How Pet Food Is Regulated


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 both federal and state regulations. 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 recognized by either FDA or by the Association of American Feed Officials (AAFCO), the voluntary organization of state regulatory officials that develops a model bill and pet food regulations that states can adopt into their respective state laws and regulations.

Ingredients Used in Pet Food
  • 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).
  • In addition, ingredients that were in use before 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&C Act) 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&C Act 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 meet U.S. food safety standards.

Federal Requirements
  • 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 of 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.

At present, pet food makers are under full compliance with the FSMA requirements, and the FDA is inspecting to these standards and requirements. The FDA, which had previously inspected facilities to guard against adulteration or misbranded products under the FD&C Act, now has the authority under FSMA to inspect pet food and treat facilities to confirm they have implemented and documented their adherence to the applicable required cGMPs and Hazard Analysis provisions, which are designed to prevent the causes of foodborne illness. 

Although FSMA does not expressly approve specific ingredients, compliance with its requirements ensures the ingredient is safe. Click here for more information on FSMA requirements related to pet food. PFI and its members place the highest importance on product safety, and PFI is working to ensure all pet food and treat makers, not just our members, understand their obligations under FSMA. 

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 bill and regulations mentioned above, which provides, among other things, ingredient definitions and requirements for pet food labels and product claims.

State Requirements
  • 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 in their respective state.
  • Product label review and approval. Manufacturers must submit a product label for each pet food or treat product they want to sell in the state for review and acceptance by state regulators. Product label review includes an examination of:
    • Label format to ensure required information is present, e.g., the brand name, intended species, quantity of product, guaranteed analysis (GA), ingredient statement, nutritional adequacy statement, and feeding directions. Many of these pieces of information have state-specific language requirements.
    • Allowable ingredients – ingredients must be approved by one of the federal or state processes.
    • Guaranteed analysis (GA) of specific measurable levels – usually a minimum and maximum for: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, ash other mineral supplements or any others for which the manufacturer makes a claim
    • 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.
    • Calorie content statement.
    • 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.”

PFI knows pets

The Pet Food Institute (PFI) is dedicated to providing up-to-date, science-backed information about pet food, health, and wellbeing. Trust our expertise to help your pets live long, healthy lives.

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