How is raw food regulated?

Exploring EU legislation for raw pet food and the key differences between commercial and homemade raw diets

by Ellen Hardy
28 November 2017, at 12:05pm

Raw feeding domestic dogs and cats has grown in popularity in the last few years. While it is a fast-growing sector of the pet food market, many veterinary professionals feel ill-informed about raw diets, sometimes dismissing them as a ‘fad’ or even reprimanding clients who admit to raw feeding.

Advocates of raw feeding suggest it’s the most natural way to feed their beloved pet – one in which the food is minimally processed and is close to what (they say) their animal would choose to eat. Detractors cite concerns over safety, like the possibility of bacterial pathogens being present on raw meat, along with concerns that it may increase exposure to parasites and that the diet may not be nutritionally complete and balanced.

Even if you wouldn’t personally choose to feed your pet a raw diet (just as you may choose not to feed a wet diet or kibble diet), it is our duty as veterinary professionals to be informed enough to discuss the topic openly and knowledgeably with clients, explaining the potential benefits and risks, along with how to pursue raw feeding in as safe and responsible way as possible, if the client so desires.

Natures Menu regards a ‘responsible raw’ pet food product to have the highest possible safety, quality and ethical standards. We are a Defra-registered raw food company, meaning we must abide by specific EU legislation that covers raw pet food manufacture.

There are over 50 pieces of legislation that govern the manufacture of pet foods, but some of the most pertinent for raw feeding relate to EU Animal by-products regulations 1069/2009 and 142/2011.

These regulations highlight a few key points when it comes to commercial raw pet food manufacture, which distinguish ‘responsible raw’ feeding from homemade diets, composed of ingredients from the supermarket or local butcher.

There is a restricted list of raw materials that Natures Menu is permitted to use in pet foods. Things like feathers, pelts, hooves and horns are not permitted because the potential pathogen risk in raw food would be too high. These animal by-products are allowed in pet food intended to be cooked.

EU legislation also dictates that all raw material used for pet food by Defra-registered companies must be gland-free, eliminating the potential for animals to develop endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism, which has occasionally been reported in dogs consuming raw thyroid tissue.

EU legislation also has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards Salmonella in raw pet food products; Defra-registered raw food manufacturers must send samples of their raw food to verified, independent labs to be tested for Salmonella. The results are sent to APHA. The agency also carries out regular inspections of the manufacturing facilities of Defra- registered raw pet food companies.

Interestingly, the zero tolerance policy for Salmonella in commercial raw pet food is stricter than the legislation for raw materials intended for human consumption, which does allow Salmonella to be present in raw meat (providing it is not Salmonella typhimurium or enteritidis), as the intention is that this meat will ultimately be cooked, thus killing the bacteria.

This is a clear difference between buying commercial raw pet food from a Defra-registered manufacturer and buying raw meat from the local butcher or supermarket to make a homemade diet.

EU legislation dictates that all raw materials used in raw pet food manufacture must be traceable, so concerns that may arise further down the line can be easily traced back to their source.

In the next article, I will discuss other potential concerns regarding raw diets, such as parasites, ensuring a raw diet is complete and balanced, and how commercial and homemade raw diets may differ in these respects.