Who Regulates Pet Food in the US?
Do you know who holds the responsibility of assuring pet food safety in the US? Is it FDA? Is it AAFCO?
Most pet food consumers understand that FDA is a regulatory authority over pet food. But many don’t know that FDA works with most State Department of Agriculture in regulating pet food. Many consumers believe AAFCO enforces law with pet food, but…they don’t. AAFCO has no regulatory authority at all. Here’s how the regulatory control breaks down with pet food.
The Food and Drug Administration is the main regulatory body over pet food. Responsibilities include:
- (infrequent) inspections of pet food manufacturing and ingredient suppliers (excluding USDA regulated suppliers – example meat, see USDA below);
- pet food investigations (based on consumer or veterinary complaint);
- works in cooperation with AAFCO developing (state) laws, defining ingredients, establishing nutritional requirements for pet food/animal feed;
- approves or denies pet food additives or processing aids not defined by AAFCO (GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe – ingredients).
The FDA’s regulation of pet food is guided by (should be guided by) federal law. Federal laws the FDA is charged with enforcing include the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Food Drug and Cosmetic Amendments Act, the Food Safety Modernization Act. However, FDA does not enforce all laws they are required to enforce with pet food/animal feed; through FDA policy the agency allows pet food to violate some federal laws.
State Department of Agriculture
State Department of Agriculture is a secondary regulatory authority over pet food having almost as much responsibility as FDA. Responsibilities include:
- most US States require pet food manufacturers to register each food or treat sold within state boundaries on a yearly basis – often charging fees for each registration (some charge based on tonnage sold, some charge a flat fee per label);
- some states inspect pet food labels for adherence to labeling laws (during the yearly registration process);
- some states randomly test pet food for risky bacteria and/or Guaranteed Analysis claims;
- some states will investigate consumer complaints on their own or in cooperation with FDA;
- some states will inspect pet food/treat manufacturing facilities on their own or in cooperation with FDA;
- some states work in cooperation with AAFCO developing (state) laws, defining ingredients, establishing nutritional requirements for pet food/animal feed.
State Department of Agriculture regulation of pet food is guided by (should be guided by) state law which is always in cooperation with federal law. However, each State Department of Agriculture does not enforce all laws they are required to enforce with pet food/animal feed; states follow FDA’s lead in lack of enforcement of some pet food laws.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials has no regulatory authority over pet food. AAFCO is an independent organization consisting of State Department of Agriculture and FDA members. AAFCO writes Model Bills which are typically accepted as state law (however not accepted in all states). AAFCO has established the nutritional requirements of cat and dog food (to meet a Complete and Balanced claim), has established legal definitions of all pet food/animal feed ingredients, and the labeling requirements of pet food (not public information, owned by AAFCO).
The United States Department of Agriculture has no regulatory authority over pet food. The USDA does have a voluntary pet food certification program, but it is not acknowledged by FDA or State Department of Agriculture. USDA regulates meat used for human consumption under division FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Services), the agency does not officially regulate meat for pet consumption. Raw pet foods manufactured under constant USDA inspection and meat shipped to a human food manufacturing facility that also manufactures a pet food were under USDA jurisdiction during manufacture, however after they become ‘a pet food’ they no longer are responsibility of USDA. Another division of USDA – APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Services) – provides minor oversight of pet food but only in regards to products that are exported outside the US; their duties are limited to services to assure the exporting pet food product meets importing country’s law.
Meat destined for pet food coming from a USDA inspected processing facility can be inspected and approved (human grade) or it can be condemned meat rejected for use in human food. In many cases meat destined for pet food – because USDA does not have jurisdiction in pet food – is denatured with an agent (typically charcoal dust but can be more toxic substances) to clearly mark the meat as non-human grade. Sometimes pet food manufacturers can make arrangements with USDA to not denature their meat.
Each federal or state agency is respectful of the others jurisdiction. As example, in the recent Evanger’s Pet Food issue…meat was the suspect contaminate. Meat falls into USDA’s jurisdiction. Respecting USDA’s jurisdiction, during the investigation of Evanger’s meat supplier FDA turned to sister federal agency USDA for information regarding the meat processing facility. Typically FDA or State Department of Agriculture does not enter a meat processing facility (as it is USDA’s jurisdiction). But FDA and/or State Department of Agriculture can request any information from a fellow agency as part of an investigation.
Filing a pet food complaint
Consumers can (and should) file a pet food adverse event complaint (pet illness or death) with FDA and with your State Department of Agriculture. It is at the discretion of the agency if an investigation will proceed. For FDA report here: https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm. To find your state representative, go here: http://www.aafco.org/Regulatory
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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