Most people are quite surprised when they first see meat meal. It is a fine, dry, brown powder which, for many years, has formed the backbone of the dry dog food industry around the world. It can be listed in a number of ways, with or without the animal source. For example, meat meal from chicken could be labelled as 'meat meal', 'chicken meal', 'chicken meat meal', 'dehydrated chicken' or 'dried chicken'.
Meat meal is made from the parts of animals that aren't consumed by humans. This could be up to a third to a half of the original animal and generally includes residual meat, offal, connective tissues and in some cases bones. According to UK Feed Stuffs Regulations, meat meal "should be virtually free of hair, bristle, feathers, horn, hoof and skin and of the contents of the stomach and viscera".
The process by which meat meal (and many other animal by-products) are created is called rendering. First the animal raw materials are ground and cooked, usually with steam, for a period of 40 to 90 minutes at temperatures of approximately 115 to 145oC. Moisture is removed and pressure is applied to separate the melted fats from the protein and bone solids. The cooking kills all micro-organisms and parasites. Following the cooking and fat separation, the mix is further processed by additional moisture removal and grinding to form the powder.
How much the rendering process affects the nutritional quality of meat is a matter of some debate but most nutritionists agree that meat meal is unlikely to be quite as nutritionally beneficial for dogs as fresh meat ingredients.
It is, nevertheless, still an excellent source of natural, bio-appropriate amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), fats and certain minerals and vitamins. Furthermore, because meat meal is only around 5-7% water, it is far more concentrated than fresh meat (which contains roughly 70% water) and as a result much less is needed. For example, 20% fresh meat would only equate to around 6.5% meat meal. This is an important consideration when comparing the meat contents of dry dog foods.
If the source animal is not specified, the general term 'meat meal' means that it could have come from any species of 'warm-blooded land animal'. Broad terms like this are often used by dog food manufacturers instead of naming each ingredient either because the recipe regularly changes and/or because naming the ingredients would put customers off.
Antioxidants must be added to meat meal during its production in order to prevent it from becoming rancid. These antioxidants can be natural (such as vitamin E, Vitamin C and rosemary oil) or artificial. In the case of artificial antioxidants, the most commonly used in meat meals are the highly controversial and potentially harmful chemicals BHT, BHA and Propyl gallate.
The main issue here is that, since the antioxidants are added to the meat meal at the meat rendering plant long before it arrives at the dog food factory, the manufacturer does not need to declare them on the label. In fact, a food can contain any number of ingredients that have been pre-treated with artificial additives by the ingredient suppliers and can still legally say that their food has 'no added artificial additives' just as long as they don't add any more themselves! For this reason it's always important to look for foods that are guaranteed 'free from artificial additives' (rather than 'free from added artificial ingredients') or, if you are in any doubt, to ask the manufacturer directly.
Find foods containing Meat Meal See the full Ingredient Glossary