Pet Food Regulations & Oversight - Cat Info Detective

Pet Food Regulations & Oversight

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome curious cat lovers! Skye Blake here with a “boring” subject… pet food regulations and oversight… yawn!

Well, actually it’s pretty interesting if you’re concerned about your cat’s food and what’s in it.

Let’s uncover some nuggets…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

Pet Food Regulations & Oversight

rules-plain background - cat show

Ok, so rules, laws and regulations aren’t fun or sexy, but they are important, so bear with me here.

There are misunderstandings and accusations in the cat food world about the pet food industry, the quality of food, and what ingredients they use.

kibble (dry) cat food in bowl

So, you may be surprised to learn that pet food is among the most highly regulated food industries in the United States and Europe.

Having this oversight helps ensure that companies are following high safety standards.

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011

law gavel, scales of justice, regulations



Pet food regulation has evolved over the last century, focusing mainly on food safety and honest marketing.

In 1938, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring pet food manufacturers to sell safe products (the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act [FFDCA] of 1938).

law books in library; pet food regulations

But it wasn’t until the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 that major changes were made to food safety regulations.

The main point of this law is prevention of foodborne sicknesses, especially bacteria like Salmonella.

Federal Agencies & Regulation Enforcement

men shaking hands; pet food regulations

Agencies at both the federal and state levels have regulations that pet food manufacturers have to follow in order to be in compliance with the FSMA and other laws or regulations.

The federal agencies most involved in the industry are…

US Capitol Building, Washington DC, pet food regulations
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – regulates pet food labeling and advertising claims
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – sets both minimum and maximum limits on certain nutrients; bans the use of medications or antibiotics in foods.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – regulates meat quality and decides which animals can be used in human and pet food

USDA

meat displayed in store

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) controls what animals ore in pet food and the meat quality.

Its involvement in the pet food industry is primarily with sources, particularly the agricultural industry.

Discover more details at “About AMS – Agricultural Marketing Service (usda.gov)

FTC

business, government agency, meeting, people, FTC, pet food regulations

“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent, bipartisan agency of the U.S. government tasked with protecting consumers and ensuring a strong competitive market… 

Its principal purpose is to enforce non-criminal antitrust laws in the United States, preventing and eliminating anticompetitive business practices, including coercive monopolies.

digital marketing, business, competition, monopoly, Federal Trade Commission

The FTC also seeks to protect consumers from predatory or misleading business practices.”1 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Definition (investopedia.com)

Discover more at “Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Definition” and “Federal Trade Commission | Protecting America’s Consumers

FDA

rules, pet food regulations, policies, government agency, authority

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the manufacture of cat food, dog food, and dog treats or snacks you have in your pantry…

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C 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.

graphic of canned cat food

In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.”2 Pet Food, FDA

‘All commercial pet food facilities in the U.S. must register with FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and are regularly audited by agency inspectors.” “How Pet Food Is Made” – Pet Food Institute

You can find details at “Pet Food, FDA” and “FDA’s Regulation of Pet Food“.

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Requirements

quality sign; pet food regulations

Here are two important requirements from the FSMA as they relate to the pet food industry…

Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs)

Pet food manufacturers must apply current good practices (CGMP’s) to their operations to be sure the food is safe.

They must also be diligent to anticipate possible food safety concerns and address them before they become a problem.

Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls

safety first yellow road sign

Manufacturers must also identify and evaluate potential safety hazards (physical, chemical and biological), then set up controls to prevent or minimize them.

State Requirements

map book-united states



Every state within the U.S. requires pet food companies to register each of their products.

The process “involves state evaluations of products and labels to ensure compliance with applicable state requirements.”3“How Pet Food Is Made” – Pet Food Institute

“In the case of a product recall, state regulators are able to better discern where and which product SKUs are affected and [can] respond accordingly.”4“How Pet Food Is Made” – Pet Food Institute

Related Professional Organizations

Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

hen, chicken eating, feed; pet food regulations

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a private (non-government) association of federal, state, and local government officials.

It’s been around since 1906 as a “venue for feed regulators to explore the problems encountered in administering feed laws”.5 The Role of AAFCO in Pet Food Regulation

AAFCO is NOT a regulatory or enforcement organization, but does develop “just and equitable standards, definitions and policies for the enforcement of feed laws”.6 The Role of AAFCO in Pet Food Regulation

It also promotes “uniformity in laws, regulations and enforcement policies”.7 The Role of AAFCO in Pet Food Regulation

Horse barn-pellets used as bedding, litter; pet food regulations

“AAFCO has created a large number of models providing guidance, definitions, terms and best-management practices in addition to the Model Bill and Model Feed Regulations (including Model Pet Food Regulations).”8 The Role of AAFCO in Pet Food Regulation

They submit the models they create to various legislative and rulemaking bodies, who consider them when developing laws and regulations.

cow, cattle, livestock, feed, hay

AAFCO also provides a forum for industry and state officials to coordinate the language used in state legislative bills and laws.

AAFCO’s role is sometimes confusing, so it’s important to note that it never directly tests, regulates, approves, or certifies pet foods. 

Since individual AAFCO members are government officials, they have the authority to regulate animal feed within their jurisdictions.

police, animal control, shelters

But AAFCO, the organization, has no regulatory authority whatsoever.

An example is the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), a member of AAFCO, that regulates and enforces laws about the manufacture of pet foods.

There is no such thing as an “AAFCO-approved” or “AAFCO-certified” product.

Discover some really helpful info at “AAFCO Talks Pet Food” and “Ingredient Standards“.

Find out more about reading labels at “Reading Cat Food Labels“.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA)

one hand putting earth into another hand, globe, WSAVA, world, pet food regulations

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is ” an ‘association of associations’, which means that our membership comprises companion animal veterinary associations from all over the world.

We currently have a 115-member association, representing more than 200,000 individual veterinarians.”9 About WSAVA (wsava.org)

cat being scanned for microchip by vet

Their Global Nutrition Committee focuses on offering “expert, evidence-based nutritional information for companion animals to support the veterinary healthcare team.”10 Global Nutrition Committee (wsava.org)

They help both “the veterinary healthcare team and the public understand the importance of nutrition in companion animal health by providing an expert source of accurate nutritional information and recommendations.”11 Global Nutrition Committee (wsava.org)

The Corporate Sponsor Question

graphics of cat food & cat; pet food regulations

WSAVA has corporate sponsors, but does that make it biased toward those companies?

Before jumping to that conclusion, look for evidence of preference in the guidelines, recommendations, and other information WSAVA publishes.

One indication that sponsorship is not influencing WSAVA recommendations is that there is no such thing as a “WSAVA-approved” or “WSAVA-certified” product.

aisle at pet store - cat food

The committee does not endorse, approve, recommend or support specific products or companies.12 Global Nutrition Committee (wsava.org) (emphasis added)

“It should be no surprise that the companies doing the most to ensure the safety, nutritional adequacy, and quality of their diet would also be the companies most likely to reinvest their profits into animal welfare and wellness initiatives.

It may be prudent to wonder less why certain companies are supporting WSAVA, and more why other companies are not, and what they are doing with their profits instead.”13 AllTradesDVM – WSAVA, AAFCO, and DACVNs

WSAVA Cat Food & Nutrition Guides
Siamese kitten

WSAVA’s Global Nutrition Committee has some excellent guides…

This video has helpful information about AAFCO and WSAVA nutrition guidelines.

The entire video is well worth watching, but the specifics about AAFCO and WSAVA start at 7:02.

Curious about other cat food topics? Check out “Cat Food!


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

A-E

6 Things Your Vet Wants You to Know About Cat Food “, by Amanda MacMillan, Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM, April 01, 2018, webmd.com

18 Different Types of Cat Food: What’s Best for Your Cat?“, Excited Cats

AAFCO Talks Pet Food” (aafco.org)

AAFCO-Approved Pet Food: Everything You Need to Know“, PetMD

About AMS | Agricultural Marketing Service” (usda.gov)

The Association of American Feed Control Officials” (aafco.org)

“Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, Skeptvet (skeptvet.com)

Do Cats Need Wet Food? – How to Choose a Wet Cat Food” by Emily Drew, PetMag.com, February 12, 2021

F-H

Facebook Nutrition Groups: “Feed Cats Like Cats – Feline Nutrition“, “Feline Nutrition & Cat Food Discussion

FDA’s Regulation of Pet Food“, FDA.gov

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Definition” (investopedia.com)

Federal Trade Commission | Protecting America’s Consumers

Frequently Asked Questions & Myths“, wsava.org, Last Updated January 2018

Global Nutrition Committee” (wsava.org)

Global Nutrition Guidelines” (wsava.org)

Guidelines on Selecting Pet Foods“, wsava.org

How Pet Food is Made“, Pet Food Institute (petfoodinstitute.org)

How pet food is made – making, used, processing, parts, components, product, industry, machine“, How Products Are Made (madehow.com)

How to Calculate How Much Wet Food to Feed a Cat”, by Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD, November 2, 2018

I-Z

Ingredient Standards” (aafco.org)

Is wet food bad for cats? A vet’s view“, PetsRadar

“Pet Food”, FDA

“Questions & Answers: Contaminants in Pet Food”, FDA, July 29, 2021

The Savvy Cat Owner’s Guide: Nutrition on the Internet“, wsava.org

“Wet vs. Dry Cat Food, or Both?”, by Cathy Meeks, MS, DVM, DACVIM, PetMD.com, January 19, 2021

WSAVA“, (wsava.org)

WSAVA, AAFCO, and DACVNs“, AllTradesDVM

Updated April 12, 2024

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