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Pet food. Weight claims

Pets - like their human friends - are largely obese or overweight. This prompted the manufacturers of pet food to develop dedicated products, whose labels and advertisements are often 'over the top' with respect to the rules in force.

Obesity and overweight in pets

The Association for Prevention of animal obesity (APOP), in a study conducted in the USA in 2017, considered excess weight to be a health emergency affecting 52,7% of dogs and 57,9% of cats.

The situation in Europe it is perhaps only slightly better. Obesity and overweight are the most common health problems among pets, according to two-thirds of veterinarians surveyed. The first causes of premature mortality, according to 96% of professionals.

Obesity and overweight they almost always derive from an imbalance between the energy consumed (in excess) through food and that actually consumed. It thus occurs in elderly animals, whose motor activity tends to be reduced, and in sterilized ones, due to the increased stimulus of hunger.

Attention to form - for the pets, as for human beings - it therefore represents a widespread health need, beyond aesthetic factors. And it has motivated the development of foods specifically aimed at maintaining or helping to reduce excess weight. To the point that, in the pet food, each product line includes at least one reference 'and "light", too''low fat'or in any case addressed to that effect.

Labels and advertising of pet foods often indulge in such claim, which unfortunately are often unfounded. Let's see why.

claim nutritional and health benefits in pet food, the rules

In the United States the use of the terms' light ','and "light", too' or 'lite',' lean 'is allowed on products whose energy value does not exceed a certain threshold (3.100 kcal / kg on dry food, 900 kcal / kg for wet food). The claim 'lean', in turn, postulates a fat content of no more than 9% on the dry side and 4% on the wet side.

In Europe the rules are more complex. First of all, all feeds intended for weight reduction are subject to the PARNUTS regulation and fall into the category of dietetic pet food. (1)

claim healthy - in both cases referring to pathologies (e.g. obesity) or specific health benefits (e.g. reduction of excess weight) - products referred to as'dietary feed'. Which must comply with the characteristics and conditions provided for by dir. 2008/38 / EC. 

Feeds in common use - whether they are complete or complementary - they can at most refer to a function of maintaining the ideal weight (cd claim functional, eg. 'helps maintain an ideal weight '), without suggesting a reduction in excess weight. Since this last wording is instead proper, as we have seen, to 'dietary feed'.

claim nutritional they are also allowed on common feeds (ie not 'dietary'), in compliance with certain conditions that the responsible operators must be able to substantiate by means of specific laboratory analyzes.

The indication 'light'The'and "light", too', for example, it can be used in commercial information only where the product has an energy value that is at least 15% lower than the average of the products of the same category available on the market, or the reference for maintaining the same line. (2)

15% of difference - more generally - represents the condition for using claim comparative nutritional (e.g. 'low in fat content').

The indicated criteria and analytical methods to be used, are described in the nutritional guidelines of the European trade association FEDIAF, to which the same Ministry of Health in Italy operates a reference. The sanctions are in turn already in force, albeit to date scarcely considered by various operators. (3)

Paola Cane and Dario Dongo


(1) See dir. 2008/38 / EC, relating to food for animals intended for particular nutritional purposes. See also the rec. 2011/25 / EU, laying down guidelines on the necessary distinction between feed and their ingredients, additives and biocides, with respect to veterinary drugs

(2) With evidence of the products and parameters compared. And the foresight to respect the criteria established in terms of misleading and comparative advertising (directive 2006/114 / EC)

(3) Cf. reg. EC 767/09. For the sanctioning regime, see the articles https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/approfondimenti_1/mangimi-le-sanzioni-per-violazione-del-regolamento-767-2009 e https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/archivio-notizie/pet-food-etichette-e-allegazioni-in-arrivo-il-decreto-sanzioni

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Business consultant on strategies, compliance and marketing in the food and pet food areas. You are responsible for the VeganOK observatory for the market analysis of vegan products, on the consumer side.

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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