When Did “By-products” become a Four Letter Word?

A few years ago animal food companies began referring to the use of by-products by their competitors as a sign they were inferior.  How could they? Don’t they love animals? Aren’t they family?  And the public was caught up in the mud- slinging without ever knowing why.

First, let’s define what is a by- product? By-products are the parts of the animal other than “meat”. Basically, they are the organ meats – the liver, the kidneys, the spleen, underdeveloped eggs etc.    Wild animals often will eat these parts of the carcass first because they are nutrient dense, and palatable. So…not bad. By-products can provide more essential nutrients than muscle meat including calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins A  and B. So…not inferior nutrition.

Using by-products also makes sense for the environment. Many of these organs would be disposed of as they do not play a large role in North American diets.  In other countries more are utilized in regional dishes like steak and kidney pie, sweetbreads and  haggis. Here, they are directed away from the food chain.   Waste not want not.

By-products are not less safe.  They are taken from human food dedicated slaughter houses from inspected animals.  In other words, clean, fresh , nutritious and otherwise wasted parts.

The other way by-products are used in animal food is as a “meal”.  To become a meal, the by-products are cooked and dried separating the fats and proteins.  Due to it’s low moisture content by-product meal has a lot of nutrients in a very concentrated form.  That would ensure it being placed  farther down the ingredient list than unprocessed meat which is full of water.  So “chicken” as a first ingredient can be very misleading.  First ingredient is largest quantity not best quality. 

By-products are not evil. They are just another source of nutrients. And if they are sourced from clean, safe, reliable sources, they are a less expensive, nutrient dense addition to any animal food.

Dr. Jennifer Merry