Pet Food Institute Proposes Modernization of Pet Food and Treats Regulation

June 13, 2023By Riëtte van Laack

FDA regulates pet food similar to other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDC Act) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. As anyone familiar with pet (and other animal) food regulation knows, many states require premarket label review and approval and registration of the manufacturer/distributor and/or product for a fee. Moreover, ingredients used in pet food must be approved by FDA, affirmed or listed as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by FDA, or go through the AAFCO definition process. Many states require that ingredients used in pet food be included in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication or included in an FDA regulation, and do not accept ingredients that are self-GRAS.  AAFCO also publishes model regulations, including model pet food labeling regulations which states may adopt.

Over the past few months the Pet Food Institute (PFI) has discussed a new system to federally regulate pet food.  PFI expressed some of its frustration with the current state of regulation of pet food by individual states in its comments on the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Virtual Public Meeting FDA and the AAFCO Animal Feed Ingredient Definition Process. As described in those comments, “[p]et food makers operate under two different sets of regulatory requirements. In one case, those issued by the FDA and separately those requirements found within each state’s commercial feed law. Enforcement for these regulations also occurs both by federal and state officials.” In its comments, PFI alluded to several instances of inconsistent interpretation across states resulting in labels for a pet product being approved in one state and a stop sale being issued for that same product (label) in another state, creating a “muddled” regulatory landscape and (costly) delays in bringing products to the market. PFI’s president has stated that “[t]he biggest issue is the inconsistency in state interpretation of AAFCO label definitions. Although many states adopt or reference AAFCO’s Model Bill for Pet and Specialty Pet Food, often the nuanced application or understanding of these model regulations by an individual state or individual regulator creates a barrier for compliance in one state, while the same product with the same packaging passes scrutiny in others.” PFI has noted that it is not feasible to develop and label products for an individual state.

PFI’s frustration and concern around the current regulatory process overseen by state governments was discussed during the Petfood Forum 2023 convention in Kansas City, MO. At that event, PFI proposed the creation of a federal system for regulating pet food including the creation of a new center within FDA, the Center for Companion Animal Nutrition, that will have federal regulatory authority over pet food and treats for dogs and cats. Based on various reports in the trade press and other public information, the proposed new framework would preempt and prohibit any state government from assessing registration fees, requiring label reviews and premarket approval, and any other measures to regulate pet food sales at the state level. The proposed new center would regulate only food and treats for dogs and cats. Moreover, PFI proposes to authorize the new center to collect user fees from pet food establishments and for ingredient submissions to support funding of the center.

On May 11, the Animal Feed Industry Association (AFIA) issued its initial comments on the proposed framework.  AFIA highlighted the impact the new framework could have for ingredient suppliers that provide products for all animals, including livestock, dogs, and cats. In AFIA’s view, such suppliers could potentially become subject to “a duplicative, dual registration process at the state and federal levels.” AFIA’s comments expressed interest in finding “common ground.”

On May 30, AAFCO released a statement  concerning the proposed framework. AAFCO does not believe that a federally regulated approach is in the best interest of pets or pet owners and asserts that “State feed programs are more accessible and equipped to inspect and regulate pet food. They have inspectors in the field everyday with eyes on the products, on the local manufactures, and on the distributors and retailers. A single federal regulatory system, without these local state partnerships, cannot have this level of awareness and surveillance in the marketplace to respond and take action on illnesses, recalls and issues quickly and effectively.” The AAFCO comment does not address the inconsistencies between states noted by PFI.

We will be monitoring further developments as industry and federal and state regulators continue to discuss potential changes to the current regulatory scheme for pet food.