Here are the marketing label Buzz words we often read as we do our own foraging through the volumes of bird food brands now available on the pet market.
Organic - that's supposed to be the best right?
All Natural - well of course I want natural foods because unnatural sounds, well, unnatural right?
Holistic - now that sounds like something I need for my bird to help stay healthy right?
Premium or Gourmet - that sounds yummy and nutritious and top-of-the-line right?
Human Grade Ingredients - oh my, if it's not graded good enough for humans, then exactly whatever is it?
In plain language what exactly all those marketing labels really mean nutritionally for our birds so we can make good choices for nutrition and health.
Organic or Certified Organic:
Organic refers to the way ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed. Organic ingredients must be free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and cannot be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering.
- 1. If a bird food is comprised of 100% organic ingredients, the bird food manufacturer may display the USDA Organic seal and proudly claim their product 100% Organic on their packaging.
- 2. If a bird food contains at least 95% of it's content in organic ingredients, the bird food may still display the USDA Organic seal.
- 3. If a bird food contains only 70% content organic ingredients, then “Made with Organic Ingredients” can be used on their label, but they cannot use the USDA Organic Seal anywhere on the product packaging.
- 4. If a bird food contains less than 70% organic ingredients, then only those true organic ingredients may be listed as organic in the ingredients listing, and no mention of ‘organic’ should appear anywhere else on the product packaging; the organic seal cannot be anywhere on the packaging.
To be considered all natural, the bird food's ingredients must be derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources (your guess is as good as mine on that last one and what all ingredient sources that might include). However once the ingredients are gathered for production, the manufacturer can put the food through any type of manufacturing process that the company wants to, as long as they don't add anything synthetic to the food (unless of course it's necessary to add something synthetic because of the way it is being processed). Right, like that's not really confusing. So some "all natural" foods may not be quite as all natural as we would like them to be.
However the FDA does give us a little bit of a definition of natural: "For the most part, 'natural' can be construed as equivalent to a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the products."
Sadly as far as bird foods go, there is no real legal definition for holistic foods. So you need to thoroughly read the labels to find out what holistic means for that particular food. What most of us want in Holistic bird food is a food with natural ingredients, no added chemicals or artificial anything, no antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, or dyes, and ingredients that have shown to help improve health.
I personally would want to see an ingredient listing of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy safe plant herbs, with no processed by-products. It's okay if it contains some enhanced vitamins and minerals, but overall should have great ingredients and be good for my bird.
Human Grade Ingredients:
Human Grade means the bird food must be of a high enough quality to be consumed by humans as well as birds and approved by the government powers that be and oversee human foods.
To truly contain "All Human Grade" ingredients the food would have to meet both requirements from the USDA for pet food, and the FDA for human food. Although it can be done, there are probably not many bird food manufacturers able to fully meet these requirements or willing to invest in the costs to do so. Only bird food made in human grade facilities, subject to the inspections and approval necessary to have human grade status by the government, can be legally considered 100 percent human grade.
Premium or Gourmet:
FDA labeling guidelines say: "Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other similar complete and balanced products."
So what that really means is that 'Gourmet' or 'Premium" are fancy words used for marketing that sounds really healthy and super important, but doesn't guarantee the food actually is. Thoroughly reading the ingredient listing will tell you how 'Gourmet' or 'Premium' the food truly is.
One last label distinction that is showing up more often is the use of "Non-GMO" on labels. Non-GMO means "non-genetically modified organisms". GMOs are created in laboratories by genetic modification/engineering techniques. Doesn't sound very good, and it probably isn't, but I'm not getting into that debate in this article. Some bird food manufacturers are now getting approval by the government to add this to their labels and I think that's a plus for all of us trying hard to feed the healthiest foods to our birds.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS AND SUMMARY
Best advice that I can offer is to always read the complete ingredients on every label on all food and treats you buy for your bird. Not every bird needs the same food ingredients, so also remember to check for what is best for your particular species of bird. Although higher priced doesn't always mean higher quality, it often can be, and as they say, sometimes you get what you pay for.
Introducing your bird to fresh, soaked, cooked, as well as some packaged foods, often makes for the healthiest diet, and lots of fun time foraging through it all.
Good luck in navigating the pet bird foods (and other pet foods) that are available. If you have come across new marketing hypes and buzz words not covered here, please let us know as we welcome the sharing of knowledge to help all birds be the best and healthiest they can be.