The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is one of the three organizations that cooperate in the US to recognize pet food ingredients. AAFCO does not regulate anything and is recognized as a non-profit organization by the Washington government.
Susan M. Hays
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
A FEW BASICS ABOUT AAFCO
In the US, we have laws and regulations governing either animal feed or human food. Pet food is considered animal feed, and this is how the laws and regulations are written. Commercial animal feed, including pet food, is an important business sector.
There are three US agencies working cooperatively to recognize the ingredients that are used to manufacture pet food and the state laws that regulate commerce in animal feed and pet food among the 50 states. These three agencies are:
• Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
• US Food & Drug Administration, Center of Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM).
• State government in each of the 50 US states.
All three teams work together cooperatively in several areas that support the recognition of pet food ingredients and the language found in state laws. In this article, we’ll give you information on AAFCO’s collaborative approach to these very important aspects.
AAFCO does not regulate or inspect anything. We cannot. We are not a government agency. We are a group whose members are government agencies representing the 50 states, Canada, and the Federal government (FDA CVM). In the US, AAFCO is recognized by the US Government as a not-for-profit association. It is organized as a corporation.
AAFCO is very transparent in its processes. We are a deliberative body, and we take time to move through issues, so all affected parties can comment. For example, once the scientific study of a new ingredient to establish the ingredient is safe for its intended use in pet food is completed and a company submits a proposed pet food ingredient definition to AAFCO, it can easily take 2 years for the ingredient to move through the steps to become legal for use in the US. During this time, reviews of the scientific information are performed by multiple stakeholders including the US government and state governments.
INGREDIENTS IN PET FOOD
If you think you can use any ingredient you want in pet food in the US, you are wrong. Some very dedicated people in state government have been working on pet food ingredient definitions with these outcomes very clearly in focus:
• Diet appropriate for the animal species that will eat the food.
• Safety of the ingredients in the animal feed and pet food – we rely on scientific research to validate this.
• A level playing field through common language in laws in each US state.
AAFCO’s science-based approach requires companies to invest in scientific studies sufficient to validate that an ingredient is safe for the company’s intended use in pet food. We often use an approach we call “Expert Panels” to examine the research submitted to AAFCO in support of a new ingredient proposed for the marketplace. With an Expert Panel, we include scientists, academia, veterinarians, and other experts in animal nutrition and safety to ensure that the proposed ingredient provide the necessary nutrition to the intended species. In other words, we ask our Expert Panel to make sure the ingredient does what it is intended to do in the animal. If it doesn’t, it cannot be legally used in animal feed or pet food in the US.
Our process to define a new ingredient takes at least 2 years from start to finish. During this time, our members, representatives from FDA CVM, and other scientists are involved in discussions and analysis to make sure the ingredient is well understood. We often say that AAFCO is a deliberative body, and we mean it! We do not want any harm from an ingredient to come to a person or to an animal, so we are very thorough, and we take our time to get it right. Until a proposed ingredient moves through the AAFCO process, it cannot legally be used in pet food in the US. State regulators have the authority to stop the sale of pet food products that contain illegal ingredients not approved by AAFCO.
AAFCO’S PET FOOD COMMITTEE
At the time of this writing, AAFCO has 18 active committees. Our Pet Food Committee is one of these committees. This very active and dedicated group of people includes state regulators, representatives from FDA CVM, and representatives from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), industry, and consumers. As you might see, this is a large group of people. AAFCO uses work groups within committees to work on projects. Work group members come from within the Pet Food Committee or from outside the Committee depending on the expertise needed in the project. Completed projects are brought before the full Pet Food Committee for a vote prior to presenting the completed project to the AAFCO Board of Directors.
The purpose statement for the Pet Food Committee in our 2018 Official Publication is as follows:
Purpose: Work cooperatively with FDA, the pet food industry, and other stakeholders to monitor, review, and recommend appropriate revisions to the AAFCO Official Publication as related to pet food and specialty pet food and suggest additional activities, when such are needed, to more effectively:
• Provide protection for the consumer and the regulated industry
• Safeguard the health of humans and animals
• Provide a structure for orderly commerce
• Provide recommendations and assistance for training, workshops, and educational materials regarding pet food and specialty pet food
The activities and projects in the Pet Food Committee are in support of this purpose statement.
A HISTORY OF SERVICE TO CONSUMERS,
INDUSTRY, AND STATES
Since its birth in September 1909, AAFCO has actively shaped US animal feed laws and regulations, including pet food. The original purpose for AAFCO was to provide industry with general unity of regulations within the regulatory community. This became the first declared mission of AAFCO as well as their first activity, and ultimately became the model or sample regulations AAFCO still works on today. These early founders also agreed that the development of fair and equitable ingredient definitions and resolutions; the acceptance of new feed ingredient definitions based on scientific analysis and nutritional profiles; and the establishment of proper package labeling procedures were needed, and these are all areas where AAFCO continues to be active today in animal feed including pet food.
As the US pet food industry has evolved through the years, so has AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee. Regulatory language is revised to include the latest scientific data and to address innovations in manufacturing techniques, technology, and products. Among these changes have been the ongoing monitoring of pet food ingredient definitions, the encouragement of good manufacturing practices, the development of comprehensive pet feeding protocols to assess nutritional adequacy, the adoption of pet food and specialty pet food regulations, and the establishment of laboratory methods programs. The Official Publication (OP) is recognized around the world as an important source of pet food ingredient and regulatory information, and it is available in an online version in English as an annual subscription (visit aafco.org for more information and to subscribe).
THE CONSUMER’S ROLE IN FEEDING
ANIMALS AND PETS
As the owner of animals, whether it be livestock, pets or specialty pets, selecting the right feed for the animals or pets is up to the owner.
AAFCO’s interest is in the health of the animal. Appropriate nutrition has long been recognized as the key to healthy animals and pets. We have dedicated and knowledgeable volunteer members from state government with the background in regulatory science and veterinary medicine working cooperatively on our areas of specialty.
We also suggest you to read our previous article titled "Canary Feeding".