Pet food regulations can be more bark than bite
Regulators are working to keep our pets’ food safe, but gaps remain.
Worried about your furry friend’s food? You are not alone. a explosion pet food options over the past decade – plant-based, vegetarian, natural, organic, gluten-free, grain-free, raw diet, new protein, made in the USA – a created an impressive number of choices.
Some brands Marlet their pet food is better for older dogs or cats, while other brands target puppies and kittens. Still others claim that their products are enriched with supplements such as âantioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitinâ. But do these labels really mean anything?
Consumers cannot have the same confidence in the labels of pet food as they do in the labels of food intended for human consumption. The Federal Law on Food, Drugs and Cosmetics (FDCA) of 1938, administered by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was the first major federal legislation to ensure the safety and proper labeling of foods for humans and animals. But the provisions of the Animal Feed Act contain ambiguous terms and provide for limit oversight of the pet food industry.
Today this industry is a big business. Private equity groups and mega-companies gurgling brands such as Purina, Iams, Milk-Bone and Eukanuba. The American Pet Products Association estimates that sales of animal feed and treats was rising to nearly $ 40 billion in 2019, with dog food making up the bulk of sales. According to one estimate, if all dogs and cats in America form their own country, it would be “fifth in world meat consumption”.
In the late 1960s, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – a nonprofit that sets ‘voluntary manufacturing and labeling guidelines’ for pet food producers – has attempted to address some of the shortcomings of the FDCA and suggested definitions and more precise standards. AAFCO continues to develop pet food safety and labeling standards. But since participation in the organization is voluntary, pet food producers are free to ignore the model regulations.
Many states have adopted the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations, but compliance with these laws varies because local authorities are responsible for enforcing them all.
Calls for federal involvement in pet food regulation increase in 2007 after contaminated ingredients imported from China kill over a dozen dogs and cats and sickened thousands more. Four years later, Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). This law extended Power of the FDA to issue pet food regulations.
A key provision of the FSMA, called the Preventive controls for the feed rule, requires that animal feed producers comply with âcurrent good manufacturing practicesâ. But these good manufacturing practices, which include guidelines for cleaning, pest control, and record keeping,establish only minimum food safety and hygiene standards for pets. In addition, some producers, such as home producers and ‘very small‘Manufacturers of pet food, to stay exempt from compliance, although state and local regulations may apply to them.
Supporters of the FSMA Claim that linking pet food safety and hygiene standards to current good manufacturing practices was a legislative âstroke of geniusâ. These supporters support this connection given the flexibility of manufacturers to incorporate innovative technology and themselves determine the security controls to be implemented to ensure compliance.
But the Pet Food Institute– whose members understand most of the US pet food industry – argues that while the FSMA is a step in the right direction, the FDA has not provided sufficient guidance. The Institute also suggests that funding shortages hamper federal oversight and hamper state regulators who “shoulder a large part of the FSMA’s compliance and enforcement responsibilities.”
Pet food does not require FDA pre-market approval. However, the agency requires that certain ingredients called “food additives” to receive approval before brands can use them in food products. But the FDA defines food additives in general: as “any substance which directly or indirectly becomes a component of a food or which affects the characteristics of a food”.
Feed manufacturers can to avoid The FDA processes evaluating ingredients that fall under the broad coverage of food additives using substances that are âgenerally recognized as safeâ (GRAS). TO get GRAS approval, a substance must either have existed in animal feed before 1958 and be commonly used since, or demonstrate its safety by a scientific study in a reputable journal.
FDA complaints that the GRAS standard âis in fact more difficult to meet than the required standard for food additivesâ. But ultimately it is up to the feed manufacturers to assess whether each ingredient meets the GRAS standard or must be classified in the âfood additiveâ category. And some ingredients that originally meet the GRAS standard, such as propylene glycol, was subsequently found to be dangerous for pets and was banned by the FDA.
After production, pet foods are also subject to labeling requirements under the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Under FDA regulations, the labeling of animal feed must list certain percentages of named ingredients, the name and address of the manufacturer, and feeding instructions based on the weight of the animal.
In addition, the FTC issued the Food guides for dogs and cats that explain what counts as misrepresentation in pet food labels and advertisements. These misrepresentations include misrepresentation by the manufacturer Claim that its pet food has won an award and a mistaken claim that its pet food is “suitable for human consumption”.
Although nearly 80 percent of U.S. pet owners Claim âThe quality of their pets’ food is as important as theirs,â the relative absence of pet food regulations suggests that pets can to receive the shorter end of the stick. In 2019, the FDA identified 16 Dog Food Brands That May Have Caused Heart Failure In Dogs. And last fall, the FDA Posted another reminder after the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry discovered that some pet foods contained unsafe levels of a toxin, although no legal law enforcement authority suspect the manufacturers violated any existing regulations.
Although the FDA appears willing to exercise its regulatory power recently by recalling potentially dangerous pet foods, some vets call for further research on the safety of pet food ingredients, in the hopes of preventing harmful products from reaching consumers in the first place.