Humans are big consumers of meat, I’m sure you don’t learn that. The chicken industry (for humans) in North America is also very impressive: 10 billion chickens are produced each year, resulting in nearly 4 billion pounds of feathers for producers to dispose of. Knowing (as the saying goes) that a pile of feathers is extremely light…imagine the physical space that 4 billion pounds of feathers must take up! Then imagine the statistics for the whole world knowing that chicken is one of the most eaten protein (meat) in the world.
Chicken farmers must therefore get rid of these thankless feathers in one of two ways:
- Buried in waste (which will create methane, a gas that will increase greenhouse gases 25 times more than co2)
- Sold at a discount to an industry that will make fertilizer (because they are high in nitrogen) or… agricultural animal feed (pigs, poultry, fish).
As waste landfills begin to overflow and therefore prices constantly increase for this service, slaughterhouses are therefore scrambling to iron their feathers to the other industry (agricultural food). It used to be that way until a pet food company thought they could use this economical ingredient in your dog’s food! Luckily for poultry producers, there are virtually no ingredients that the dog food industry isn’t willing to try including in their recipes! Phew, how convenient…for them.
If there’s one thing I wish people would never forget, it’s that in the manufacturing industry:
NOTHING. NOT. SE. LOSE.
For example, with the unusable part of the leather industry: they make (bad) leather treats for your dog by soaking them in peroxide, bleach and other chemicals. In the same vein, with the chicken feathers they said to themselves: we must be able to sell that to someone…and if we would make a new ingredient for dog food? After all, they take anything…
As the Americans would say: “ Let’s turn trash into cash ” and that ‘s where feather meal was born .
But what exactly is feather meal?
“Feather meal is an animal feed material made from feathers obtained during the slaughter of poultry for human consumption. It is made using a special technology to increase the digestibility of feather protein”. (Wikipedia)
Feather meal has been around for a long time but its only use was originally as a fertilizer since the product is very high in nitrogen. In short, it’s excellent for your property…but is it good for your dog?
We then realized that feather meal was very high in protein. The problem is that it’s completely indigestible which means the body can’t accept it and move it through its digestive system. In short, it doesn’t digest unless it’s highly processed and even then it’s still low in nutrition because the biological value (which determines if a food is usable for the body) of feather meal is 40 , which means that 60% of the nutrients taken from the product are in no way usable by the cells of the dog’s body and will therefore be rejected in the blood as waste that will have to be filtered by the kidneys.
To give you other examples:
- The biological value of the egg is 100 (perfect score), which means that all the amino acids contained in the egg are usable by the body.
- Fish meal, on the other hand, has a biological value of 92, which means that only 8% (to arrive at a total of 100%) will not be usable by the body.
- Soy (another ingredient of choice in veterinary foods for allergic dogs) has a biological value of 55, which means that 45% will not be assimilated by the dog’s body.
- Corn (the main ingredient in this food and in the majority of Royal Canin recipes) has a biological value of 54 which means that 46% of corn protein will be rejected as waste.
- So if the feather meal has a biological value of 40, then 60% will be released into the blood as waste to be filtered by the kidneys. This bad score makes it the ingredient with the lowest biological value that I know of .
Here I would like to take the opportunity to differentiate between nutritious and digestible, which absolutely do not mean the same thing:
- Digestible means that the body (of the dog or ours for example) can digest it without problem. In short, it can go from input to output without too many problems.
- Nutritious means that the body will draw nutrients from it to nourish its cells.
If you listen to the talk of bad kibble companies (or the talk of several veterinarians), they will often tell you about digestibility. For example, “ corn is highly digestible” . Ah yes, it is highly digestible…but not very nutritious for the dog (with its biological value of 54)! This is the part they always forget to say…
But back to the feathers…
In the early 2000s, there were rumors in the pet food industry that a new ingredient (feather meal) could save a lot of money for companies making chicken (or Poultry). The problem was that if more than 9% was used, dogs would get explosive, watery diarrhea . Really, a nice quality ingredient, isn’t it? That was until a German manufacturer (Goldmehl) found a way to transform the product so that they could use up to 14% and still have saddles rated “acceptable” according to their experiments. Why aim for excellence when you can settle for acceptable!? After all, they are just dogs…
For this reason, the use of feather meal remained very underground until a major company started using it…and I named it: Royal Canin .
Here is the Royal Canin recipe made with feather meal:
This formula, available only in veterinary clinics (nothing less!) is called Anallergenic and is designed for dogs with allergies. I copy you the list of ingredients, which you will also find on the official product page:
Corn starch, hydrolyzed poultry by-product aggregate, coconut oil, soybean oil, natural flavors, potassium phosphate, powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate, sodium silicoaluminate, chicory, L-tyrosine, fructo-oligosaccharides, fish oil, L-lysine, chloride of choline, taurine, L-tryptophan, vitamins [DL-alpha-tocopherol (source of vitamin E), inositol, niacin, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), calcium D-pantothenate, biotin, hydrochloride of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin A acetate, folic acid, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin D3 supplement], DL-methionine, marigold extract (Tagetes erecta L .), histidine, trace elements [zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, iron sulphate, manganese proteinate, copper proteinate, copper sulphate, manganous oxide,calcium iodate, sodium selenite], rosemary extract, preserved with a natural mixture of tocopherols and citric acid.
Without analyzing each ingredient one by one, I will tell you about a few:
- Corn starch: Starch is the least wanted part of a product since the vast majority is converted into sugars by the dog’s body. It is also very frequently the starch of a product that causes allergic reactions. Knowing that corn is one of the biggest allergens in dog food and that it is in the majority of cases genetically modified, what do you think of its use as the 1st ingredient in a food…for allergic dogs?!
- Hydrolyzed poultry by-product aggregate : this is our famous feather meal , which they came up with a prettier name so as not to scare people by writing FEATHERS in an ingredient list. This is the 2nd most important ingredient.
- Powdered Cellulose : For those who don’t know yet, powdered cellulose is made from… wood fiber , or “sawdust” if you prefer! And yes, wood in your dog’s food. It’s an inexpensive ingredient often used in low-end foods, especially for weight loss. It “fills” the animal and gives it a feeling of satiety. But is it nutritious?
- L-tyrosine, L-lysine, and L-tryptophan : These ingredients are all essential dog survival amino acids that the company adds synthetically…because the base ingredients aren’t nutritious enough to contain them. It’s the same principle for the long list of added synthetic vitamins (names incomprehensible) that you see until the end of the ingredient list. Royal Canin must add them because the basic ingredients would not pass the tests to make it an acceptable and legal food for sale in terms of nutrient content.
As you can see, this food is made from corn, feather meal and wood. Are we really fed our dogs with such bad ingredients? I can already hear the animal health technicians telling me “but you took the only Royal Canin food that contains feathers, that’s not fair”. True (so far), but what worries me is that this ingredient could then end up in other foods. Why? Because the chicken industry has a wicked amount of feathers to spare…and bad food makers are constantly looking to cut costs. Now it’s Royal Canin and after that it will be Hill’s, Purina and the others. Now is the time to raise awareness before this bad ingredient becomes more widespread.
But this food is only for severe cases of allergies and only available under prescription.
Let’s talk about allergies! Firstly, it makes no sense for an allergic dog food to be made from corn (starch) as the first ingredient. It is an ingredient at the top of the list of allergens in dogs! Then look at the rest of the list and tell me where the proteins come from? Only corn and feathers. Do you really believe that it is good animal nutrition to offer a dog, he who is a carnivore and therefore naturally seeks a diet containing as much meat as possible?
Admittedly, making feather meal is not easy (you will see this later). So why just replace one ingredient with the feathers and leave the rest of the recipe virtually identical to a Royal Canin “regular” food (ie, made primarily of corn)? What if the dog was allergic to corn or fish oil? In general, I find that people focus too much on protein (meat) when it comes to allergies when the ingredient list contains dozens of other ingredients (grains, vegetables, starches, etc.) that can all be the source of your dog’s problem.
Above all, what I regret with this food is that once again, the veterinarian treats the symptom and not the cause of the problem. Every week, clients come to see me to say “my dog is very allergic, do you have food for him”, to which I answer “Of course, he is allergic to what”? In nine cases out of ten, the person answers me “I don’t know” and seems surprised by my question, as if it were impossible to know the cause of an allergy. This is not only possible but even relatively simple.
I am currently preparing an article on allergy disorders, hypo-allergenic foods and you will learn more about that shortly, but know that there are solutions other than putting a dog on a food made of feathers! Above all, we do not solve an allergy problem…by malnutrition .
Royal Canin is proud to use feather meal
I learned of the existence of this “new” ingredient when I came across a very serious interview conducted by Forbes magazine with Keith Levy, president of Royal Canin USA since 2012 and still in office today.
If you read English, I recommend reading the interview, available here.
This interview (from 2013) is filled with real gems of information from a senior executive at Royal Canin (the President). I quote (and translate as faithfully as possible) the best excerpts, which were originally in English:
“We have a team in France that travels the world to find ingredients. In this case, it’s feather meal. It is not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs. The feathers are brought to the level of a simple amino acid and therefore no longer have any taste. Then we add a flavor to them to increase the dog’s interest. In this case, we must be very careful not to cause an allergic reaction. That’s why it took us so long (10 years) to develop”. (Keith Levy – President of Royal Canin USA)
By understanding that this ingredient was used as a fertilizer for the land and caused explosive diarrhea as soon as more than 9% was put in food, I understand very well why it took 10 years to develop. They who like to say that they are studying, they had to do a crazy number of them to end up succeeding in getting a dog to eat this without it getting sick! Eventually, I would love to see a LONG TERM study done on even a single dog eating this food say for a few years. This is the part that we don’t tell you about when we talk about studies: these are always short-term studies, generally 21 days according to the AAFCO criteria. The long-term study is being done (more or less)…with your dog (if he is unlucky enough to eat this)! “It’s safe until proven otherwise ” they say…
Going back to the president’s explanation, he says that we take the feathers and process them so much that they have no taste and then add flavor (artificial or natural according to you?). Feathers were never meant to be eaten, they are basically unedible (before processing). What waste will we use next? Will we make dog food out of old saddlebags or old leather shoes? After all, they contain protein!
Mr. Levy then says in the interview that Royal Canin uses hydrolyzed soy protein in their diets and that they are “ currently researching the use of earthworms as a protein source in their diets” . Then he says proudly:
“By using alternative protein sources, we’re using something that would otherwise end up in the dump.” (Keith Levy – President of Royal Canin USA)
So Mr. Levy is proud to innovate to the point of using waste as ingredients . Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of recycling, but I’d like to see another use for my waste than as an ingredient in my dog’s food!
The dangers of feather meal
Feather meal is composed mainly of insoluble keratin with a high level of cystine. Dogs affected by a condition called cystinuria cannot filter cystine through the kidneys. Over time, the level rises in the urine and then crystals form, commonly known as kidney stones . It is therefore recommended that dogs suffering from this disease or breeds prone to cystinuria avoid foods made from feather meal. That said, if you ask me, all breeds should avoid this ingredient.
Also, another thing that worries me is the source of the ingredient. Where do the feathers in feather meal come from? For example, most chickens are dosed with antibiotics in their feed and water to increase their growth and enable them to survive in a confined space. What is interesting is that these drugs remain accumulated in the feathers, which makes it the ideal part to test for a list of contaminants. This is exactly what a study from Johns Hopkins University did in 2012, the results of which are presented here. They found traces of fluoroquinolones in 6 out of 10 feather meal analyzes (all from the United States)yet this antibiotic has been banned in poultry production since 2005 because of the risk to humans. Then here are the other traces of contaminants that the study found, again in feather meals produced in the United States: caffeine , acetaminophen (Tylenol – which treats fever in poultry just like it does for humans), diphenhydramine ( benadryl ), an anti-depressant ( prozac ), and norgestimate (a sex hormone, an ingredient in the birth control pill ). Imagine what we would have found by analyzing feather meal produced in China!
Finally, in another study (in 2011), traces of arsenic were found in ALL the feather meal samples analyzed.
I don’t know about you, but all this is nothing to reassure me or convince me that feather meal is an ingredient that I would like to give to my dog.
How do you make feather meal?
Feather meal is made using the principle of hydrolysis which is a transformation process that includes high temperature cooking, steam pressure treatment (at 140 degrees Celsius), drying (300 degrees Fahrenheit) and finally grinding. By this process, 1000kg of feathers are transformed into nearly 450kg of feather meal. Quite profitable as a process!
See the production line for yourself:
Admit that Royal Canin’s innovation is a lot less appealing when you see how it’s done!
Let’s go back to this interview with the president of Royal Canin
Here is another passage that surprised me, not to say threw me on the floor:
“Our company operates on the belief that animals are different from humans and therefore have totally different nutritional needs. Many consumers reject on their animal the same thing that they wish for themselves. For example, if they eat organic, they will want to feed their pet organic food. Or they want their food to look good visually, so they will buy specially shaped kibble; or a croquette whose meat is the first ingredient. At Royal Canin we do not focus on the ingredients , but on the result for the dog. We can deliver good protein with soy or other ingredients”. (Keith Levy – President of Royal Canin USA)
So according to Mr. Levy, we are very wrong to insist on the quality of the ingredients going into our dog’s food or even having meat as the first ingredient. Instead, we should look to “formulas” made of good proteins like…soy…or feathers!
I also find it very funny that he talks about special kibble shapes, when it is precisely his company that builds its marketing strategy around the fact that they study each breed in order to develop a perfectly adapted kibble shape.
Finally, he also believes that we should focus more on results and less on ingredients. Well, Mr. Levy, let’s talk about the results:
“It is precisely these low quality (non-human) and biologically inappropriate ingredients that have created the many health issues that veterinarians treat every day of nutrient malabsorption, maldigestion and nutritional deficiency that cause obesity. (53% of dogs suffer from it), metabolic, organ and immune system dysfunctions causing cancer and autoimmune diseases”. (Dr. Karen Becker, world renowned veterinarian)
Next, Mr. Levy tells us how, for his company, terms like organic are “unimportant” and that:
“A Great Dane has a completely different digestive system than a Yorkie. We offer foods designed for the specific needs of the animal and while other companies refine their product lines, we add more. In our veterinary line alone we have around 110 different formulas”. (Keith Levy – President of Royal Canin USA)
So for him a Great Dane has a completely different digestive system than a Yorkshire? In this case, one of us will have to revise his notions of anatomy because the last time I checked, all dog breeds had exactly the same digestive system , with the exception of the size which is proportionally related to the size of the dog, just as it is in humans.
Moreover, to see him boast of having 110 products in just one of the three product lines offered by his company gives me the impression that Mr. President spends far too much of his time in the marketing department. He adds that: “With so many choices, we are creating a story that will be very difficult for competitors to duplicate” . So he would be happy to make things difficult for his competitors? What about helping to provide dogs with better health? Why when I listen to it, I have the impression that we are talking about a pencil business and not about the health or quality of life of a family member, the dog?
Finally, her desire to have so many different products in order to “create a story” , it’s a bit like if I told you that in the supermarket there was a box of cereals made expressly for 35-year-old blonde women. slightly overweight, pregnant with their second child and natives of Drummondville. You see, by choosing one of 110 veterinary formulas, that’s exactly what we’re doing for our dog! We are so happy (mistakenly) to read that the description on the bag resembles our dog (by breed or health issue) that we completely forget to look at the ingredient list.
Mr. Levy also tells us that:
“Very few brands are more expensive than Royal Canin” (Keith Levy – President of Royal Canin USA)
So to sum up his thinking:
Royal Canin manufactures some of the most expensive products on the market by ignoring ingredients while using waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill .
Wow…beautiful company philosophy!
This interview with the president of Royal Canin really confirmed to me how much we see dog health in different ways and above all, allowed me to understand the information conveyed to veterinarians and animal health technicians by these large companies, which adhere ( unfortunately for our dogs) to this speech.
I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned, waste (regardless of what industry) goes to a landfill and not my dog’s food!
Dog Food Made From Feathers: A Win-Win for Royal Canin
Trash to Cash – Feather Meal and Pet Food Ingredients
Feather meal – definition
Greenhouse gases: CO2 or methane, which is worse?
Natural Health for Dogs & Cats – Dr Richard H. Pitcairn
Royal Canin: Hypoallergenic (French)
Royal Canin: Hypoallergenic (English)
Consumers affairs: Royal Canin
Keith Levy – LinkedIn profile
Crazy or Common? Pet Food Companies Using Feather Meal in Food
Waste not, want not? Poultry “feather meal” as another source of antibiotics in feed
Feather Meal: A Previously Unrecognized Route for Reentry into the Food Supply of Multiple Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products
Arsenic species in poultry feather meal
Processing of feather meal
Feather Meal: Say No to This Expensive Pet Food – It’s Weirder Than You Can Imagine
The Dangers of Genetically Modified Ingredients in Pet Food