When we discovered that the AAFCO (American Association for Feed Control Officials) website directed consumers to learn more about pet food on the Pet Food Institute (trade association for Big Pet Food) website, we asked AAFCO to remove those links. They told us no.
Fellow pet food safety advocate Mollie Morrissette found the damning evidence. On the AAFCO website – on the page “Resources/Links” – under the “Consumers” section, four of the eight resources provided for consumers are directed to the Pet Food Institute website – the lobby group that represent Big Pet Food. The other four direct consumers to the FDA.
“A Consumers Guide to Pet Food” – links to PFI.
“FAQ – Homemade Pet Food” – links to PFI.
“FAQ – Product Names and Labels” – links to PFI.
“Ingredients” – links to PFI.
I wrote to AAFCO President Doug Leuders stating “On this page of the AAFCO website – Resources/Links –
http://petfood.aafco.org/ResourcesLinks.aspx – under the category ‘Consumers’ there is a link titled “A Consumers Guide to Pet Food”. That link directs consumers to the Pet Food Institute website. The PFI is not a consumer association – it is an industry association. AAFCO should not direct consumers to an industry website. Three more links in the ‘Consumers’ section all link to the PFI website. Again, the PFI is not a consumer association and it should not be linked to provide consumers unbiased information on the AAFCO website.
We feel there remains a serious conflict of interest with AAFCO’s close relationships with industry and industry trade groups. Historically, industry has participated in the AAFCO process much longer than consumer representatives have. However, a consumer representative has been involved at AAFCO since the 2007 pet food recall (Mike Floyd, Susan Thixton, Jean Hofve and Mollie Morrissette) and we continue to be considered unwelcome outsiders; not part of the ‘gang’. The ‘buddy system’ of AAFCO needs to stop. AAFCO has a tremendous responsibility developing the model regulations of all animal feeds and this responsibility must be accomplished on a fair and equitable playing field. Susan Thixton and Mollie Morrissette”
Mr. Leuders responded “As to the website links, I have formed a task force to offer suggestions for revamping the AAFCO website. Part of the evaluation process will address what is linked to externally. We appreciate you volunteering to participate on that task force. I would hope that links could be evaluated on their content and value to the intended audience and not dismissed outright because of the website where they are displayed.”
I have volunteered – was asked to be a part of – the revamping of the AAFCO website. I wanted the information provided on the site to provide consumers what they deserve to know. But waiting for this website rebuild to be completed was not good enough. So the following response was sent back to AAFCO President…
“Thank you for your response. I would ask that until the task force revamps the AAFCO website – that the links for consumers (to PFI website) be removed. This would take your webmaster no more than 30 seconds to accomplish. Surely you can understand how misleading the information an industry trade group could be to consumers. I’m not sure you are aware of this – but as example of how the PFI ‘plays’ – they purchased the domains TruthaboutPetFood.org and TruthaboutPetFood.net (note the .org and .net) and direct them to the PFI website. Clearly trying to get some of the consumer traffic that my site generates (TruthaboutPetFood.com). This actually is a violation of federal law (Anti Cyber Squatting Protection Act). I asked them (in person) to remove the links to their site but they have refused. I know this has nothing to do with AAFCO – but just an example that this trade group doesn’t play fair (or legally). It continues to be a conflict of interest for AAFCO to provide website traffic (consumer traffic) to an industry trade association. I see no problem for AAFCO to direct manufacturers to PFI.
And this was the final word received…
Since we had a AAFCO board of director’s meeting scheduled for yesterday, I wanted to run your concerns past them before responding to you. Your concerns were voiced to the group and after their consideration it was decided that since there was a work group established for the AAFCO website update that we would let them do their job. Richard indicates that you are a member of that group. I appreciate that you have an interest in making the web-site a better vehicle and the work group looks forward to your input.
In other words – no – we are leaving the links on the regulatory website of AAFCO directing consumers to learn more about pet food from the trade association that represents the largest manufacturers in the world. We see no problem with it.
From my very first AAFCO meeting several years ago, I continue to be shocked and dismayed at the close ties these regulatory authorities have with industry (PFI and AFIA the most). A recent example was at the January 2014 AAFCO meeting in New Orleans. After one of the sessions ended, an AAFCO member pulled out a case of beer from under the table and called over a popular member of a trade group. They sat there in the meeting room at the very table the meeting was just held at and cracked open a few brews together; several other trade group members joined them soon after. None of them saw any problem – concern – with this. I did.
At the July 2013 AAFCO meeting, AAFCO provided the PFI and the AFIA with free meeting space at the hotel so these trade associations could meet (for free) with their respective members. And AAFCO didn’t see a problem with this either. I did.
I honestly don’t think (most) of AAFCO understands how this crosses a line – again, due to so many years of industry involvement. I don’t believe – for the most part – that this is done intentionally or out of malice. They just don’t understand that throwing back a few or free meeting space or directing consumers to an industry website is conflict of interest to the very work that AAFCO does.
But it does cross a line. It is a conflict of interest. And it does show a bias towards industry. All of which are of no benefit to consumers.
I’m sure some at AAFCO (and industry) will feel ‘here she goes again – AAFCO bashing.’ But that is not the intent. The intent is to establish a fair and equitable pet food regulatory system that works together with consumers and industry. All we ask for is a fair regulatory system – which we do not currently have. Consumers deserve a voice – and we are never going to stop fighting for our pets.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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