Here are my notes from the Ingredient Definitions Committee meeting. This is where human grade and feed grade were approved, where a verbal fight took place with PFI, and I’ll start with a funny story that happened just before the meeting began.
This was a 3 hour meeting – thus…there are many notes.
As an consumer representative adviser to this committee, we get to sit ‘at the table’. The ‘table’ is in the front of the room, with AAFCO members, FDA members, and advisers sitting all around it (it is ‘U’ shaped). Sitting on one side of me was Dr. Jean Hofve, sitting on the other side of me was an AAFCO State Department of Agriculture representative. As I sat down the AAFCO member joked – asking me if I brought the blender. Confused, I asked: ‘blender?’ He said, the blender for the margarita’s. (These meetings are tough, and margarita’s would be welcomed by most everyone to help us through them – but it was meant as a joke.) I joked back that I forgot the blender – my bad for forgetting. But interestingly I told him one of our group had an organic margarita at the bar last night. His response: “At this point, I’d settle for a feed grade margarita.”
It was a great statement and very funny! Not only to the point of how tough these meetings are (for regulatory folks and for other attendees), but that he termed it as a ‘feed grade margarita’ tells us State Department of Agriculture folks ARE hearing us. They are beginning to understand our challenges. My thanks to this particular State Department of Agriculture representative for being so very friendly, joking with us, and recognizing the food/feed challenge of consumers.
The meeting began with some general business – informing the room of the progress of special working groups that meet in webinars or conference calls in between the public meetings. On all working groups there are representatives of AAFCO, typically FDA, industry and consumer representatives (if the working group is pertinent to pet food). Typically the progress report is provided by an AAFCO member on the group, but this time they did things differently. AAFCO asked for industry to provide the report for the GRAS working group and me to provide details of the Sunday special ‘How to Introduce new Ingredients to AAFCO’ event.
The GRAS working group was developed to build guidelines for state regulatory authorities to follow in approving Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredients. Dr. Jean Hofve is on that working group representing the needs of consumers. Several in industry had concerns of proprietary information in these GRAS ingredients. FDA asked industry to provide information that would not be proprietary – proprietary muddies the water for others to use the same ingredient once it is approved. It was decided that the working group would continue to meet to work on some of these challenges. We’ll get another report from the group at the next meeting.
I was caught totally off guard when I was asked to provide a description of the Sunday ‘How to Introduce new Ingredients to AAFCO’ event (I had no idea I was going to be asked for this). But I provided (hopefully) an explanation of the event sharing that FDA gave detailed information of what FDA needs on new ingredients and AAFCO provided what they need. I also shared that during this event AAFCO allowed us to present what consumers wanted from ingredient definitions and pet food labels. (The presentation I provided of consumer wants in ingredients and labels is available by clicking Here.) Note to any pet food manufacturer reading this – the AAFCO website will have a recording of the full event in the ‘Feed Bin’ (you will need to have a subscription to the online AAFCO Official Publication to access the ‘Feed Bin’). Please – all pet food manufacturers – introduce new ingredients the right way. Watch the presentation and learn what the right way is before you put any new ingredient in a pet food.
Next on the agenda was a new term ‘animal food’. This was the term I was concerned about mentioned in my notes from Monday meetings. Again the definition of this term is: “Animal Food means food for animals other than humans and includes pet food, specialty pet food, animal feed, and raw materials and ingredients.” What caused my concern of this term is animal ‘food’ – specifically the word food (instead of feed). FDA stated in this meeting that FDA is “moving away from the term feed.” Animal food is “technically the same” as feed, but FDA is choosing in future language to refer to feed as ‘animal food’. I see this as a very real concern for consumers who wish to know if they are purchasing a feed grade pet food or food grade pet food – but, we’ll have to see how the dust settles on this one. Once I read more of the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act I will write more explanation (as I understand it) – hopefully that will be done sooner than later (I’ll try).
And next in the meeting began the discussion of the new definition of feed grade. And this is where the argument began (between us and PFI).
FDA stated that ‘feed grade’ is the “threshold for safety” – and this statement is significantly important. As the discussion turned out, FDA and AAFCO wanted a complete definition for that “threshold for safety” – industry did not. In the AAFCO big book of regulations, the only existing definition of feed grade was “suitable for animal consumption”. The definition going up for vote in this meeting was: “Feed Grade: Material that has been determined to be safe, functional and suitable for its intended use in animal food, is handled and labeled appropriately, and conforms to The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act unless otherwise expressly permitted by the appropriate state or federal agency.” As you can see – the new proposed definition has a much more clearly defined “threshold for safety” than the former definition which only stated “suitable for animal consumption”.
A representative of the Pet Food Institute (PFI) told the committee he “did not feel the definition adds clarity”. He argued it should just say ‘suitable for animal consumption’. AAFCO representatives defended the new definition sharing that the new definition references the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (again, that ‘threshold for safety’). They shared that the request for a new definition was received (that was from us!) and FDA felt the old definition wasn’t explicit enough, thus the work was done to develop this new definition.
PFI complained again. They stated “I’m not sure this is helping” – he went on saying that the new definition is “confusing those of us around the table that actually know something about feed manufacturing”. He said if consumers are confused, then they should be sent to the AAFCO Talks website. “Why further complicate it? I’m lost.”
The AAFCO Talks website is full of inconsistencies which have not been corrected (I’ve tried, they have ignored me). So I responded to PFI with: ‘To respond to you being lost, from the perspective of a consumer – the people here (at AAFCO) are neck deep in the book (the AAFCO rule book), and the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and knowing what a label is supposed to say – we are neck deep in it. But the people that are buying these products are not. They are wanting to walk into a store – and there are hundreds of different dog foods and cat foods to choose from – they want something made from actual meat. The same kind of meat they feed the rest of their family. Just because its got four legs, doesn’t mean it is any less valuable to them than other family.’
PFI came back with ‘What does this have to do with helping them?’
I responded ‘Because this gives them a little clarity. FDA Compliance Policies – Federal law says that a lot of the things allowed into pet food are not allowed into any food. Food is defined in the FD&C Act as anything consumed by humans and animals. But FDA Compliance Policies allow adulterated ingredients into pet food with out consumer knowledge.’
PFI responded “No, actually they don’t.”
Furious at this point I continued – “Oh yes they do.”
PFI responsed “Not if it causes animal harm.”
And me again “But the law doesn’t say animal harm. The law specifically says a diseased animal or an animal that has died other than by slaughter is considered adulterated – end of story – that is law. FDA Compliance Policies are FDA opinion they don’t believe this material is not safe – but that is not the law.”
(During this banter back and forth between PFI and myself, Dr. Jean Hofve was egging me on with whispers of ‘You’re right, keep going, you’re right!’)
FDA broke up the fight – saying let’s go back to the topic of feed grade (though I do feel I was just defending the feed grade definition and its need when PFI was trying to sway the committee against it. I feel we were still on topic – but he was probably right that the argument needed to end. PFI and consumers are never going to agree on this one.)
And another AAFCO representative defended the new definition. In her defense of the definition – she said something significantly important.
She shared that the old feed grade definition (“suitable for animal consumption”) would be open for a lot of interpretations. She went on to say that she wasn’t accusing anyone at the meeting of this, but she and other state feed officials were well aware of circumstances of feed mills (also including pet food mills) that ‘interpreted’ that old definition in ways very different than “any of you want to admit” (and she was looking right at PFI when she said this). She said the new definition provides specificity that is needed for feed officials.
Yeah for us – the new feed grade definition passed! It has one more committee to go through – which will happen at the next meeting. We’ll be there, defending our sorely needed feed grade definition just in case PFI decides to try something again. This was a HUGE victory. Just as several regulatory representatives stated, the new feed grade definition establishes a clearer ‘threshold for safety’. Score one for safety.
FYI – the term ‘suitable for use in animal food’ which is a term found often in AAFCO definitions, will have the exact same definition as feed grade. This was approved as well.
Next was discussion and vote to approve the definition of ‘Human Grade’. The FDA made an interesting statement saying that the ‘human grade’ claim was basically a marketing term. She shared it is a “high threshold” and it is meant to be a high threshold so that the term would not be misleading (to consumers). She stated it needs to be a high threshold to prevent abuse in the market place. We agreed. The definition passed.
Another interesting discussion was on various fat ingredients. The definition being discussed included a maximum of 20% free fatty acids. The National Renderers Association wanted 85% maximum – they stated if it was high the nutritionist would make adjustments in the formula to address any concerns. An FDA representative – whose frown was misinterpreted by the audience as him being humorous (he can be quite humorous) stated ‘this isn’t funny folks.’ He shared there can be some serious concerns with various fatty acids at even low levels – and “yes, you better have a nutritionist looking at the problem.” It ended up with no maximum in the definition, but requiring the label to state guaranteed levels of fatty acids. Not quite what we would have preferred, but at least this holds industry accountable for each product.
Lastly, there was discussion of more food waste ingredients. Industry was told that all involved would be responsible for having (and keeping it in their records) of safety assessment of food waste ingredients (safety assessments for the intended species the ingredient is being fed to). Industry complained, but FDA held their ground. Every firm involved in interstate commerce of a food waste ingredient (whether it is the ingredient supplier or the feed manufacturing using it) is responsible for food safety assessment of the ingredient. This was good.
Overall, we felt that this was a good meeting. We had a couple of wins (feed grade and human grade) and most importantly, we all felt that regulatory authorities are listening to us. They have made efforts at being fair. That is all we can ask. We won’t win every argument, but we do need them to hear consumer concerns and at least be fair with their decisions. I honestly believe we are making headway with that.
The next AAFCO meeting will be in early August in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
And last – but not least – I want to personally thank our team. Dr. Jean Hofve – weeks prior to the meeting went through some serious health issues. She fought through it and I’m so glad she did. Thanks so much Jean for your friendship and your work to protect consumers! Dr. Judy Morgan – you amaze me at your knowledge! Thank you so much for being there with us and fighting the fight. BC Henchen – I had no clue you were so funny. What a great guy you are – how lucky those consumers are that go to your pet food store – they have a gem! Thank you for being part of the team – even if you had to deal with all us women ;). Also in the picture below is Roxanne Stone of Answers Pet Food – thank you Roxanne for continuing to attend AAFCO meetings. I wish more small pet food manufacturers would follow your lead – be brave, be part of the regulatory process.
We wouldn’t be able to be at AAFCO without all of your support – so thank you too to so many pet food consumers that have our backs. All of us – we are a team – a mighty good team that will continue to fight to protect our pets.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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