An interview with Chad Linton AAFCO President and Robert Waltz AAFCO Board Member. Some good answers and some not so good. Although it might not be apparent from this interview, I still believe many of the AAFCO members want to do the right thing by pets and their owners. I feel the answer is more direct communication from Pet Owners (more on that later).
The responses from both Chad Linton and Robert Waltz are combined below…
How many States are at the AAFCO Meeting?
I heard that one AAFCO member, his state did not have travel funding in the budget, traveled here at his own expense and using vacation time, who was this?
Kent Kitadae (former President of AAFCO), representing California
I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ve been impressed at the pet food labeling workshop at how the AAFCO people really want to have this right – labeling of pet foods right. I got the feeling from most of the AAFCO people that you really do care. Coming from a pet owner perspective, we tend to feel that AAFCO doesn’t have the best interest of pets in mind. So, knowing that I have been surprised at what I’ve seen from AAFCO members really caring, with none of the States being the same, isn’t that no good for anyone? Isn’t it regardless that if AAFCO members want to do the right thing if not everyone is on the same page so to speak – aren’t you really just running around in circles?
Each state is individual, as AAFCO, mission one is uniformity. It’s what we try to do, it’s why we have the model bill and the model regulations. You know how legislature is, we can take a very good something and send it off and it comes back looking completely different. Everybody has their ideas of what they want in their individual states. We’re all going to be similar, we’re not going to be exactly the same because each state is a little bit different. There might be a priority in California that’s different than what is priority in West Virginia. As AAFCO, that is what we are trying to do. I want you to recognize that AAFCO has one employee, Sharon Krebs, the rest of us are volunteers. Our states have sent us to these meetings to represent our individual states. Our state has felt strongly enough about this organization and what it represents, it is important that we stay up on what is going on – training, certification, labeling, ingredients, that we can take back and update our laws if we need to.
[After thoughts…Representing their individual states means they not only represent consumers in their state, but they also represent industry in their state. As example, a state that holds a great deal of livestock production. This state – financially – depends on the jobs and taxes (state revenue) from these livestock producers. We can safely assume each state will protect industries represented within their boundaries. Who will have priority? Consumer or Industry?]
Do you ever need to go to legislative parties in your state and share what laws need to be changed?
Personally I would go to my commissioner. And he would make that call.
I’m here representing West Virginia, yes I’m AAFCO president, but the other hat is that I’m representing West Virginia. My commissioner wants me to come home and update him on what’s coming. Every state is here for that.
One of the things you look for is opportunity for training, opportunities for gaining consistencies and those kind of things that come out of these meetings. Working with FDA, working with other AAFCO members, that helps make the playing field more consistent.
We look at things here in order to learn what is coming at you and learn how to respond to that. It is a critical piece of information.
It’s very disheartening to me that not every state is here.
Part of that is travel restrictions – but that doesn’t mean we don’t communicate. I’m confident that if I have a question from any state member, I can pick up the phone and speak to them.
But what about states that are not a member?
We call them too.
Some states just can’t travel. And that’s what we have to realize as an organization, things are changing so maybe we have to go to webinars. And have more conference calls. Make the information available, just not face to face.
One of the things that I learned from the labeling workshop – that just crushed me – and again, coming from a pet owner perspective, is that the guaranteed analysis and the list of ingredients – no proof is required (from the pet food manufacturer). I asked the question at the workshop and they responded that no clinical evidence is required (to prove the guaranteed analysis and ingredients are as stated on the label).
That’s my full time job. We pull 1,000 samples a year and check that label for everything that is on there. Or ‘can’ check for everything that is on there. We can ask – as a regulatory agency – for anything that we want. We can ask for the recipe, we can ask for any of that – and they have to show us.
Well, the question wasn’t answered that way in the workshop. They said no evidence is required.
We can check for anything, anything that would throw a red flag up we can check for.
What if there is no red flag that comes up? What if they do everything right on the label as to not alert you? What if an unscrupulous company says I know what ingredients need to be on that label as to not cause a red flag, and I know what the guaranteed analysis should be to match those ingredients…everything will look picture perfect. But what if they don’t have any of those ingredients in there? What if they are using tire tread?
We can look at it under a microscope. We have a lady that can identify bone meal – the animal it came from. Anything that a consumer who thinks there may be something in there, we can look at it and tell what it is. We can look at that, can test it.
Can consumers come to you? So if you get a consumer complaint, do you go investigate?
One thing that pet owners have problems with is that we file a complaint and then we hear nothing about the investigation. We do all the right things and then we never learn about what happened? No body tells us anything, we never get a resolve to the investigation.
I would guess that once a week we get a call – someone has a concern about a pet food.
[After thought…One call a week? I think this is a startling number considering how few people report problems and even fewer are aware they can call their State Department of Agriculture.]
With your investigation, what do you do?
I would like to speak with the vet, for him/her to give me a direction. Then we can run with it.
Well, but what pet owners are wanting is – not only from AAFCO but from the FDA as well – a report from the investigation. What your findings were. Make this public. Can we make these reports of investigation public? Pet owners need more transparency.
My policy in my office is you call me with a complaint, you want to look at something…as soon as I get the results I send them to you (the pet owner) and the vet. Now, what you do with those results is up to you (the pet owner). I can’t speak for the FDA, I’m working for the consumers of West Virginia. But in West Virginia we send the results to the veterinarian and the pet owner.
Do you know if all states have the same policy?
I haven’t heard of any of them being different. They should all be the same. Now, in West Virginia you send me a sample of pet food to test, to us that is an unofficial sample. But, if that comes back with anything out of normal, I’m sending my inspectors out to find that product on the shelf in commerce with that exact dates and lot codes and that to me is an official sample. That to us is an official sample – and I can take an action that way.
Hopefully in this year, you can go to the AAFCO website and see a United States map, pet owners will be able to click on their state and see who to contact; that persons name and number and all their contact information. We’re trying to make it more accessible for the consumer so that if they do have a complaint or question we can help direct them.
What about a pet owner committee within AAFCO? What about pet owners being represented? Can we do something towards that?
This is an open meeting so if you are interested then sure you can come and speak up.
You reported ‘buddy, buddy’ – this is an organization that has worked with industry for 100 years but we are here for the consumer. As inspectors we do ask for help from experts and many are from industry. I heard that conversation (re kcal information on pet food labels – complaints from PFI) yesterday too, one guy I heard said it ought to be 20 years, but as regulators sometimes we are going to agree to disagree (with industry). Only members get to vote – not advisors to the committee. Industry can say whatever they want.
I just want pet owners to be able to make that same kind of comment.
As a structured meeting, normally committee members have the first say. But if you have something you believe the committee needs to hear, you are more than welcome to be recognized by the chair.
But is there ever an opportunity for a pet owner/holistic veterinary board to be part of AAFCO?
Would that ever be a possibility?
It’s an open meeting. (I moved on)
Yesterday Dan McChesney of FDA responded to my question of illegal ingredients being allowed into pet foods via FDA compliance policies with a ‘risk based’ response. When I hear, and I think when many pet owners hears responses like this ‘risk based’ reply, I/we hear that you all are protecting industry – not the consumer. I know that those waste ingredients that are allowed to be put into pet food would be an expense to industry (to dispose of them) if it wasn’t for these compliance policies. Yesterday during the ingredient definition meeting, it was Neil Lanning on the phone, and he shared the story of Walmart having all the left over/expired pizza and Hot Pockets, he said we need to come up with an ingredient name that the consumer will buy or the renderers won’t be able to sell it. That was clear cut protection of industry. Who wants expired Hot Pockets – unwrapped – in their pet food? If they are so comfortable using that ingredient, why not just call it was it is…Rendered Food Processing Waste?
What can we do about that?
Well, that’s where it ended up. The suggestion was made, but for now it will continue to be named what it is (Rendered Food ProcessingWaste).
I thought it just got side tabled.
It’s still there, its going to have to be addressed again.
Well, what about meat and bone meal? Animal Fat?
I’ll have to look up that ingredient to see what can be in there.
Well, Animal Fat was determined by FDA testing to be most likely to contain pentobarbital, thus a euthanized animal. A pet owner walks into a pet store, and all the products look the same. Part of that is good which I learned at the workshop, but part of that is with some of these foods/treats there are a vast difference. With some of these ingredient names, pet owners are really left in the dark – meat and bone meal is one of those hidden ingredients, animal fat is one of those hidden ingredients. What can we do?
You say hidden, I really don’t agree with the hidden term. It’s what we call a collective term.
But if animal fat – FDA testing found animal fat to be most likely to contain pentobarbital/a euthanized animal – if pet owners knew this…
Well, that’s not necessarily true. The rendering process breaks down many compounds…
But the drug is still there…they found pentobarbital in finished dog food purchased right off store shelves. Can manufacturers either prove their animal fat does not contain pentobarbital or euthanized animals – say with a grade of animal fat…animal fat 1 or animal fat 2?
Well that’s part of AAFCO, we have the definition of animal fat. Animal fat doesn’t mean just euthanized animals it can be a lot of other things too; it is a collective term. If you do that, you’ll have to include grades on everything.
I’m a pet owner too.
Do you want to feed your pet an animal fat that came from a euthanized animal?
I’d say there are very few pet companies that do that anymore – just for that very reason. They don’t want that.
I disagree. From the experts I’ve spoken with that ‘stuff’ is still in there.
Well sure, there are good ones and bad ones and ones in between.
Without having to do detective work…(I was meaning a pet owner doing detective work but he assumed I meant regulators)…
Well of course you’ll have to do detective work. That would fall under the regulators – that would be me that has to go do that. The resources that we have, having to collect the samples to do that, then as AAFCO we’d have to break that down…you’d have grade 1, grade 2.
Then as a regulator do you test for pentobarbital?
At my office we do not. But if there was a problem, if there was a consumer complaint, with this drug, I can.
Because if it contains pentobarbital – by Federal law – Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – that’s adulterated.
If its an adulterant we can check for it.
Would you consider pentobarbital an adulterant?
If I thought it was in there. If there was a consumer complaint. That is not on my radar for surveillance. There are lots of other things that are prioritized above that. Other drugs, other adulterants.
Did you get a chance to look at the lab results that I gave Kevin Armbrust (President elect, Mississippi)? The abstract of the white paper – which should be published very soon – shows incredibly high levels of very dangerous substances in pet food including lead, mercury, beryllium. When that paper gets published, what is AAFCO going to do about this?
I’m not the lab and I don’t have the specs on this, but I guess if it was an action level, it may be priority.
So maybe when this paper gets published, states will decide this is something they need to know more about?
Yes, its definitely a possibility.
Ok I’ll quit hammering you guys now.
We want you to know we have the same concerns as you do. A lot of these concerns can be handed to the committees, just like this paper you shared with us, that’s something that can be handed to the committees to investigate what hazards might be out there.
What can pet owners do to help AAFCO?
I think the important thing is communication.
I thank Chad Linton and Robert Waltz for giving me their time and for answering my questions. This interview wasn’t something they had to do – but they did…despite them knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy chat. Thanks again for your time and here’s hoping that we can talk much more in the future about many other things that Pet Owners need AAFCO to consider.
Communication is key. I have an idea on this for Pet Owners to become more active in the future of our pets food; I’ll have the details for you soon.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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