By Tracie Korol
Last summer an email appeared unexpectedly in my inbox. I thought it was a hoax. No such luck. Topic: Forbes magazine published an interview with Royal Canin’s president, Keith Levy. Levy was introducing the new “anallergenic” formula kibble made with ground up chicken feathers. No, really. The title of the article was Dog Food Made From Feathers: A Win-Win for Royal Canin.
According to Mr. Levy, This “anallergenic” line was 10 years in the making, using feather meal (FM in industry parlance) as the main source of protein. It is designed for intensely allergic dogs for which even novel protein diets (buffalo, kangaroo, rabbit) don’t seem to work. There are 47 ingredients in this product. Here are the top 10: Corn starch, hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate [feather meal], coconut oil, soybean oil, natural flavors, potassium phosphate, powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate, sodium silico aluminate, chicory …
The lead item in any list of pet food ingredients is, according to AAFCO regs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the organization that calls the shots for pet food and NOT a governmental entity — 70% of what’s in the bag. So, most of this product is cornstarch. The next ingredient on the list is hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate, which is a technical name for feather meal. According to Levy, feather meal is “not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs.” The feathers are broken down to an amino acid level, and palatizers are added for taste so it doesn’t taste of … feathers?
Levy says one of the benefits to using feather meal is that it supports the company’s efforts in sustainability. “Ultimately we’ll have an issue with finding protein for the human food chain. By using alternative sources of protein, we’re using something that would otherwise end up in a landfill,” says Levy. “It’s the best of both worlds: You’re not competing with the human food chain, reducing waste and providing an incredibly nutritious protein.”
Now, I’m all for recycling and all for seeking sustainable food sources, however, I cringe at the thought of my dog friends eating things that should be made into pillows or, even better, thrown out.
The question, beyond the gross-out factor, comes down to protein quality. What would you rather feed your pet — 4 ounces of real chicken meat or 4 ounces of ground chicken feathers and corn starch? All three ingredients contain protein, but they are definitely not equal. Ounce for ounce, the real chicken provides more protein, and the protein is highly digestible and usable. Pets can eat smaller quantities to receive the optimal level of protein when it is a digestible protein. In contrast, the ground feathers contain protein, but in a non-digestible form, as in they’re FEATHERS. Real meat offers highly digestible protein — protein that can be easily broken down by your pet’s body. Your pet cannot digest and cannot live on the protein contained in feathers. It simply passes through the digestive system unused.
Levy continues, “We’re looking for lots of different sources of protein for our foods: hydrolyzed soy; we are currently researching worm meal as a potential protein source for some of our foods in China,” he told the interviewer. “Few brands are more expensive than us,” Levy bragged in the interview.
And once again, we are faced with the really naive belief that just because a dog food is at the top of the price range, it is not necessarily because the quality of the food is, too. Then, there is the added concern about sourcing in China.
And the kicker? You can only purchase the food from specialty retailers with a veterinary prescription. Add another layer of authenticity. Currently, on Chewy.com, a 19.8 pound bag of RC Anallergenic Formula runs $86.99. Bonus: shipping is free.