Most pet owners base their choice of pet food on a brand’s reputation for safety and quality. But judging a food’s quality and safety can be challenging. And if you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably read about this month’s popular and often-repeated misconception about pet food: No one regulates pet food in the United States.
It’s a myth that’s completely false. The fact is, in the United States, pet food is one of the most highly regulated food products, and it’s regulated at both the federal and state levels.
Pet food regulatory fact or fiction
Several agencies regulate pet food manufacturing and labeling: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and individual state departments of agriculture.
The basic U.S. food and drug law is the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FD&C Act), which regulates both human and animal foods. This law has always required pet food makers and their suppliers to market safe products, including pet foods, treats and chews. Like food for people, the FD&C Act requires pet food must be:
- Safe to eat
- Made under hygienic conditions
- Free of harmful substances
- Truthfully labeled
The FDA is also responsible for reviewing and approving food additives before they can be marketed, regardless of whether they’ll be used in human or pet foods. A food additive is any substance that directly or indirectly becomes part of a food or that affects a food’s characteristics, such as dyes and carrageenan.
More recently, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandated comprehensive changes to U.S. food safety regulations. This law created new requirements and mandatory product safety standards for almost all human and pet food makers, and focuses on preventing food-related illness rather than reacting and correcting issues. Some of the law’s requirements have already been put into place; others must be in place by fall 2017 (if they aren’t already).
You may also be surprised to learn that all U.S. commercial pet food-making plants must be registered with the FDA and are regularly audited by FDA inspectors. Pet food makers are also regulated by two other federal agencies:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose inspectors determine which food animals can be used in both human and pet food
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates pet food labeling and advertising claims
At the state level, dog and cat foods may be even more tightly regulated, depending on the state and its feed control laws, food and drug acts, and weights and measures acts. Most states require pet food makers to register each product before it may be sold within that state. The registration process often involves state-level evaluations of products and labels to ensure compliance with state requirements.
What about AAFCO?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary professional organization whose members are local, state and federal officials involved with regulating the sale of livestock feed and pet foods. Although individual AAFCO members are government employees who are responsible for enforcing animal feed regulations within their jurisdictions, including those related to pet foods, AAFCO itself has no regulatory authority. The association’s objectives are to:
- Protect animal and human health
- Ensure consumer protection
- Provide a level playing field for animal feed industry business
AAFCO members have created model pet food regulations, which many states have adopted. Working with nutrition experts, the organization also established nutrient profiles for dog and cat foods based on the nutrient requirements identified by the National Research Council.
We all — pet owners, veterinary nutritionists, veterinarians, pet food manufacturers and regulatory officials — want the same thing: safe, high-quality pet food. And it’s something that pet food makers, including Diamond Pet Foods, take very seriously.