Day two of the AAFCO Meeting showed me one significant thing…bureaucracy is what we must deal with. And we are far behind industry; they have been actively working the system for years.
On day one of the AAFCO meeting, Dr. Jean Hofve scored us a seat at the table at the Pet Food Committee meeting, as consumer representatives. Sitting at the table doesn’t yield anything significant, no advisors can vote (only AAFCO members can vote), but it does put you in the middle of things and would put you on the committee email list and perhaps put you on committee task force groups to address changes to AAFCO’s model bill. But as we walked in the door for the meeting on Wednesday, we learned of a change. That change showed me how ‘the system’ is used and that if we really want pet food to change we’re going to need to use ‘the system’ just like industry does.
Wednesday morning (or Tuesday evening – the days are running together) I received an email from a long time friend of TruthaboutPetFood.com – a human victim of the 2007 pet food recall. This friend lost numerous pets to that deadly recall over many years; slow painful deaths. She asked me to tell ‘them’ that she doesn’t have the heart to get another pet, and that “I still wake up crying with tears pouring down my cheeks once or twice a week as I have since my last two cats died of kidney failure complications in Sept 2010 and April 2011”. As I walked into the room for the Pet Food Committee meeting, I thought of this friend – and many other of your stories of pet food tragedy. And then the reality of ‘the system’ slapped me in the face.
Two steps in the door I was stopped by AAFCO Board Member Tim Darden (New Mexico Department of Agriculture), he said ‘we have to talk’. I was told Dr. Hofve and I would not be sitting at the table today as advisors, we would be sitting as guests. He shared “it was brought to our attention that we (AAFCO) don’t allow individuals to be advisors,” only group representatives (such as rendering industry representatives, and pet food lobby group representatives) can be participants of a committee. I asked him if he could share who ‘brought this to the Boards attention’ – he said he did not know. But Dr. Hofve and I figured this out real quickly – it was those that have the most to lose if consumers have a voice in AAFCO…Big Pet Food.
It has to be noted – that the AAFCO folks could have not given us table privileges at all – but they did. They kept us at the meeting table as guests (instead of in the audience). It was made very clear to me (I guess the trouble maker of the two of us) how procedure works but we remained at the table despite the protests of others.
The ‘table’ was a large U-shaped table. Microphones spread all around with conference call equipment in the middle for Pet Food Committee members that couldn’t attend. Everyone introduced themselves, stated their industry affiliation and position on the committee (member, advisor, guest). As each new agenda was introduced, one voice was continually heard…complaining. That voice was Nancy Cook of Pet Food Institute (PFI – lobby organization of Big Pet Food). It was almost humorous; a change or update would be discussed, Nancy Cook would ramble on with objections. New topic, complaint. Update, complaint. Imagine a tennis match, watching the ball being batted back and forth…that’s what we did. What was so crazy, was that much of PFI’s ramblings weren’t even relevant to the topic – they were just objections with what I assume to be a goal of wearing them (AAFCO) down, distracting AAFCO from moving forward with calorie content information, updating nutrient profiles, and so on. It’s really a very simple system the PFI uses through their puppet Nancy Cook – distract and delay. Working the system to their advantage.
Despite the ongoing objections of PFI, calorie content statements passed through the Pet Food Committee and will now go to the Board of Directors with recommendation to approve (next meeting). After it is approved by the Board, the next publication of the AAFCO Official Publication will make it official. Nothing was accomplished with nutrition profiles, the on-going joke (not funny to me) was FDA’s not ever meeting a deadline (your tax dollars not at work).
Another event of the Pet Food Committee was a preview of a work in progress video from the FDA regarding pet food safety. Oh, if you could have seen this mess of misinformation. Some of the statements made in this video – pet foods…
“have the same regulations that govern them as people food”
“are truthfully labeled”
“everything used to make the food must be listed on the label”
“Reporting a pet food problem to the FDA allows the FDA to take quick action to eliminate the problem.”
It was a mess. When the film ended, the room applauded vigorously – but I didn’t. There was nothing to applaud about. Eric Nelson of FDA asked for input, he’ll be receiving mine next week.
Later Wednesday, Dr. Jean and I met with AAFCO President Robert Waltz (Indiana State Chemist Office) and Richard TenEyck (Oregon Department of Agriculture). They gave us two hours and even allowed us to ask additional questions freely. I’ll try to recount all the responses later, but briefly we learned that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) will allow FDA and State Officials to work together and hopefully take prompt action with a pet food incident, if a pet food uses skinless, boneless chicken and wants the consumer to know that – they are allowed to list ‘skinless deboned chicken’ in the ingredient panel, pet food manufacturers are allowed to include country of origin of ingredients on the label, and labels will soon be allowed to include percentage of dietary starch and sugars.
Today we have the Ingredient Definitions Committee. That meeting will end at 5 PM PT. If anyone is interested, I (and probably Dr. Jean Hofve) will be glad to chat with you on a Google Hang Out for a bit. I would guess the time will be around 5:30 PM PT – I’ll send a reminder out on Facebook and Google Plus a few minutes prior.
Oh – and by the way, The Pet Food Institute held an event here at the same hotel and at the same time as AAFCO’s meeting. Perhaps next year we can hold a pet parent event too? At the same time and at the same hotel! Thoughts?
Thanks to all for your messages of support – we know you are with us!
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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