AAFCO’s website nicely summarizes “human-grade” as it pertains to pet food:
There have been “human-grade” claims on some pet foods for a few years. This term has no definition in any animal feed regulations. Extremely few pet food products could be considered officially human edible or human-grade. A pet food that actually met these standards would be expensive. While pet owners can buy what they feel is best for their pet, they should understand the definitions and the odds. [Emphasis added.]
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines products fit for human consumption to be officially “edible.” These foodstuffs have been processed, inspected and passed manufacturing regulations (i.e. process control regulations) that are designed to assure safety for consumption by humans.
Edible is a standard; human-grade is not. For a product to be deemed edible for humans, all ingredients must be human edible and the product must be manufactured, packed and held in accordance with federal regulations in 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food. If these conditions are met for a pet food, human-grade claims may be made. If these conditions are not met, then it is an unqualified claim and misbrands the product. [Emphasis added.]
Misbranding a feed is a prohibited act subject to enforcement action on the responsible party. The presence of human-grade on a label implies a product or ingredients may meet the legally-recognized edible standard.
Thus in order for a pet food to be “human-grade”, it must be legally “edible”, which pertains not only to the ingredients, but also to the conditions in which they were prepared and handled. Few pet foods meet this requirement.
Instead, most pet foods are feed-grade, or derive from “material that is safe, functional, handled, and labeled appropriately for its intended use in animal food.” By definition, this feed is inedible; that is, not safe for human consumption.
However, even if a pet food’s ingredients are “edible”, they must be prepared in accordance with Section 21 of the Congressional Federal Register, which has 100 regulations concerning food safety. AAFCO, contrastingly, has only 15 of such regulations, which are considerably laxer.
Thus for pet food to truly be “human-grade” it needs to overcome two hurdles. First, it must be “edible”. Second, it must be prepared in accordance with regulations concerning human food. Despite many claims to the contrary, few pet foods prevail on these two tests.