Who is protecting consumers from misleading marketing claims of pet food? It appears no one. And our pets are the ones that pay the price.
In human foods (and other human products), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency a consumers can turn to for help with misleading marketing/advertising claims. From the FTC website, the agency states “Our Mission: To prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers; to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process; and to accomplish this without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”
But pet food is not included under FTC protection. In 1999, the FTC dropped pet food as a protected product stating AAFCO and FDA regulations provide consumers sufficient protection. In 1999, the FTC asked for public comment if the agency should drop pet foods from their oversight. They received six comments. Five comments were opposed to FTC dropping pet food from their protection and one comment – from the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association – favored elimination of pet food from FTC oversight. Industry won, the FTC no longer provides consumer protection with pet foods (as of October 1999).
Since pet food is not protected by the FTC, consumers have had to rely on AAFCO established regulations being enforced by each State Department of Agriculture and federal regulations being enforced by FDA. Has this been effective?
Here are some examples of what has NOT been enforced…
- Federal food safety laws (which include all animal food/feed) requires that no food include any part of a diseased animal or an animal that has died other than by slaughter. FDA Compliance Policies allow pet food to bypass federal law and utilize rejected for use in human food meats (including euthanized animals, diseased animals, downer or disabled animals). These illegal ingredients are dubbed ‘suitable for use in animal food’ and included in pet food with no warning to the consumer.
- Pet food ingredients pea protein, pea fiber, and pea starch have yet to become official (legal) ingredients – yet pet food manufacturers have used these ingredients for years. Until January 2014 these ingredients had no legal definition (in other words anything was fair game) and their definitions are still not included in the pet food rule book (AAFCO Official Publication). Not one authority (State Department of Agriculture or FDA) protected consumers and removed the pet foods using these undefined (illegal) ingredients from store shelves.
- Various pet foods display grilled meats on the pet food label and readily admit the meat in the pet food is not grilled (or the pet food doesn’t even include a meat type that could be grilled). Though these companies have been reported to regulatory authorities numerous times, not one authority has chosen to protect the consumer from the misleading labels.
- Science Diet took Blue Buffalo’s marketing claims to the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) National Advertising Division (NAD) twice (2009 and 2014). In both cases the NAD found that Blue Buffalo’s advertising claims pushed the envelope and requested Blue modify its marketing. And now we have one pet food manufacturer (with questionable marketing itself) suing another pet food manufacturer for misleading consumers.
The responsible parties – those that have full responsibility to protect pet food consumers – are each State Department of Agriculture and FDA.
State Department of Agriculture. On more than one occasion, a State Department of Agriculture representative has explained to me the massive responsibilities their department must manage. Example: for many states, each pet food manufacturer must submit details of each pet food product sold in that state for approval (often along with state fees for each pet food sold in that state). So each year, typically just one State Department of Agriculture employee must approve the formula (that it meets nutritional requirements), the label including font sizes, claims, images and so on, the ingredients, and more of thousands and thousands of pet foods and treats. This is a daunting task, however in many states a significant revenue stream is provided by these approvals.
State representatives have explained to me (numerous occasions) there is simply not enough employees to properly examine each and every approval. In many cases the pet food approve for sale process is fast forwarded without close scrutiny. My question to states has been why approve the products for sale in the first place if the State can’t effectively guarantee the consumer these products are safe and legal? And then there are states like Nevada who has no one – zippo, nadda – overseeing pet foods or treats sold within their boundaries.
FDA. Though FDA has an entire division devoted to animals (Center for Veterinary Medicine), again the task this agency tackles is massive and the funding provided to FDA is small in comparison. The FDA tends to focus its regulatory attention on serious threats, especially what could result in human illness (such as Salmonella). On more than one occasion it has appeared that the FDA priority has been a few contaminants in pet foods leaving marketing claims (misleading marketing claims) as someone else’s responsibility.
But there is no one else.
Pet food remains the wild, wild west. There are many bad guys and far too few sheriffs in town. And our pets are who pays the price.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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