Organic dog foods are very trendy right now, but they also tend to be expensive. While high-quality dog food is usually worth the extra cost since it helps ensure good health, all organic foods are not of equivalent quality. Before you choose an organic food for your dog, you need to know what the term means and what it does not and understand the truth behind label claims.
Requirements for Organic Dog Foods and Treats
Being organic does not necessarily make a food healthy. Organic refers to how a food is processed rather than its nutritional value. Because organic foods are strictly regulated, however, some experts consider them safer than standard foods with ingredients of equivalent nutritional value.
To be allowed to use the term, “organic”, dog food manufacturers must comply with the same USDA labeling standards as the manufacturers of human foods. Organic dog foods must come from a certified grower or processor who is required to adhere to standards established by the USDA’s National Organic Program. These include the following:
- No prohibited substances, including many fertilizers and pesticides.
- No genetically engineered organisms.
- No irradiation.
- No use of sewage or sludge.
- Restricted use of manure and compost.
- Outdoor access for livestock.
- Pasture access for cattle and other ruminants.
- Organic livestock feed and supplements.
- No antibiotics, prohibited medications, growth hormones or animal byproducts for food animals.
- Regular preventative care for livestock.
- No transfer of animals between organic and standard herds or flocks.
- Buffer zones between organic and standard areas to prevent contamination.
Common Label Terms on Dog Food
Products bearing the USDA organic seal must be at least 95 percent organic by weight. Other regulations govern how producers can use various terms and phrases that describe the contents of their products. Common terms and phrases governed by USDA regulations for organic food labels are detailed below.
“100% Organic” Dog Food
If the label uses this phrase, all ingredients in the food must comply with USDA standards for organic foods. This is true whether or not the package bears the USDA seal.
“Organic” Dog Food
Whether or not it bears the USDA seal, a food labeled this way must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
Dog Food “Made With Organic Ingredients”
If this phrase is on the label of a given food, at least 70 percent of the food’s ingredients are organic. Foods labeled this way are not entitled to use the USDA organic seal.
Individual Ingredients Noted as, “Organic”
Some foods contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients but do contain some organic meats or vegetables. A manufacturer cannot claim one of these foods was, “made with organic ingredients,” but he or she can indicate in the ingredients list that specific ingredients, such as chicken or carrots, are organic.
While simply being organic does not make a food high quality, organic foods do contain fewer suspect ingredients than most standard foods. This means that an organic food might be a sound choice for your pet. Before you choose an organic dog food, however, you should carefully read the label to make sure you are getting good value for your money.