The Feather Meal Fluff

Update: 11/11/2013

There is a new pet food ingredient heading our way…feather meal.  The pitch to consumers and veterinarians has begun.  Brace yourself, feather meal might be coming to a pet food near you very soon.

Ground feathers as a protein source for dog and cat food is being pitched to veterinarians and consumers all over the world.   Scampers Pet Food in the UK alerted me of Big Pet Food veterinarians talking up the benefits of feather meal.  A few days later I heard from Dr. Tanabe in Japan sharing the very same story – feather meal is being pitched as the new best thing in pet food.  Add to the global push of feather meal, then I find an new article in Forbes magazine pitching the wonders of this new pet food ingredient.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) holds the responsibility of defining all animal food ingredients.  For pet foods in the U.S., ‘feather meal’ has no official definition (yet), a similar ingredient that is AAFCO defined is “Hydrolyzed Poultry Feathers”.  To hydrolyze is to break down (the feathers in this case) by chemical reaction with water.  Thus, hydrolyzed poultry feathers have been treated to make them more digestible to the animal consuming them.

In a Pet Food Industry trade publication, a feather meal manufacturer (GoldMehl) stated “Unprocessed feathers are high in crude protein (90 percent), but highly indigestible due to the keratin structure, which contains high amounts of cross linked – disulphite bondings – cystine.  In order to open the S-S bonds and to make the crude feathers available for digestive systems, feathers have to be processed.”  The GoldMehl feather meal manufacturer performed a seven day digestibility trial in dogs.  The company found digestibility for feather meal was “comparable to regular poultry meal”.  (Note:  this feeding trial was for seven days only.)

Royal Canin told Forbes magazine they have been developing a “Anallergenic formula” dog food for ten years using chicken feathers as the main source of protein.  Keith Levy of Royal Canin told Forbes “It’s not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs. Feathers are broken down to an amino acid level and don’t have much of a taste. Then we add palatizers for taste. In this case, we have to be very careful not to provoke an allergic reaction.

That’s why it took so long to develop this particular food. We’re looking for lots of different sources of protein for our foods: hydrolyzed soy; for some of our foods in China we use worm meal. I tried some kibble made with worm meal once – it tasted very good. So our approach goes way beyond feathers.”  (I hope worm meal isn’t next…yuck.)

The trade publication said “The quantity of protein required by pets depends on their lifestyle and life stage.”  But what about protein quality?  The question is…would feather meal ingredients (or worm meal) benefit the pet that consumes them?  Or are these ingredients benefiting the pockets of ingredient suppliers and pet food manufacturers?


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