If you love your dog, remember the year 2007
In 2007, veterinarians started to notice a surge in dogs and cats suffering kidney failure. If you’ve had to watch a pet go through this illness, you know it’s a terrible way to go. Kidney failure causes a domino effect of health issues in pets. Dogs or cats who are otherwise happy will suddenly lose their appetite. As the disease progresses they may be unable to control their urination or be tormented by vomiting or diarrhea. Ultimately they become lethargic and depressed as poison racks their bodies.
It’s tragic if a pet accidentally ingests something poisonous, and develops kidney disease. But it’s many times more heartbreaking when a pet owner buys what he or she thought was safe dog food from a reputable company, only to find out that the food contained poison.
And that’s exactly what happened that year. As early as December 2006, Canadian pet food company Menu Foods started receiving reports of sick pets. By March 2007, they realized something was terribly wrong; as many as 1 in 6 pets began to die after consuming their products containing wheat gluten. In the coming months, over 8,500 pet deaths were reported to the FDA, and many more deaths probably went unreported.
Veterinarians were stumped. Scientists tried to figure out what happened to cause this rash of kidney failure in animals. They found that these foods contained a high level of melamine in the wheat gluten and rice protein that was used for the food. And Menu Foods was just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s wrong with melamine in pet food?
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in manufacturing plastics or as fertilizer, but it doesn’t have any remotely legitimate use as a food ingredient. Because melamine is high in nitrogen, it does cause protein tests to be artificially high, so it’s probable that this was intentionally being added to manipulate testing, allowing these suppliers to cut corners by lessening their legitimate and more expensive protein sources (in fact, horrifically, this was being done to domestic milk and infant formula for human consumption in China during that time).
But melamine by itself isn’t necessarily a dangerous substance, so the mystery remained of why pets were dying. A few months later, the International Herald Tribune reported another practice that animal feed producers in China had of illicitly acquiring a chemical called cynauric acid. Adding this chemical to their food, it turns out, would also cause the protein levels of their food to appear higher in testing.
When melamine is combined with cynauric acid, that resulted in a deadly combination. The combination resulted in crystals forming which were “extremely insoluble”, clogged up the tubules within the animals’ urinary tracts, and ultimately blocked blood flow and caused the cells in the kidney to die, leading to organ failure.
In short, companies in China had no regard for basic decency nor the lives of the animals who ingested their ingredients. All that mattered to them was to be the lowest bidder in supplying North American pet food companies, even if it meant cheating and cutting corners. And to their shame, even the biggest names in pet food fell for the trap. They assumed that these companies in China had scruples. But they didn’t. 60 years of Communist rule removed morality and any respect for life—animal or human—from their society.
“Made in the USA” was meaningless
Tragically, even consumers who went out of their way to buy pet food that was “made in the USA” weren’t safe. That’s because Menu Foods produced its dog food out of plants in Kansas and New Jersey, and so they could say that their food was made in the USA, even though they had used tainted wheat gluten from China.
Once this was discovered it triggered a mass recall as pet food companies voluntarily recalled more than 150 brands of pet food, brands that included such well-known names as Hills, Purina, Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, and many more. While their PR companies pitched this to the public as “an overabundance of caution”, the reality is that they were probably just doing major CYA; after all, if they voluntarily recalled their own pet food, they could avoid people scrutinizing their own sloppy sourcing practices.
The aftermath of 2007
Of course, the Chinese Communist Party denied any wrongdoing on their part while all this was going on. Even though reports of sick animals had started since February 2007, they refused to let the US Food and Drug Administration into the country to inspect facilities (does that sound familiar to anyone who remembers the first few months of 2020?). They claimed they had not exported any wheat gluten to the US, and basically lied. It wasn’t until months later, after American scientists had discovered the smoking gun that pointed to China, that they finally let inspectors in, after thousands of animals had died.
I wish I could say that this caused major reforms to how pet food ingredients are sourced. But as this veterinarian noted in 2017, in 10 years there have been no progress made to the FDA’s standards for pet food ingredients and labeling requirements, despite legislation requiring them to do so.
The state of pet food today
The big pet food brands scrambled to improve–their public relations. But very few stopped sourcing from China. Today, most major pet food manufacturers, including Natural Balance, Hills, Mars Petcare, and Purina still source from China or say that they “source globally” (which means they source from China).
As an example of how they tap dance around the question, Purina posted a page to their Web site talking about how “99% of their food is made in the USA” and how they “source most of our ingredients in the USA too”. But words like “most”, provide no details and no transparency. In fact, as of this writing the one link on that page that promises more detail goes to a broken page.
Why didn’t they change and resolve to change their sources back to countries other than China?
Very simply, like the rest of corporate America, executives at these companies willfully put blinders on. They buried their heads in the sand and hoped that companies in China would magically reform themselves. Or if that didn’t happen, they hoped that American consumers would just forget all about 2007.
And now the communists play the “woke” card
American corporations aren’t the only ones who can play the public relations machine. The Chinese Communist Party now uses their official state propaganda to attack pet food manufacturers who are pledging not to source ingredients from China, calling them xenophobic and racist. And muckraking journalists in the West are aiding and abetting them. Ironically, smaller, independent pet food brands may be able to sustain this, but big corporations will always cave.
The most recent example was an attack in 2018 by China’s official Communist Party paper, the People’s Daily. They attacked a family-run pet food company after it had the temerity to advertise that its ingredients did not come from China and–even more “offensively”–called for China to free Tibet.
It’s a situation we see playing out in other industries. In my post about the best laptop not made in China, you can read about how the Communist Youth League in China terrorized Gigabyte Technologies for daring to market that their made-in-Taiwan laptop was of higher quality than cheap laptops in China. Gigabyte was shamed on social media into not just removing their marketing material, but to either give a groveling apology or face all of their products being wiped out from all of China’s e-commerce sites.
Over the years, the CCP propaganda machine has intimidated companies like Marriott and Mercedes Benz into offering groveling apologies for even just “liking” Tweets and Instagram posts that the CCP didn’t agree with. And of course, we all remember the embarrassing displays put on my LeBron James and John Cena, who will always be branded as sellouts.
This is how bullies work, and this is something that no consumer should stand for, especially given that China has never paid a price for the thousands of pets they killed in 2007, and many more that probably happened after that once China’s PR machine kicked in to obfuscate further abuses.
How do you fight it? Find pet food companies that source 0% of their supply chain from China. And let the big brands know that you will never forget 2007.
How I put together this list of the best dog food not made in China
To put together this list I tried to find dog food companies that were transparent about their sourcing. The problem with most big dog food brands is that they seem to think that it’s better to speak in generalities than to give specifics. So you’ll see a lot of “made in the USA from globally sourced ingredients”. But remember, the debacle in 2007 was due to food that fit that exact description.
So I first looked for brands that explicitly and proactively stated that no ingredients come from China, or if they did, were transparent in explaining exactly why and to what extent. The brands I avoided? Those who use PR tricks and weasel words to obfuscate the extent to which they outsource to China.
Note that I steered clear of “raw” and freeze-dried raw diets; I have some training in pet nutrition, and most experts I know agree that with raw diets there’s a risk of salmonella, listeria, or E. coli, even if ingredients for raw diets are produced domestically. That said, if you’re someone who doesn’t mind the risks of raw food or know a trusted supplier, there are plenty of options for brands made and sourced in the USA (ironically, the very traits that make raw food risky are the very traits that weed out China as a potential supplier). Here’s an excellent site that lays out a lot of US-made options that include raw and freeze dried and keeps its list pretty up-to-date.
For my list, I started by finding popular brands that at least once in its history had made an explicit promise of not sourcing any ingredients from China. I reached out to each to see what its stand is in 2021. Since this is probably one of their most common questions most of their customer service teams have ready-made responses, cleared by their legal teams. It’s this response that you need to read carefully. If they clearly state that still no ingredients are sourced from China, great.
Brands to avoid
If they’re specific about which ingredients come from China and why, that’s good. But if they beat around the bush and avoid specifics, they didn’t make the list.
Here are some examples. NUTRO had been on many “best not made in China” lists earlier in its history. But when I wrote to them, their reply was as follows:
Mars Petcare US carefully sources ingredients for the health and well-being of the pets we feed. We’re committed to sourcing ingredients from suppliers near our manufacturing facilities, located in the US and Canada, when possible. Our vitamins and minerals often come from China, as that is often one of the only locations to source these ingredients globally, similar to human foods.
Rest assured, we are confident in the ingredient integrity of our suppliers because they consistently demonstrate the ability to meet the rigorous standards of our own Supplier Quality Assurance program, regardless of where they are located. As a key part of this program, our suppliers undergo frequent quality audits and visits from our own associates.
Read between the lines here. They’re never specific with exactly what ingredients they source from China (they mention their “vitamins and mineral”, but note they never give specifics). Worse, their response is filled with words that are supposed to engender trust, like “carefully”, “committed”, “confident”, “rigorous”, and so on. But again, there’s nothing backed up with specifics.
They talk a lot of “quality assurance” but steer clear of acknowledging other concerns that real pet owners like you and I have. What repercussions does a big company like Mars Petcare outsourcing to China have on the overall supply chain? What are the environmental and human rights records of the suppliers they use? Are they really “committed to sourcing ingredients near the US and Canada”, or are they just saying that to get us to shut up? Without facts to back up their claims, they’re just weasel words.
Similarly, I reached out to Wellness, another brand that after 2007 was often cited as one of the brands that fastidiously avoided China. Here was their response.
Specifically for Chinese ingredients, we do source our Green Tea Extract, Mixed Tocopherols and may source some our vitamins and minerals from China. We feel that we have the appropriate quality programs in place at all our vendor locations and feel safe and secure with all the ingredients we source, whether they are sourced locally or globally.
They’re a bit better than Mars in that they provide some specifics, but you can also see them getting vague when they say things like they “may source some (of) our vitamins and minerals from China”. Let’s put it this way—if you read this in 2007, what would your reaction be?
Taste of the Wild is another brand that is often cited as a brand that used to do its best to avoid ingredients from China. But here’s the response I got from them.
There are ingredients that are critical to our formulations (i.e. folic acid and taurine) that can only be sourced out of China. Our choice is to either include these ingredients or manufacture our foods without them, which would not be in the best interest of your pet, in our view. Some pet food companies are making “China-Free” claims despite the facts I’ve outlined above. They accomplish this by utilizing a loophole in European law. European laws allow for ingredients purchased outside their continent, then reprocessed in Europe, to be labeled with European origin. We could likewise hide behind that loophole in the law, and tell you what you want to hear, but choose not to for obvious reasons. I’d rather you not feed our foods than to tell you they are China-free, when they are not.
I do appreciate their attempts to be transparent here, but again instead of specifics they speak in generalities (“there are ingredients that are critical to our formulations that can only be sourced out of China”) and try to deflect the blame by pointing other brands’ bad behavior to justify their own.
Do you see the problem here? Huge manufacturers like Diamond, Purina, and Mars are the very ones who establish supply chains and have huge influence over them—with their combined buying power they could push for entire new and diversified supply chains anywhere in the world.
Instead, they keep going back like hungry pigs to the never ending trough of China suppliers. When they’re confronted about it they throw their hands up and play the victim, claiming that they have no choice but to draw from the very supply chains that they themselves let (and encouraged) China dominate in the first place. You’d think that 2007 would have been a wake up call to all these brands to never again trust China. But you’d be wrong.
But happily I did find a few brands that are still making a real effort to avoid China. This takes immense courage on their parts, not because they are exposing themselves to the CCP attack machine, but also because those dozens and dozens of brands that did sell out to China will invariably out-compete them on price by using cheaper quality products in their food. But you do get what you pay for. These companies deserve our support and the support of anyone who loves their pets and understands that even if they need to pay a few more dollars, their return is much higher knowing their pet gets better quality food, that they are supporting workers and communities not in China, and that they are supporting principled companies who are not putting their pets at risk by dealing with Communist China.
Best Dog Food With No (or Minimal) Ingredients from China – Quick Ranking
|1||The Honest Kitchen||View on Amazon|
|2||Fromm Family Dog Food||View on Amazon|
|3||Grandma Mae’s||View on Amazon|
|4||Merrick||View on Amazon|
|5||Acana||View on Amazon|
|6||Orijen||View on Amazon|
The Honest Kitchen was the company I alluded to above who was the target of the CCP’s attempt to bully them into submission, and thus I’ll name them the #1 dog food not made in China, not just because they stood up to China, but because their dog food is impressive on its own merits.
Most pet food is “feed grade”, meaning that food is produced under standards set for livestock and may contain “4D” meats (meat from animals that are dying, dead, diseased, or disabled). Normally, that’s not necessarily a bad thing–in the wild dogs aren’t going to be particularly picky about things like that. But in light of safety issues with pet food, especially given China’s terrible record, why not go for a higher grade if you have the chance?
And with The Honest Kitchen you do. Their dog food is human grade, meaning it uses only ingredients that would be accepted for humans, and it’s even made in a facility that meets the standards to produce human food. The ingredients list reads like a recipe on Epicurious–chicken, barley, potatoes, peas, carrot, parsley, bananas, and so on. The only unpronounceable words are the vitamins and minerals that are used to fortify the food, and thanks to the help of the CCP, we know that none of those are sourced from China–if you’ve read my article on vitamins, you’ll know that’s no small feat given how China has monopolized much of that industry, thanks to short-sighted corporations in America enabling them.
Their most popular food comes dehydrated–just add warm water for a meal that your dog will love and which as you can see from the Guaranteed Analysis provides your dog with ample protein and nutrients. Because the food is dehydrated, a 10 pound box will feed the equivalent of 40 pounds of dry food, or about 20-40 days for a medium-sized adult dog. The food comes in multiple “recipes”, including chicken, turkey, beef, beef and salmon, chicken and duck, turkey and fish, fish and oats, and grain-free formulations.
They also sell dry food and wet food as well, all which look good enough for a human to eat (because a human can eat it).
Yes, their food is pricier than the giant bag of kibble you buy in bulk. But you get what you pay for. A healthier, happier dog and complete peace of mind. If you consider your dog to be a member of the family and you have a little more disposable income, why not spend the few dollars day to feed him right?
The Honest Kitchen did have to modify their packaging to remove references to their ingredients not coming from China, if only to shut up the Twitter mob that the CCP and irresponsible journalists stirred up. But happily, they are not budging from their commitment to avoid China altogether. I admire this, and so should everyone who loves freedom and loves their dogs. And no, they are not racists and never were.
The Honest Kitchen has been based out of San Diego, California since its founding in 2002. Aside from its commitment not to do business with China suppliers, its founder Lucy Postins has shown remarkable integrity in how she runs the business, from refusing to do business with pet stores that support puppy mills to supporting charities. This is the poster child of businesses to support and celebrate, and the attacks on it from China-fueled social mobs is a clear sign they’re on the right track.
Fromm is one of those brands you see all the time on most “best dog food not made in China” lists, and as with The Honest Kitchen they do come out and say upfront on their site that they refuse to source ingredients from China, despite the backlash and charges of racism that the Chinese Communist Party will no doubt stir up if they see it.
Fromm is a company that traces its history in the United States back over 100 years. Originally a ranch that bred silver foxes, it developed as an innovator in veterinary science and food production. It introduced its first dog food brand in the 1940s and ultimately evolved to become a leading producer of pet food, operating manufacturing facilities throughout Wisconsin.
Why haven’t a lot of people heard of Fromm? Put simply, by remaining family-owned there’s less pressure for them to squeeze every last penny out of their customers by impatient investors. So they can invest more of their profits into improving their product vs. spending it on endless marketing. And they don’t have investors breathing down their necks forcing them to use the cheapest suppliers. Those are statements that any brand owned by big conglomerates like Diamond, Smucker, Hills, Purina (Nestle) and Mars Petcare can’t make, and unfortunately those are the brands that are dominating shelves and online stores.
Grandma Mae’s was founded in 2007. And no, it wasn’t a coincidence. After watching their customers go through so much pain, a group of independent pet store owners pooled their funds together to create a new dog food that would remain true to their principles. Today, they still state boldly on their Web site that none of their products contain ingredients from China.
Their Web site even goes into detail to explain how they deal with certain ingredients where China has completely monopolized the supply chain. Specifically, they explain that they don’t add Vitamin C, because dogs don’t need vitamin C supplements like humans do–they synthesize all the vitamin C they need in their liver. In other words, if you see a dog food brand that has supplemental vitamin C, chances are that was put in your your benefit, not for your dog’s. Similarly, China has all but monopolized the world’s supply of taurine, but while cats cannot synthesize taurine and do need it added to their diets, dogs absolutely can–and Grandma Mae’s food contains ingredients that will help your dog do just that.
Grandma Mae’s is officially sold only through independent pet stores, which is why you won’t see it on shelves of stores like Petco and Chewy (you may see it on Amazon if a local pet store is selling some of their stock online). This is another way to support your local community–buying from giant retailers or conglomerates means that more of your money goes to pay for overhead like investors, overhead like lawyers and marketers, and high paid executives. Buying an independent product from an independent store means that more money goes to your community. Remember that the only reason you’ve heard of a lot of the big brands of dog food is because they invest money in making sure you’re constantly bombarded with marketing, not necessarily because their food is any better.
Merrick was founded in 1988, and have been one of those names you see over and over on lists of the best dog food made and sourced from the USA. They have rave reviews on Amazon for multiple diets, including their Real Chicken and Sweet Potato Recipe and their Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food with Real Meat.
However, from my outsider’s perspective there seem to have been some odd developments. Up to 2017 they put the phrase “All recipes are cooked in the USA using only the freshest ingredients grown by local farmers” in their press releases. But as of 2018, that phrase disappeared completely. Coincidentally, that was the year they were acquired by Purina. claims that the merger wouldn’t affect how they operate.
These day they avoid any references to any country on their site. I did read an answer to a customer question on an Amazon product page in January 2021 that said “We also do source one ingredient from China, which would be our Vitamin B.”. So that slippery slope may be starting as Merrick gets pressure from Purina to drop their US suppliers and turn to cheap China suppliers. Shame on them if that’s the case.
When I wrote to Merrick in August 2021, their response was consistent:
Most of our ingredients are sourced right here in the US. However, due to a move by our Vitamin B supplier in 2018 over to China, we do get this one ingredient from China. We have had a really good relationship with this supplier over the years and they also remain our most consistent and quality supply of Vitamin B. Aside from this one ingredient, however, nothing else comes from China. While we cannot divulge specific levels in the food, as you go down the ingredient list, the less an ingredient will be in the food.
For some reason another customer service agent sent me a similar response the day later. It was probably a mistake on their part to send me two responses, but I was pleased that both responses were equally detailed, consistent, and felt like they were treating me as an individual.
While all our recipes are cooked in the USA and we strive to source the majority of ingredients locally, not all the ingredients come from our country (for example, lamb is sourced in New Zealand and rabbit from France).
We source one of our vitamin B from China; however, our trusted partner was originally located in the United States and moved their operations to China. As we trusted our partnership with them we continued to source our vitamin B with them. I can assure you each ingredient must meet our own rigorous quality standards. Ingredients are tested upon arrival, samples are tested throughout production and all pet food is tested before we release it for sale.
They did a few things right here. They were specific, transparent, detailed, and honest. While I would prefer that they could find a supplier of Vitamin B outside of China, their explanation seemed reasonable that they’re just continuing a relationship with a previous supplier.
I admit I’m skeptical that there won’t be a “slippery slope” here as other Purina brands that have completely sold out put pressure on Merrick to either change more of their suppliers to China or to push more suppliers themselves to selling out to China. That said, because Merrick seems honest and transparent that their exposure to China is limited to just that one ingredient, I figured I’d leave them on this list—for now.
It’s this kind of transparency that we need more of.This business of hiding which ingredients are from China is what got the industry in their mess in 2007, and the only thing that will prevent that from happening again is if consumers refuse to be fooled and take a stand.
Merrick also owns the Whole Earth Farms brand of pet food, another brand that used to say that they were made without any ingredients from China. But since the acquisition by Purina they’ve also changed their messaging to say “Cooked in the USA With The Earth’s Best Ingredients”. Seriously? Who in their right might can’t read between the lines and clearly see that “The Earth” eventually leads to “China”? If Whole Earth Farms had just a modicum of transparency, I’d have wholeheartedly recommended them.
That said, I’ll still recommend Merrick, but I’ll also be keeping an eye on them—and you should too. If you see them holding ground, keep supporting them. But if they startto weasel out of their original commitment by selling out to more China suppliers over time, please let me know if the comments and they’ll be off this list for good.
Acana and Orijen are two other brands that were once the poster children of “Not made in China”. Both are made by Champion Petfood.
Back in 2017, Acana’s Web site read:
There are no ingredients from China used in the preparation of our dog and cat food formulas, including vitamins – we are 100% China-free. Our focus is on fresh ingredients supplied regionally. All our products are made exclusively within our own award-winning factory here in Alberta, Canada.
And Orijen’s Facebook page said the same. And in fact, their Australian site still says this as of 2021. But just in a few years that sentence was completely wiped from their Web site and replaced with marketing nonsense that’s frankly a bit insulting to the intelligence (“We believe that making the world’s best pet foods requires using the world’s best ingredients.”).
Our focus when sourcing ingredients for ORIJEN and ACANA has always been on using ingredients from suppliers we know and trust. Part of this commitment is choosing suppliers with the technical expertise and rigorous standards to give us the best ingredients available. While we do not source ingredients directly from China, some of our B vitamins are made in the USA with raw materials that originate in China. This would apply to vitamins B1, B6 and B9, and is consistent throughout the pet food industry. We require that any vitamin components sourced from China must be human grade, and as such they undergo intensive testing to ensure the purity of the ingredient and accuracy of the blend.
When I reached out to their customer service, here’s the official answer I got.
So it sounds like Acana and Orijen may be in a similar situation that Merrick found itself in when a major vitamin supplier sold out. But I’ll give them points for coming clean and being transparent. And so I’ll keep them on this list, but with a caveat–just as their marketing tells me to look at the first five ingredients on their ingredient’s list, I will be watching to see how many ingredients follow the slippery slope of Vitamin B to make it into their products. Acana’s is
Orijen’s most popular food is its original formula containing chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs. Acana’s is their Red Meat Recipe. Shop their stores to find formulations for dogs in different stages of life, as well as biscuits and treats.
Do you know of other dog food not made in China worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!
- dog food