What role does the FDA play in regulating commercial cat food?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates that can of cat food or box of cat treats in your home. However, because of the FDA’s limited resources, it works closely with AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, to establish guidelines, especially when it comes to labeling.
There is no requirement that pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA. However, FDA ensures that the ingredients used in pet food are safe and have an appropriate function in the pet food. Many ingredients such as meat, poultry and grains are considered safe and do not require pre-market approval but other substances such as sources of minerals, vitamins or other nutrients, flavorings, preservatives, or processing aids may be generally recognized as safe for intended use. Food colorings must also have approvals the intended use.
Pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. The current FDA regulations require proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, name and place of business of the manufacturer or distributor, and correct listing of all the ingredients in the product in order from most to least, based on weight. Many of these regulations are based on a model provided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
FDA also reviews specific claims on pet food, such as “maintains urinary tract health,” “low magnesium,” “tartar control,” “hairball control,” and “improved digestibility.” Guidance for collecting data to make a urinary tract health claim is available on the FDA Internet site.
Now here’s where it gets really confusing because many pet owners, and even some stores, think that AAFCO regulates the pet food industry, but it does not. That technically falls under the responsibility of the FDA, BUT due to the FDA’s limited resources, it relies on AAFCO and AAFCO, whose board includes member of the State Department of Agriculture. Through those members, AAFCO can:
• Establish nutritional requirements; any manufacturer who makes the claim that their food is ‘nutritionally complete’ must meet AAFCO’s nutritional regulations.
• Create pet food labeling.
• Test product at will.
• Remove product from stores.