they sell. They do the homework for you. (Ask your independent pet food store how they determine what pet foods to sell – ask what vetting they do for each brand they sell. Do they just repeat to you the marketing from the pet food, or did they do additional homework? Many do a lot of additional homework.)

One more thing…human grade claims on a pet food website are not verified information. Regulatory authorities do not scrutinize pet food websites (they should, they are considered an extension of the label – but they don’t over see claims on websites). Ignore pictures and claims of quality on pet food websites. On the other hand, consumers can trust the claim of human grade on a pet food label has been verified.

One of the few things that regulatory authorities take seriously is a human grade claim on a pet food label – each pet food that makes this claim on their label is required to prove to the regulatory authority the pet food meets all of the legal requirements of human grade. Labels you can trust (just the words…not the pictures), websites you cannot.

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