Organic food is on-trend, even in the pet food market. In this article we’ll be looking at some of the frequently asked questions around organic food, such as what the term ‘Organic‘ actually means, and how organic cat food differs from other types of cat food. We’ll also examine the rules that affect how foods are classified as Organic, and whether Organic foods are really free from artificial hormones, antibiotics and growth enhancers.
Organic Cat Food
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The cat food market is growing rapidly and pet owners now have a wealth of different cat food options at their fingertips. Organic food and snack products are a recent addition to the market, characterised by sustainable production methods and high quality ingredients. However, in spite of the claims on the pack, many cat owners find it hard to decide whether Organic is worth the extra expense. So what exactly makes Organic cat food so different from other types of cat food?
Organic: The Basics
As a starting point, cat food needs to meet certain basic conditions before it can carry an ‘Organic’ label. Organic certification is intended to promote ecologically-sound organic farming methods and animal welfare. Companies are only allowed to describe their products as organic if they have been certified in accordance with EU legislation on organic farming.
The term ‘Organic’ can’t be given arbitrarily. Organic products must comply with some of the stricter guidelines of EU eco laws. A product is only allowed to display the EU organic logo (a green leaf) on its packaging if the contents and the production methods both comply with the EU regulations.
The EU organic logo has been mandatory since 2010 for all pre-packaged organic food. Where this logo is used, it should also show the code number of the eco certification centre, and state the origin of the ingredients, e.g. EU farming, non-EU farming, a mixture of EU and non-EU sources, or state the individual country of origin if all ingredients are sourced in a single country.
Some organic products made in the EU may also display a green hexagonal ‘Bio’ icon.
Organic certification ensures complete transparency where the production of organic cat food is concerned. It allows cat owners to be confident of what is inside each tin or bag of cat food that they feed to their pet, and to know exactly where those ingredients came from.
Pet owners are animal lovers, but sometimes that does not sit well with feeding pets a meat-based diet. The Organic label also guarantees that the meat used in pet food comes from animals that have been raised on farms that adhere to a high standard of animal husbandry and animal welfare.
Organic farmers commit to raising their animals in a species-appropriate way, making sure that their natural needs are met. This means that the animals are healthy, receive a natural, species-appropriate diet, and are kept in an environment that is as natural as possible. The areas where the animals are kept are adapted to the natural needs and behaviours of the animals, so that they have suitable distractions and the opportunity for social contact, which helps to prevent behavioural problems. Each animal has enough room to rest and feed. The resting area should always have a solid floor and be covered with absorbent, insulating material such as straw. In the warmer half of the year, ruminants such as cows must be allowed to graze. The animals are given specialist feed that is designed to produce the highest quality organic meat, rather than maximising the amount of meat produced. Providing animals with poor nutrition has been shown to lead to health problems that can have an effect on meat quality. The animals are only allowed to be fed on organic feed products, ideally from the farm’s own produce. Organic farmers are not allowed to use any chemical or synthetic feed additives for performance or growth enhancement.
Where animal health is concerned, organic farmers work on the principle that ‘prevention is better than cure’ and this begins right at the start of each animal’s life. It takes much longer for animals reared on organic farms to be weaned than on conventional farms: calves receive full-fat milk for their first three months and piglets remain with their mothers for at least 40 days. This ensures that their immune systems are packed with antibodies and that the young animals are allowed to develop naturally. The farmers do not use any medicines, antibiotics or hormones, to prevent the growth of resistant bacterial strains. Natural remedies are used as the first option for treating sick animals; farmers are only allowed to resort to conventional medicines if the natural remedies fail. There are strict marketing conditions attached to any product where this has been the case.
If you buy Organic cat food, you are also indirectly contributing to higher standards of animal welfare.
Organic Certification Rules
Animal welfare is just the beginning of the definition of organic. A combination of species-appropriate animal husbandry and agriculture is designed to help to maintain and improve soil fertility. Synthetic and mineral fertilisers are not allowed to be used in organic farming or organic food production. Sewage sludge is just one well-known example of a mineral fertiliser. Protection of the earth, water and air is designed to preserve species diversity. Organic farming aims to protect the environment by making frugal use of natural resources through materials cycles that are as closed as possible and lower energy use. Use of GM (genetically modified) materials is not allowed.
Products that are made up of a variety of different ingredients must be able to show that they are at least 95% from organic sources. The remaining 5% of ingredients can come from conventional farming, but only if they are not available from organic sources.
The production of organic products is required to be transparent and all sources of the ingredients and stages of production are minutely documented. Organic producers and manufacturers are inspected every year. Foods are only allowed to carry an organic label when all documentation is in place and inspections have been conducted. The EU organic logo indicates that the product meets a set of basic standards for organic production, but local organic associations, such as the Soil Association in the UK, often set higher or stricter standards in key areas.
Organic Cat Food
Organic quality products support ecological, sustainable farming practices as well as good animal welfare. If the environment and animal welfare are a priority for you, then that provides a good reason to buy organic, whether for your pet or for your own consumption.
Where cat food is concerned, the differences are clear. The meat used in organic cat food is free from hormones, antibiotics and growth agents, thanks to the animal husbandry and welfare regulations that organic farms have to follow. It is also unlikely that antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains will be present in the meat. Purchasing organic cat food helps to support sustainable farming methods, or as the organic pet food producers Yarrah put it: “Being organic isn’t a fad: it’s a conscious choice to make the world a better place for animals.”
A lot of pet food manufacturers are coming round to this idea, and now offer organic alternatives for dogs, cats, small pets and birds. So if you want to buy organic, there is a wide selection to choose from, so you can find a food that is right for your pet. There is also a thriving market for organic cat snacks and other organic supplementary foods.
One thing to bear in mind is that the EU organic logo can be applied to any product that meets the minimum EU requirements for organic production. It identifies high production standards, as well as the standard of the ingredients, but it does not give guidance on the nutritional standard of the recipe itself. To be clear: the product may be organic, but it may not necessarily be right for your individual cat. You should always check the ingredients and composition of the cat food that you buy to ensure that the recipe is nutritionally balanced. In particular it is worth looking out for foods that are species-appropriate, which means they have a high meat content with lots of healthy protein, and only small amounts of grain (ideally grain-free products are best).