Another Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) meeting is over.
This was the largest attendance of consumer advocates we’ve ever had at AAFCO. Dr. Karen Becker, Rodney Habib, Daniel Orrego, Dr. Barbara Royal, Dr. Natasha Lilly, Chelsea Kent, Tammy Akerman, B.C. Henschen, Laura Beveridge, Julie Elrod, Roxanne Stone, Billy Hoekman, (not pictured) Dr. Cathy Alinovi, and myself. (Also pictured who joined us for dinner is Audree, Dr. Josie, Jillian, and Maura.)
AAFCO meetings are a necessity. A necessity for us to be here, and a necessity for regulations to be established that properly regulate the food that animals consume. Part of the problem is that a great deal of effort is taken to write legal definitions of ingredients or determine the required font size on a label – but little enforcement of those detailed regulations happen.
We had a meeting with FDA right after the last session on Tuesday 7/31/18. One of the two pet owners that spoke with FDA had multiple pets get sick from a commercial dog food. She told FDA that she purchased the dog food – in part – based on the images of steak on the label (just like millions of other pet owners have). What the label told her was in the food (steak) she later learned was not even close to what her dogs actually ate. The misleading pet food label cost her more than $6000.00 in vet bills – and the misleading image almost cost her her dog.
In the AAFCO book is this pet food regulation: “A vignette, graphic, or pictorial representation on a pet food label shall not misrepresent the contents of the package.” At a previous AAFCO meeting – probably 20 years ago – regulatory officials meticulously wrote this legal requirement of pet food labels. But…20 years later, not one State Department of Agriculture and not one FDA representative bothers to enforce this law.
Millions of pet food consumers unknowingly buy pet foods based on those misleading images on the label – images that are supposed to be regulated…but are not.
So part of the insanity of AAFCO is that many people work very hard to write legal requirements of pet food/animal feed…and then those very legal requirements are ignored.
Another pet owner shared her story with FDA during our meeting. Her story was of her dog’s death directly linked to a dog treat. This pet owner reported the incident to FDA, had the treat tested, provided all test results to FDA. But a full year after her dog died, FDA has done little to investigate the death. Through tear filled eyes, we all listened to her story and her pleas with FDA to do something to get a risky product off the market. She told the agency how concerning it was that she has to be the one to investigate the dog treat – because no regulatory authority was.
And again, we have another glaring concern of pet food. Lack of properly investigating a dangerous pet food or treat. Consumer tax dollars support the authorities that are supposed to be investigating a pet food/treat illness or death…but if we want an unsafe product off store shelves, consumers are left to investigate on our own.
What AAFCO members care most about is industry. And they are not shy about stating that. During the Ingredient Definitions Committee session a State Department of Agriculture representative reminded committee members that “firms are going to be hurting” if they don’t push through these ingredient definitions (they want to sell the ingredient but cannot until it is legally defined). During the Pet Food Label Modernization session (discussion on future updates to pet food labels), a State Department of Agriculture representative openly encouraged industry to complain about these label updates stating “this is going to cost you money to change your labels, more of you need to speak out against this”. This same State Department of Agriculture representative told the committee to “consider the economic impact to industry” regarding pet food labeling changes.
FYI – after the 2007 pet food recall, Congress required FDA to update pet food labels. Congress required FDA to complete this work by September 2009. This has never been completed by FDA. Nine years after law required pet food labels be updated, government officials complain the changes will hurt industry.
The biggest concern of regulatory authorities – AAFCO, State Department of Agriculture, and FDA – is industry. And we have to change that. Consumers are the largest stakeholder group of pet food. We are the reason commercial pet food exists. Somehow, some way…we have to constantly remind authorities that consumers ARE the most important stakeholder of pet food.
Our amazing team at AAFCO was wonderful. The caring energy from everyone was empowering. We were – as typical at AAFCO meetings – followed and listened to. During our meeting with FDA, someone was reporting every word back to another on a cell phone (yes, we saw you). But we didn’t care. We have nothing to hide, they do.
A special thank you to Dr. Karen Becker, Rodney Habib, Dr. Barbara Royal and Dr. Natasha Lilly for coming to AAFCO. You are appreciated more than words can properly explain.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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