Some in pet food are pushing California to change pet food laws.
The State of California holds pet foods to the legal definition of “natural” – other states do not. Some in pet food aren’t happy with California, and are urging the state to make an exception to law just for them.
The short explanation of what is going on is…
The legal definition of ‘Natural’ is long and detailed (full definition provided below). Basically, the term stated on a pet food label means the product contains NO synthetic ingredients.
Pet owners in California see this on the pet food label: “made with natural ingredients”.
This statement is telling California pet owners that NO synthetic ingredients are in the pet food.
But pet owners in every other state see this: “made with natural ingredients with added vitamins and minerals”.
This statement has a completely different meaning, thanks to a ‘Guidance Document’ written by AAFCO. This statement – allowed on pet food labels everywhere except California – is telling consumers this pet food DOES include synthetic vitamins and minerals (but somehow is still considered natural).
So…unhappy pet food manufacturers that sell their products in California asked state law makers (CA Dept of Health – who regulates pet food in CA) to be like every other state. These manufacturers want to make a ‘Natural’ claim on pet food labels even though their products contain synthetic (unnatural) ingredients. On April 2, 2018, at the request of Canidae Pet Food, the State of California provided a hearing to disgruntled pet food manufacturers.
In attendance at the meeting and gave comment was: Scott Whipple – Canidae Pet Food Company, Rebecca Peterson (attorney) – Lockridge Grindal Nauen, Heather Walterman – The Honest Kitchen, Abizhad Badu – The Pet Food Institute, and Diane Loiselle – Hills Pet Nutrition.
Speaking first – urging California to allow the “with added [insert synthetic ingredient name here] – was Mr. Scott Whipple, co-founder of Canidaie Pet Foods. “We were the petitioners who launched this rulemaking process formally.” Mr. Whipple told the California regulatory committee “AAFCO’s official publication provides a complete and clear set of guidelines, which makes sense because it was created by a group of regulators just like you. This rulebook allowed me, a small pet food company to compete nationally with the big guys. This rulebook that is used nationwide levels the playing field.”
The Canidae co-founder forgot to explain to the California regulatory committee that consumers have No Public Access to the “rulebook“. The AAFCO rulebook might help him “compete nationally with the big guys” – but it does NOTHING to benefit pet owners.
Mr. Scott Whipple of Canidae finished his statement to the committee with (the possible real reason why manufacturers are complaining) “In the last year, a bunch of plaintiffs’ lawyers have been filing lawsuits saying that your guidance means nothing. They are creating so much uncertainty.”
I disagree. The legal definition of natural is very clear – it means NO synthetic ingredients can be included in the pet food; end of story. If pet owners are being mislead by the statement used when synthetic ingredients are included in the product – then lawyers should defend those consumers.
Next to speak was Ms. Rebecca Peterson from Lockridge Grindal Nauen (law firm). “I am an attorney that represents the California consumers that were the litigation that spawned the request for this petition.” She continued with “Consumers do not receive a copy of the AAFCO guidelines or this Department’s statement in its licensing procedures given to manufacturers that refer to the AAFCO guidelines when they purchase pet food. If it is the law, it should be provided when purchasing any pet food at no cost to consumers.” She told the committee if they are considering changing the existing pet food laws, they must include consumers in the decision. “Maintaining the regulation as it empowers consumers, and allows them to fully understand how they are spending their money on their pets’ nutrition and health, is what we ask the Department to do.”
Three cheers for this lawyer.
Next to speak was Heather Walterman from the Honest Kitchen pet food. Ms. Walterman did not speak to the committee regarding the ‘Natural’ claim. Instead she addressed a different issue – the human grade claim on pet food labels. Ms. Walterman was in favor of California adopting all of the AAFCO Official Publication (which would include guidance documents), but she did not specifically address the natural claim.
Next to speak was Abizhad Badu of the Pet Food Institute. The Pet Food Institute told the California committee that allowing the with added [synthetic ingredients] on pet food labels “will strengthen consumer confidence in California law.”
Do consumers agree with Pet Food Institue’s statement? If California allowed pet foods to mislead consumers with the ‘added vitamins and minerals’ statement, even though those ingredients are synthetic – will consumers have more respect for California?
And the last speaker was Diane Loiselle from Hills Pet Nutrition. She told the committee “Hill’s fully supports the petition. Specifically, the Department should adopt the AAFCO official publication guidance on how to refer to natural pet food, as a whole.” When explaining to the committe what a balanced pet food is, Ms. Loiselle stated “For these foods to be nutritionally complete they require the addition of tiny amounts of critical, essential vitamins and minerals that are synthetic.”
To read the minutes from the California regulatory meeting, Click Here.
California has not decided on this issue. It is expected if they decide to give into industry (allowing synthetic ingredients to appear as ‘natural’ like other states), there will be a public comment period where consumers can give feedback to the committee. As well, it is expected that if California gives into industry there will be another public meeting on the issue – which I will attend (if at all possible) and will give the committee direct input from consumers.
What is your input?
Question #1: Should any pet food manufacturer be allowed to make a ‘Natural’ claim on the pet food label if any synthetic ingredients are included in the pet food (in California or any State)?
Question #2: Should pet food labels that make a ‘Natural’ claim be required to specifically state what ingredients are synthetic? Example below…
Should the label say this (existing in all states except California):
“Made with simple, natural ingredients with added vitamins and minerals.”
Or should the label be required to say this (color added for emphasis):
“Made with simple, natural ingredients with added synthetic vitamins and minerals.”
The above statement (in my opinion – SHOULD be on all pet food labels) is similar to what is required in human food. Example being food products that state “made with natural and artificial flavors”. Pet foods could easily state “made with natural and synthetic ingredients”.
a feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur in good manufacturing practices.
AAFCO provides manufacturers an exception to the Natural claim which is explained as:
Products in which synthesized ingredients play a role in manufacturing but otherwise comply with AAFCO’s definition can be called natural.
Provided that the synthesized ingredients used are limited to synthetic vitamin, mineral and trace nutrients
They must display the disclaimer “Natural with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients” (or similar).
Synthesized ingredients other than vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients do not qualify under this exception.
The phrase “Natural with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients” is a disclaimer—not a boast—that identifies the synthetic ingredients in an otherwise natural product.
It is extremely important to note that the AAFCO legal definition of the term/word ‘Natural’ – does NOT include the above AAFCO exceptions. The exceptions are strictly AAFCO “guidance” – they are not law – and they are only applied to mislead consumers.
The State of California has yet to accept AAFCO “guidance”. Let’s hope they never do.
If you think it absurd that pet food can contain synthetic ingredients (vitamins and minerals) without disclosing that information to consumers, PLEASE write your State Department of Agriculture representatives (find them here: https://www.aafco.org/Regulatory).
I am writing to express to you that the Guidance Document relating to the claim ‘Natural’ should be completely deleted or at the very least the following edit should be promptly made:
Page 151 of the 2018 AAFCO Official Publication there is “Guidelines for ‘Natural’ Claims” – Edit the following sentence “A. The disclaimer, such as “Natural with added vitamins, minerals, or other trace nutrients [include the items as appropriate to match the chemically synthesized ingredient(s)] is juxtaposed with the term “natural”…”
-the following (bond font for emphasis of the suggested addition): “A. The disclaimer, such as “natural with added synthetic vitamins, minerals…” The word “synthetic” must be added to the disclaimer on the pet food label. As the Guidance document currently is worded, consumers are being misled.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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