Pet food regulations can be more bark than bite

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Regulators are working to keep our pets’ food safe, but gaps remain.

Worried about your furry friend’s food? You’re not alone. An explosion of pet food options over the past decade – plant-based, vegetarian, natural, organic, gluten-free, grain-free, raw diet, new protein, made in the USA – has created an overwhelming number of choices.

Some brands market their pet foods as being better for older dogs or cats, while other brands target puppies and kittens. Still others claim that their products are fortified with supplements such as “antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin”. But do these labels really mean anything?

Consumers cannot have the same confidence in the labels of pet food as they do in the labels of food intended for human consumption. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) of 1938, administered by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was the first major federal law to ensure safety and proper labeling food for humans and animals. But the provisions of the pet food law contain ambiguous terms and provide for limited oversight of the pet food industry.

Today this industry is a big business. Private equity groups and mega-companies are gobbling up brands like Purina, Iams, Milk-Bone, and Eukanuba. The American Pet Products Association estimates that sales of pet food and treats were close to $ 40 billion in 2019, with dog food making up the bulk of sales. According to one estimate, if all America’s dogs and cats formed their own country, it would rank “fifth in global meat consumption.”

In the late 1960s, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – a nonprofit organization that established “voluntary manufacturing and labeling guidelines” for pet food producers – a attempted to address some of the shortcomings of FDCA and suggested more precise definitions and standards. AAFCO continues to develop pet food safety and labeling standards. But because participation in the organization is voluntary, pet food producers are free to ignore the Model Regulations.

Many states have adopted the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations, but compliance with these laws varies because local authorities are responsible for enforcing all of them.

Calls for federal government involvement in pet food regulation increased in 2007 after contaminated ingredients imported from China killed more than a dozen dogs and cats and sickened thousands of them. ‘others. Four years later, Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). This law expanded the power of the FDA to issue pet food regulations.

A key FSMA provision, known as the Preventive Controls for Animal Food Rule, requires pet food producers to adhere to “current good manufacturing practices.” But these good manufacturing practices, which include cleaning, pest control, and record keeping guidelines, only set minimum standards for pet food safety and hygiene. Additionally, some producers, such as manufacturers of pet food and “very small” pet foods, remain exempt from compliance, although state and local regulations may apply to them.

Supporters of the FSMA claim that tying pet food safety and hygiene standards to current good manufacturing practices was a legislative “stroke of genius”. These proponents argue that this connection gives manufacturers the flexibility to incorporate innovative technology and themselves determine which security controls to implement to ensure compliance.

But the Pet Food Institute, whose members represent almost all of the U.S. pet food industry, maintains that while the FSMA is a step in the right direction, the FDA has not provided sufficient guidance. . The Institute also suggests that funding shortages are hampering federal oversight and hampering state regulators who “shoulder a large part of the FSMA’s compliance and enforcement responsibilities.”

Pet foods do not require pre-market approval from the FDA. The agency does, however, require certain ingredients called “food additives” to be approved before brands can use them in food products. But the FDA defines food additives in a general way: as “any substance which directly or indirectly becomes a component of a food or which affects the characteristics of a food”.

Pet food manufacturers can bypass FDA processes for evaluating ingredients that fall under the broad coverage of food additives by using substances that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). To obtain GRAS approval, a substance must either have existed in animal feed before 1958 and have been in common use since, or demonstrate its safety through a scientific study in a reputable journal.

The FDA claims that the GRAS standard “is actually more difficult to meet than the required standard for food additives.” But ultimately it is up to the pet food manufacturers to assess whether each ingredient meets the GRAS standard or should be classified as a “food additive”. And some ingredients that originally met the GRAS standard, such as propylene glycol, were later found to be dangerous to pets and were banned by the FDA.

After production, pet foods are also subject to labeling requirements under the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Under FDA regulations, pet food labeling must state certain percentages of named ingredients, the name and address of the manufacturer, and feeding instructions based on the weight of the animal.

Additionally, the FTC has published Food Guides for Dogs and Cats which explain what constitutes misrepresentation in pet food labels and advertisements. These misrepresentations include a manufacturer’s false claim that their pet food has won an award and a flawed claim that their pet food is “suitable for human consumption.”

Although nearly 80 percent of American pet owners say that “the quality of their pets’ food is as important as theirs,” the relative lack of pet food regulations suggests that pets can receive the food. shorter end of the stick. In 2019, the FDA identified 16 brands of dog food that could cause heart failure in dogs. And last fall, the FDA issued another recall after the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry discovered that certain pet foods contained dangerous levels of the toxin, although no legal authority suspects. manufacturers for violating existing regulations.

Although the FDA appears willing to exercise its regulatory power recently by recalling potentially dangerous pet foods, some vets are calling for additional research into the safety of pet food ingredients, in hopes of preventing the products harmful to consumers in the first place.


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