Friday, 22 January 2016

Artificial, Natural, Organic Flavor in Dog, Cat Food – What’s the Difference?

Artificial, natural, organic flavor in dog, cat food – what’s the difference?

Artificial, natural, organic flavor in dog, cat food is classified as a food additive, and all three fall under the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) regulations.  You would think that ‘generally recognized as safe’ mandated by the FDA equates to safe-to-consume right?


Artificial and natural flavor is a source of allergens, toxins and carcinogens - sadly organic flavor can be little better. Does that beg the question, so why are these unsafe (supposed-to-be ‘generally recognized as safe’) substances added to your dogs, and cat’s products? For an answer to that question, read on here.

If you are purchasing prepared food, treats, drugs, or supplements for your dog and cat it’s time to start checking labels.  

Artificial vs. Natural Flavor
The difference between artificial and natural flavor is minimal.  In this article I will be referencing the FDA – note, Health Canada’s definitions and regulations for the use of flavor are very similar to the FDA’s definition and regulations on flavor.

The FDA’s definition of artificial flavor or artificial flavoring is defined as any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof ”.

The FDA’s definition of natural flavor or natural flavoring is defined as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”

What does this really mean?

A single food flavor can include hundreds of chemical ingredients. The flavor industry uses thousands of flavor chemicals. Approximately 25% of these chemicals are FDA approved and regulated. The other 75% of chemicals used are not directly regulated by the FDA. The FDA allows the flavor industry – specifically the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA), to self-regulate.

Under the FDA’s ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) regulations, FEMA can add substances (ingredients) without the FDA’s approval. Doing so is not a chargeable offense – it is 100% legal and fully sanctioned by the FDA. If you would like to understand more about GRAS, Food Safety News offers a simple-to-understand article on the subject.

Both the FDA and FEMA’s sanctioned flavor additives include suspected and known allergens, dementia triggers, toxins and carcinogens, i.e. propylene glycol, MSG, nitrates, and nitrites. No surprise though as the FDA has approved many health-deteriorating food additives including preservatives discussed here, and food coloring here.  As for FEMA, their priority is profit. FEMA’s members come from the food flavoring industry. FEMA is controlled by the food flavoring industry.  FEMA IS the food flavoring industry.  Another FDA failure to protect ours, and our companion animals’ health.

The Making of Artificial and Natural Flavor
Artificial flavor is made using 100% synthesized chemicals.

Natural flavor requires extracting a substance from a plant or animal - the extracted substance is then processed by various methods, for example chemical processing, high-heat processing, etc. Natural flavoring typically contains significantly more complex chemical compounds than artificial flavoring. These complex chemical compounds include emulsifiers, preservatives, and solvents known to trigger and exacerbate health issues.

The chemical compounds in flavor fall under the classification ‘incidental additives’. The FDA does not require manufacturers to list, or disclose incidental additives.  Another absolute failure by the FDA to protect health. You will not see flavor ingredients listed on a product’s label. The chemical compounds are a hidden ingredient.

The next time you see ‘liver flavor’, ‘natural liver flavor, smoke flavor, or natural smoke flavor etc., forget images of a single, wholesome flavor ingredient – the product you are looking at contains multiple health deteriorating chemicals.

Incidental Additives in Artificial and Natural Flavor
Incidental additives used in artificial and natural flavor include derivatives of Monsanto’s GMO corn and soy, GMO canola, GMO sugar cane. On March 20, 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released its findings on Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate (herbicide used on GMO crops), concluding that there is “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity” based on laboratory studies. You can read the World Health Organization (WHO) report on IARC’s findings here. The Wall Street Journal’s comments on the IARC’s press release here..  

Another interesting fact – the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinarian Medicine is Michael R. Taylor. Mr. Taylor is Monsanto’s former vice president of Public Policy. Mr. Taylor oversaw the FDA’s policy on GMOs. Unethical, yes - but it gets worse. Mr. Taylor developed, and pushed through his Policy on use of GMOs without due process. The FDA have a standard process for safety testing and screening that must be undertaken prior to approval –safety testing and screening was NOT done for GMOs. 

Manufacturers are permitted to label flavoring as ‘natural’ even if derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops. Why? Health Canada and the FDA have not, at this time fully defined the term ‘natural’. You would think it would be a priority to define this much-used food industry term. Perhaps the delay is due to Mr. Taylor’s influence - protecting the profit margin of companies such as Monsanto, at the expense of human, and non-human animal health.

Organic Flavor
Organic natural flavoring rates slightly better than the other two types of flavoring but organic natural flavor can still contain inappropriate ingredients.

If you are looking at a product labeled USDA Organic don’t assume that the flavour used in the product is organic.

100 % Organic
As defined by the FDA, products labeled 100% Organic should contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids, excluding water and salt – no other ingredients are permitted. 100% organic flavor gets a slightly better rating due to the FDA’s regulation that states organic natural flavor “must have been produced without synthetic solvents, carriers and artificial preservatives.”

USDA Certified Organic
USDA Certified Organic products must contain 95% organic ingredients, the other 5%  of the ingredients may be non-agricultural substances, and for minor ingredients such as flavor, can be non-organic. The only restriction, the flavor must not be produced using the following excluded methods – GMO, sewage sludge and ionizing radiation.

Made With Organic Ingredients
Products labeled “made with Organic Ingredients” 70% to 95% organic, are not actually ‘organic products’ as the remaining 30% of ingredients can be derived from pesticide-grown botanical, artificial or natural flavor, etc.

The Bottom-Line
Your dogs and cat’s food, treats, medicines and supplements should not contain artificial, natural or organic flavoring.  

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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats