Feed-Grade vs. Human-Grade Pet Food: Which One is Safer for Pets?

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: October 26, 2023
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There are all kinds of pet foods on the market, and most of them are made with products that are not allowed in human food. Does that mean that pet food is not healthy? We’ll look at feed-grade vs. human-grade pet food and discuss which one is safer for pets.

Pet Food: What Does Feed Grade Mean?

Euthanized animals may wind up in feed-grade pet food.

Euthanized animals may wind up in feed-grade pet food.

©Birkir Asgeirsson/Shutterstock.com

Feed-grade pet food is designed solely for animals, and the food is not regulated strictly enough to be safe for human consumption. Furthermore, the type of ingredients allowed into the food may not be legally allowed in food designed for people.

The animals used in feed-grade pet foods do not have to die by slaughter. Animals that die due to disease or other unknown reasons may be processed into a product that is eventually used in pet food. Disabled animals that are euthanized for their disabilities may also be used in feed-grade pet food.

Animal byproducts that are not allowed in human-grade foods are almost always in processed pet foods. These byproducts are created by items too damaged or diseased for human consumption, or by leftover animal parts like heads, feathers, internal organs, feet, and bones. The extra animal bits are shipped to a rendering plant for processing.

How a Rendering Plant Creates Meal for Pet Food

Animal meals made at rendering plants are in most pet kibbles.

Animal meals made at rendering plants are in most pet kibbles.

©sophiecat/Shutterstock.com

Animal meals found in pet foods are created at rendering plants. At the rendering plant, these animal scraps are turned into a crumbly and dried meal used later in kibble and wet food production. This is done through extremely high heat and pressure which kills germs while also breaking down the waste into proteins and amino acids.

If a meal is made from a specific animal, it is labeled as such. For example, chicken meal comes from chickens, and fish meal comes from fish. Sometimes, animal meals are sourced from a variety of animal types. These meals are labeled animal meal and don’t specify the animals it contains.

Animal digest is a common pet food additive also created inside rendering plants. Animal parts are cooked down with certain chemicals over high heat, but digest does not contain hooves, teeth, horns, or hair. Its primary purpose is to enhance the smell and taste of pet food, and it’s usually used as a spray to coat kibble.

Grain Meals Used in Pet Foods

Grain leftovers after human nutrient extraction are often used in feed-grade pet food.

Grain leftovers are often used in feed-grade pet food.

©branislavpudar/Shutterstock.com

The grain meals used in pet foods are also made from the scraps left over from the production of human food. These grain byproducts are the shells, hulls, and other edible bits left over after certain oils and starches have been removed for higher-quality products.

For example, corn gluten meal is a high protein byproduct made from the leftovers after corn syrup production. These vegetable and grain-based meals are mainly used as fillers to help bind kibble and to bulk up the amount of food in a serving as their nutritional content is not very high.

Pet Food: What Does Human Grade Mean?

Human-grade pet food is a human-edible product from start to finish.

Human-grade pet food is edible by humans from start to finish.

©Zontica/Shutterstock.com

Human-grade pet food contains ingredients that are legally allowed in human food. All of the ingredients are handled according to the standards required for human edible production from start to finish. This means that the final pet food product is technically legal to serve to people.

Because of the higher standards required for human-grade pet food, it is more expensive. For a lot of families, it is prohibitively expensive. However, some pet owners believe that feeding their animals food they would not consume themselves is unethical.

While some feed-grade foods are made with feed-grade ingredients, other feed-grade foods begin with human-grade ingredients. However, any item created at a rendering plant is not legal to use in human food. Even if the rendered items were originally human food quality before rendering, they are not meant for human consumption after processing.

Feed-Grade Pet Food Is Still Heavily Regulated for Safety

While it may seem like feed-grade pet food is barely regulated, that isn’t true. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors pet food production. This means that feed-grade pet food is held to a standard of quality meant to keep your pet from getting sick.

All pet food in the United States must be correctly labeled, suitably manufactured, safely packaged, and generally safe for consumption. Sometimes this industrial waste, like animal carcasses or substandard grains, still has viable nutrients that can be extracted and turned into a safe enough product.

The use of byproducts in animal feed is a creative way to use up waste from other industries, and it isn’t inherently poisonous. In the United States, 40 percent of all beef animal weight raised for human consumption ends up in a rendering plant.

Will Humans Get Sick Eating Feed-Grade Food?

Feed-grade pet food won't kill humans, but it isn't recommended for regular consumption.

Feed-grade pet food won’t kill humans, but it isn’t recommended for regular consumption.

©stockcreations/Shutterstock.com

A few meals of feed-grade pet food will not cause permanent damage. Even so, humans can get sick from eating feed-grade pet foods. However, it’s not for the reasons you may think.

The products rendered for consumption in pet foods are not too concerning regarding suitability for short-term human consumption. They do not contain ingredients that immediately make people sick.

However, the vitamin and mineral supplements in pet foods will make people sick over time. These nutritive additives in pet food are not designed for optimal human nutrition. These additives can lead to toxicities due to nutrient overconsumption as well as deficiencies due to a lack of key nutrients.

For example, dog food often contains vitamin K3 in quantities inappropriate for human consumption. While research shows that dogs need it supplemented in their food, it’s toxic for humans in large doses.

Alternatively, dogs are capable of producing vitamin C on their own in their livers. As a result, vitamin C is not something that is added to dog food.

Humans need to eat vitamin C as their bodies do not create it. This means that a long-term diet of pet food will cause a vitamin deficiency.

Feed-Grade vs. Human-Grade Pet Food: Which One is Safer for Pets?

Both feed-grade and human-grade pet food are edible for pets. However, any food with better-quality ingredients is always a safer choice. Since human-grade pet foods are held to a higher standard, they are safer for pets.

However, that doesn’t mean that feed-grade products are inherently unsafe. Meals and digests from rendering plants contain minerals, protein, and amino acids in quantities that pets need at very low costs.

Those concerned with the sustainability of pet food should support feed-grade foods. Rendering animal and plant waste uses up those products and turns them into usable food sources. If the products weren’t rendered, they’d end up being burned, used in landfills, or buried which pollutes the environment.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © stockcreations/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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