What role does the FDA play in regulating commercial dog food?

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a government agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services that regulates all aspects of animal food including pet food.

The agency works closely with AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials. Although AAFCO isn’t a government agency, it does have board members who are representatives for the State Department of Agriculture and, therefore, through them, can remove product from stores.

The FDA enforces the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which requires all pet foods to be produced like human foods; under sanitary conditions, containing no harmful substances, with a correct and truthful label, and safe overall for consumption. Additionally, under the Code of Federal Regulations, the Act regulates that canned pet foods be processed in conformance with the low-acid canned food regulations. This is to ensure that the pet food is free of viable microorganisms such as spores, which can be harmful to the public.
While pet food products do not require premarket approval, the ingredients used in making pet foods must be approved by the FDA. It can prohibit certain ingredients in animal feed if they deem it unsafe or inappropriate for use and can certain additives including ethoxyquin, hydrogenated corn syrup and sodium nitrite.
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.

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