Pet Food is One of the Most Regulated Foods

In the United States, pet food is among the most highly regulated of all food products, and must meet federal and state requirements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both finished pet food products (including treats and chews) and their ingredients. Nearly all states also require products sold therein to be registered, and for their labels to adhere to strict requirements regarding product names and ingredients. An ingredient cannot be used in pet food until it has been accepted by FDA and adopted by the Association of American Feed Officials (AAFCO), the organization of state regulatory officials that develops model bills and regulations for pet food that states can adopt into their respective state laws and regulations. 

Ingredients Used in Pet Food

An ingredient must meet key criteria needed to be considered acceptable for use in a pet food recipe. There are four ways for an ingredient to acceptable for use:

How is an Ingredient Deemed Acceptable?

Ingredients may be approved through AAFCO’s Ingredient Definitions Committee to be listed in their Official Publication.

An ingredient may have gone through the process to receive a Food Additive Petition from FDA which would be listed on the FDA website.

Also on the FDA website, there exists a list of ingredients which are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Processes exist for companies to self-affirm GRAS.

In addition, ingredients that were in use prior to 1958 and have not caused any issues are considered safe and legal for use.

Federal Regulation

The Food Safety Modernization Act

With regard to federal regulation, pet food makers and their suppliers have always been required to market safe products under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&CA) of 1938, which regulates both human and animal food.  In this regard, PFI members adopted good manufacturing practices decades ago. 

The passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, which amends the FD&CA and is the most comprehensive update to U.S. food safety regulation in more than 70 years, created new requirements and mandatory product safety standards for virtually all U.S. human food and U.S. pet food makers. The focus for human and animal food under the law is prevention of illness, rather than reacting and correcting issues that arise. The law also provides FDA with the authority to conduct facility inspections to verify FSMA compliance; and to ensure imported foods meets U.S. food safety standards. 

With few exceptions, just as with human food, FSMA requires pet food makers to:

  • Implement current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) that include requirements for employees, facility design, equipment upkeep and maintenance;
  • Identify and evaluate hazards (biological, chemical or physical) that may be associated with the foods they make, and put into place procedures (“preventive controls”) that address those hazards;
  • Develop and implement a food safety plan detailing the steps they are taking to ensure product safety, from the sourcing ingredients to carrying out a product recall if ever needed;
  • Comply with FSMA requirements regarding foreign suppliers and sanitary transportation for both finished food pet food/treats and ingredients.

Click here for more information on FSMA requirements related to pet food.

PFI has worked from rulemaking through implementation to ensure our members are well aware of their FSMA obligations. Our efforts will continue through the compliance and enforcement phase, and PFI are continuing to engage our members, federal and state regulators, and other stakeholders to make sure FSMA expectations are clearly understood by pet food and treat makers, as well as FDA and state officials conducting FSMA compliance and surveillance.

State Regulation

Most states regulate pet food products under their animal feed laws.  An easy way for states to keep their feed laws current is to adopt the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) model bills and regulations mentioned above, which set out, for example, cGMPs, ingredient definitions and requirements for pet food labels and product claims. 

States requirements for those following the AAFCO models include:

  • Registration of each pet food product before it can be sold in the state.  This enables regulators to know what and where products are sold are sold in their respective state; important information to have at hand in the case of a recall.
  • Product label review and approval.  Manufacturers must submit for review and acceptance by state regulators a product label for each pet food or treat product they want to sell in the state.  Product label review includes:
    • Review of label format to ensure required information is present, e.g., the brand name, intended species, quantity of product, GA (see details below), ingredient statement, nutritional adequacy statement (also below), and feeding directions.   Many of these pieces of information have state-specific language requirements. 
    • Examine for allowable ingredients – ingredients approved by AAFCO or GRAS – through FDA or self-affirmation or ingredients that have received a food additive petition (FAP).
    • A guaranteed analysis (GA) of specific measurable levels – usually a minimum and maximum for: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, ash other mineral supplements.
    • A nutritional adequacy statement (i.e. complete and balanced).  Only those products that provide total nutrition can be labeled as such.  Manufacturers can be asked to substantiate this statement by providing a comparison with nutrient profiles.
    • Provision of calorie content.
    • Assurance that the use of certain terms is not misleading (e.g., “light, lean, low fat” or comparisons between products on the market).  There are regulations in place that define such terms.
    • Name and address of manufacturer/distributor.
    • Review of product claims.  There are guidelines in place that must be followed to make product claims such as: tartar control formula or “natural.”

States can also adopt the AAFCO cGMPs.  These have been in place for a while, and AAFCO is currently in the process of adopting the federal cGMPS required under FSMA.  AAFCO also provides language that enables states to adopt FSMA regulations in their entirety.

State regulators also regularly inspect pet food manufacturing facilities to verify that state cGMPs are being followed, appropriate documentation is in place, and a food safety plan is written and followed.

Federal and state regulators (on FDA’s behalf) are now inspecting facilities for compliance with FSMA requirements. 

Learn more about FSMA implementation.

Learn more about pet food labeling requirements.

Learn more about the state-level regulation of pet food.