Another AAFCO meeting down. Here are my detailed notes of the AAFCO meeting broken down into each committee section.
Enforcement Committee Meeting
Dr. Jean Hofve was who suggested to the Enforcement Committee to discuss the topic of mislabeled pet foods – based on five recent studies finding serious issues. She came prepared with all five studies – providing the committee with full documentation. In each study, testing proved that a significant number of pet foods contain proteins not listed on the label (such as the label says chicken but the pet food includes pork – no chicken). She told the committee this was “not just a small problem” citing each study; #1 – 20 out of 52 pet foods were mislabeled, #2 – 3 or 4 were mislabeled, #3 – 10 of 21 were mislabeled, #4 – 10 of 12 were mislabeled, and #5 – 5 of 7 were mislabeled.
I shared with the committee that more than 78,000 consumers signed a petition wanting to know what they are buying in their pet food purchases. I asked the Enforcement Committee to do something about this.
Nina Wolf told the committee that “consumers are desperate”. Sharing her customers are more than frustrated they can’t depend on the label or the advertising.
Dr. Judy Morgan addressed one of the opening statements made by the committee – specifically, a statement made by Stan Cook of Missouri Department of Agriculture. In an introduction to the topic of discussion – mislabeled pet foods – Stan Cook told the crowd that “humanization of pets results in irrational and erratic behavior.” Dr. Judy Morgan addressed his demeaning statement head on telling the committee that his choice of words struck a nerve with her. She told him and the crowd that she does a lot of rescue work and is asked on a daily basis to take in dogs with chronic illness due to not having any confidence in commercial pet food. Her voice cracked with raw emotion when she spoke about so many euthanasia’s all linked to poor diet. She wasn’t “irrational” or “erratic” – she was compassionate to the real problems out there all linked to pet food.
Dr. Karen Becker told the committee she too is “unable to have enough faith in commercial pet food”. She suggested to the committee that we “work together” to find a solution. And then she confronted them directly – asking “What is the solution?” The AAFCO committee responded with that deer in the headlights look. She pushed them again asking “What examples of a solution do you have?” Deer in the headlights. Then she suggested a solution to AAFCO asking if they could develop a pet food verification system confirming that all ingredients are what the label stated.
FDA joined into the conversation at this point stating it is more of an ingredient problem than a pet food problem giving the example of the melamine in vegetable proteins 2007 pet food recall. FDA shared that the pet food could be verified that all ingredients are as stated on the label, but what if – as in 2007 – the ingredients themselves are not what they are supposed to be. FDA stated improved control of the supply chain is needed (control of ingredients being as they are required to be).
Several from industry actually agreed that verification of the pet food ingredients would be good, but they questioned the testing methods asking that a uniform testing method be approved by AAFCO.
The meeting ended without a solid resolve of what regulatory officials are going to do to correct this issue, but we did hear later that some states are concerned and will be investigating this further. Fingers crossed.
Ingredient Definitions Committee
This committee develops and/or edits animal feed ingredient definitions. One of the ingredients introduced was “Human Food Processing By-Products” (this ingredient is specific to livestock feed, not pet food however it could legally be used in a pet food). On a pre-meeting conference call we learned that this ingredient is grocery store waste – examples given were expired yogurt and rotting lettuce. These expired, rotting foods are collected behind every grocery in a large dumpster. Yes, a dumpster – as in where garbage goes. Sitting there – in the weather – waiting for the rendering company truck to pick this waste up and cook it…including cooking the plastic packaging these rotting foods are contained in (such as all of those yogurt cups).
An industry representative told the crowd it would be “unconscionable to landfill these nutrients” – insisting that expired rotting foods (including their plastic packing) is nutrition.
A representative of the FDA told the committee that under the legal agreement they have with AAFCO – AAFCO is required to obtain approval from FDA before submitting a new ingredient (like this one). FDA stated that pre-approval was not submitted and therefore if the committee approves this ingredient, FDA would “go into arbitration” over it.
The issue of plastic food wrapping was mentioned by Dr. Cathy Alinovi and the AAFCO official who submitted this ingredient for approval stated packaging would be removed. Interestingly enough – both FDA and myself stated “but the definition does not require packaging to be removed”.
Again discussing the risks associated with livestock animals eating plastic, this is the point where Dr. Cathy Alinovi warned the room of phthalates in the milk that children drink from cows that consume plastic. The room laughed and booed her.
This ingredient did not get approved – but only because AAFCO did not go through the proper channels with FDA. No one but consumer advocates were concerned about livestock animals eating plastic.
Another agenda for this meeting was updating the various pet food poultry ingredients. Background information: six months or so ago I sent a report to this committee that ground alive spent laying hens (chickens that no longer produce eggs) were being sold to pet food as chicken, chicken meal, chicken by-products and chicken by-product meal. I had complained months prior to this that some meat ingredient definitions included the requirement of slaughter and others didn’t. When it was learned that ground alive chickens were included in pet food, I put two and two together and realized that the requirement of sourced from a slaughtered animal was not left out of the definition by accident – I made the assumption they knew whole birds ground alive were being used in pet food.
As it turns out – the information leaked to me was correct. Whole birds – ground alive – feathers, beaks, intestines, everything – become pet food ingredients. (I wanted to – but refrained from saying ‘I told you so!’)
The worst part however, was that regulatory authorities had no clue what these ingredients actually were. The State Department of Agriculture representative told the committee (and audience) “we were not aware of” where or how these ingredients were sourced. And she stated she found an inconsistency of materials that make up these ingredients. It was openly admitted that “many of us have been surprised by this”.
This is hugely significant. Poultry/chicken, poultry meal/chicken meal, poultry by-products/chicken by-products, and poultry by-product meal/chicken by-product meal are undoubtedly the most common pet food ingredients there are. The individuals that enforce pet food regulations had not a clue what was in these common pet food ingredients. How can these individuals adequately protect pet food consumers if they themselves don’t know what an ingredient is? The answer is – they can’t.
The Pet Food Institute (lobby organization for Big Pet Feed) told the committee that “industry has a right to be heard when you change definitions”. He was complaining that the Ingredient Definitions Committee did not consult with them (Big Pet Feed) in changing these pet food ingredient definitions. The Committee didn’t consult with the consumer groups either.
Who they did consult with was the poultry industry – which opens up a shocking truth about the pet food/animal food industry. One would think that pet food ingredients are developed because of a nutritional need of the animal. But that is not the case. Almost all pet food/animal feed ingredients are developed by the industry that produces them (such as the poultry industry with spent laying hens) – they have nothing (or little) to do with the need of the animal consuming them. So the poultry industry has this ‘product’ (ground whole birds) and they need to sell it. These people are in the business of selling eggs – not ground up chicken. Presto – the pet food industry says they’ll buy it and a definition is written because of the need of industry (not the pet).
Another concerning statement from the Pet Food Institute was “we operate in a vacuum”. I interpreted this statement to mean that the members of the Pet Food Institute themselves didn’t really know what is in the pet food ingredients chicken or chicken meal. They just trust the supplier to meet the ingredient definition. Case in point: Purina suing Blue Buffalo when it was discovered that Blue Buffalo was sold a chicken by-product meal instead of a chicken meal. To me personally – there is NO excuse for manufacturing pet food “in a vacuum”. Every manufacturer should know their ingredients like the back of their hand (some do).
As it turns out – the current definitions of chicken, chicken meal, chicken by-products, and chicken by-product meal (or other poultry ingredients) are all wrong based on the investigation performed by AAFCO. Isn’t that comforting? For decades, pet foods have used chicken/poultry ingredients that did not fit the legal definition of those ingredients – and no one knew or did anything about it. AAFCO requested that State Department of Agricultures continue to investigate these ingredients – to learn more to the exact material they are made from. Pet foods will have the option of using the old definitions (which are wrong) or to use the new tentative definitions (which are sketchy at best). Again, isn’t that comforting to pet food consumers?
Another discussion – which does not have a direct influence on pet food – was regarding the ingredient “Feed Grade Fat”. The motion was to delete this ingredient based on recent knowledge that some in the fat industry are using this ingredient to dispose of hazardous waste fats. I agreed that the ingredient should be deleted based on AAFCO has no legal definition of ‘feed grade’ (this was supposed to be discussed but they ran out of time). Industry complained and complained – they wanted this ingredient to remain to allow their stakeholders to dump waste fat into. They insisted these fats have been used for decades to feed animals safely.
A representative of the FDA did a very good thing (yes, you read that correctly – they did good). He stated “just because we’ve been using this definition for years doesn’t mean we should continue to use this ingredient that allows people to exploit it. Industrial wastes are getting more and more complicated.”
Industry again complained. They again suggested to the committee that this ingredient is “perfectly safe”, warned the committee they are trying to “feed a hungry world”, and warned the committee of the environmental impact of disposing of these fats in landfills. Think about that for a moment…if industry warned about the environmental risks to this ingredient, have they forgotten about the risk to the animals consuming it and the people consuming those animals?
The FDA stood strong again – against this ingredient. He told the audience that the pharmaceutical industry and biodiesel industry are dumping risky fats into this ingredient – and it should be deleted. The FDA’s opinion was heard – but just barely. The AAFCO Committee voted and barely won a vote to delete this ingredient. It was determined they will develop improved fat ingredient definitions in the near future.
Our Meeting with FDA
We all made it clear to FDA that consumers don’t know what they are buying in a commercial pet food and that pet food labels are quite misleading. Those images of grilled and roasted meat on pet food labels were discussed. The FDA told us those images were considered speech and as long as the ‘speech’ is qualified, FDA lawyers will not allow them (FDA) to take pet food labels to court.
FDA gave us the example of a pet food that shows a grill on the label and stated that the color of foods on the grill match the colors of the actual kibble in the pet food. The matching colors are the “qualifier” of speech. This example – I assume – is Friskies Cat Food (click here to see that food).
The images issue was discussed a bit more – but ended when FDA told us “the truth is, we don’t have the resources to take action against all these labels. If we do, we can’t investigate safety issues.” This is a very sad but factual statement. FDA asked Congress for a budget to enforce the Food, Safety Modernization Act – but Congress gave them less than half of their expected budget. Without proper funding, FDA’s hands are tied – and unfortunately, pet food is last in line of concern.
Dr. Becker asked FDA “In a perfect world, what would you do to better inform buyers (of pet food)?” FDA responded that more investigation of ingredients instead of pictures needs to take place. Dr. Becker followed up with “how can consumers understand quality (of ingredients in pet food)?” She explained her question that the pet food has been rendered, its been HPP’d, it’s been irradiated – it’s clean (of bacteria) – but what about quality? FDA didn’t really have an answer for this. They said there is no standard to measure good, better, best in pet food.
Rodney Habib asked the FDA “why the attack on raw pet food?” FDA insisted their recent testing of raw pet food is based on FDA surveillance and that the agency has tested kibble in the past, and “this time we are testing raw”.
Dr. Becker asked if FDA is testing for mycotoxins in pet food. FDA responded that mycotoxin testing is often based on weather conditions (weather can promote the growth of mycotoxins). They also stated “if we learn about an issue (such as through consumer complaints), that might initiate an investigation”. My thoughts went to Beneful – there have been a lot of consumer complaints with that pet food but no FDA investigation.
Dr. Judy Morgan told FDA “I didn’t sleep at all last night knowing what goes into pet food.” She told them she was so frustrated, she didn’t know where to begin. She asked about the ‘Made in the USA’ claim – to which we were told “that’s not an FDA issue”.
Dr. Cathy Alinovi brought up a 3rd party verification program. This was discussed at our last meeting with FDA a year ago (Dr. Cathy was in that meeting). She asked why we cannot have such a system that verifies that ingredients and the pet food are what is stated and informs the consumer if the pet food is actually food or lesser quality feed. FDA stated there is no measurement of “good, better, best pet food ingredients”. We all disagreed. Our proposal of this 3rd party verification program was mentioned – and I reminded the FDA they told us “no” to our proposal with no explanation of where to go next. FDA stated they would be willing to work with us in the future to establish this program. Fingers crossed.
Pet Food Committee Meeting
At the start of the Pet Food Committee Meeting the discussion of a correction to the newly passed pet food nutrient profiles was needed. For some unknown reason, every expert consulted for the updated nutrient profiles forgot about the requirement for iodine in cat food – the requirement was omitted. This was corrected in this meeting.
Carbohydrate statements on pet food labels are getting a little closer to reality. The issue holding up progress has been a testing method to verify carbohydrate statements on pet food labels. A new lab method has been developed, and as soon as this testing method is verified – fingers crossed – we should begin to see movement by AAFCO to require carbohydrate statements on pet food labels.
The addition of calorie statements on pet snacks, treats and supplements was added. Soon all of these products will be required to state calories on the product label.
And then the discussion began about human grade claims on pet food. FDA made the statement that they have been verifying human grade claims for about 10 years, and they believe they have set the standard for this claim. The FDA is no longer doing this verification, and each state will now have that responsibility (FDA encouraged states to use their same verification process).
Dr. Jean Hofve told the committee “this is a real mess”. She shared that she sees non-compliant human grade claims on pet food labels often.
I told the committee – “you set this stage by allowing pet food to violate federal food safety laws”. I shared that we have more than 78,000 signatures on a petition from consumers who want to know if they are buying food (edible ingredients) or feed (inedible ingredients).
Mollie Morrissette told the committee there are legal definitions for edible and inedible – she asked why these aren’t used and why isn’t the consumer informed.
Nina Wolf told the committee that pet food consumers want to know. She shared this was not a ‘judgment’ issue of who’s good and who’s bad – she stated it is simply that consumers want to know what they are buying.
And Rodney Habib shared with the committee that he himself was “deceived” by misleading labels and his own dog suffered because of it. He told the committee pet owners are looking for answers, he asked them to make things clear, and told them “it’s up to you guys to un-murky the waters”.
We do not know where this issue will go in the near future. No discussion took place of what AAFCO will do.
With our group of educated and brave consumer advocates – I believe we made the biggest impression on AAFCO and FDA that we ever have. We were all uniform in our concerns and we were uniform in what we expect out of these agencies.
I believe we scored a win with the poultry/chicken ingredients. Regulatory authorities – because of our insistence – investigated these ingredients and discovered what we shared with them to be true. They – at the very least – are now taking a closer look at these pet food ingredients.
I don’t believe that AAFCO or FDA still really considers us as stakeholders in the pet food industry. They are coming around, but we are not on equal ground as other stakeholders (industry).
AAFCO meetings are never an easy thing. They are expensive (upwards of $1500 – meeting, airfare, and hotel). They are a chore. They are painful to realize how regulatory folks frets over where to place a comma within a definition but no one cares one bit that pharmaceutical waste can go into an animal feed. But this meeting was special because we had so many within our pet food consumer advocate army. We grew our army because of all of you. And we all thank you for your support.
One more time – a very sincere thank you to our army of consumer advocates…
Next meeting is in mid January Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We’ll be there – fighting the fight for safe food/safe pet food again.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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The 2015 List
Susan’s List of trusted pet foods. Click Here
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