Feds Face Pressure on Pet Food Regulations
By Lydia Wheeler, The Hill
Animal protection groups are pressing for strict new pet food labeling restrictions as part of a long overdue federal rule now in the works.
But the producers of U.S. –made cat chow and dog kibble are raising concerns that looming labeling regulations for its products will too closely resemble nutrition information required on the food people eat.
The Food and Drug Administration regulations, due out in the coming months, fulfill a mandate from 2007 legislation requiring updated nutritional and ingredient information on pet food.
Advocacy groups are calling upon the FDA to issue tough standards for ingredients.
“Pet food should be prohibited from having ingredients taken from 4D bins,” said Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA.) “This is the term that refers to where they place the bodies of animals that are dead, dying and diseased.”
The parts of cattle, chicken, turkeys and other animals that have been rejected for human consumption and thrown into these bins, Guillermo said are commonly ground up and used in pet food products.
The group also said it wants FDA to set standards that force manufacturers to issue recalls if a product has been linked to an illness or death in a number of animals.
Dog and cat food manufacturers can remove products from the market voluntarily, by FDA request or by FDA order now. But advocates want triggers that require a company to initiate a recall after a certain number of animals are sickened or die after eating a certain type of pet food.
Cathleen Enright, president and CEO of the Pet Food Institute, said she was confused by the request.
“FDA has that authority,” she said. “Are all those who are mandating a recall wishing to put that food safety authority into the hands of industry? It’s a question.”
The Washington, D.C.-based industry group, which represents 98 percent of dog and cat food manufacturers with 22 members, supports the FDA’s plan to issue federal labeling standards, but said the agency should avoid using human food labels as a model in it’s rulemaking.
“Currently if you look on packages for human food there’s a serving size, but that doesn’t translate when you are talking about a dog,” she said.
In food for humans, the protein, fat and vitamin content of a product are listed by a percentage of a balanced diet. On dog and cat food labels now, Enright said nutrients are listed by percentages based on minimum and maximum levels.
Each state is responsible for regulating the labels on pet food sold in their states. The laws are drafted based on model legislation from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Stan Cook, chair of AAFCO’s pet food committee, said a federal standard for labels could have a positive effect by simplifying the regulatory efforts of the states depending on what’s proposed. But cited industry worries that making them too similar to packaging in human food would only add to confusion because what people need for a complete and balanced diet and what dogs need for a complete and balanced diet are different.
“Some consumers want pet food labels to more closely resemble human food labels,” he said in an email response to questions. “Many in the regulatory arena are concerned that making the labels appear the same as a human food label is a food safety issue.”
Animal protection advocates are also calling for a ban on food coloring since cats and dogs aren’t affected by the color of their food.
Enright said food coloring is an issue of personal preference, and should not be banned.
“We need to ensure that all ingredients are acceptable for pet food,” she said “If it’s not a safety issue or health issue or nutrition issue it’s approved.”
The FDA is scheduled to issue the regulations by September. They can’t come soon enough for groups calling for tighter restrictions.
“We know the wheels of the government turn very slowly and when animals are involved even slower, but it’s unfortunate it has taken since 2007 to get this rolling,” Guillermo said. “I think it has been mostly left to the industry to decide what is adequate and what is proper and that’s why this is a good idea to have a federal regulation to make sure it’s consistent across the board.”