Last Monday and Tuesday, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) met for their 2015 annual meeting. You can view their final agenda by clicking here.
In case you are unaware, AAFCO sets ingredient definition and product nutritional adequacy guidelines for the pet food industry. They have no regulatory authority and their guidelines are suggestions, not requirements. Manufactures who follow AAFCO’s guidelines, however, are allowed to label their products as “Complete and Balanced”, and many states adopt these guidelines as laws. The AAFCO board of directors is comprised of volunteers from State Departments of Agriculture and FDA, but AAFCO’s working committees include “advisory” members from many industry groups, including the following (this is by no means an inclusive list):
American Feed Industry Association
American Oil Chemists’ Society
American Pet Products Association
National Grain and Feed Association
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Renderers Association
Pet Food Industry
Pet Food Institute
US Poultry Association
US Poultry & Egg Association
I include this list so you can get a picture of who is at these meetings, determining what goes into the manufactured food products pet owners all across America depend upon to keep their pets healthy.
Historically, pet food consumers have not been represented on any of AAFCO’s committees. It was only in 2012 that Dr. Jean Hofve, representing the Pet Parents Action Group, was granted advisory status on the Pet Food and the Ingredient Definitions committees. In 2013, Susan Thixton from the Association for Truth in Pet Food was allowed to join her. Today, we have Dr. Hofve and Mollie Morrissette representing the Pet Welfare Alliance, and Susan Thixton and Lonnie Boyd representing the Association for Truth in Pet Food. In addition to these four, pet food consumers were also represented in last week’s meeting by Dr. Cathy Alinovi, Dr. Judy Morgan, Dr. Karen Becker, Nina Wolf, Rodney Habib, Roxanne Stone, and B.C. Henschen.
Susan has provided some detailed thoughts in several articles covering this two-day event, and you can read them here.
This was my first year listening in to these sessions and I was able to make time for all of the Pet Food meeting and part of the Ingredients session. I was totally unprepared for the openly combative attitude of industry representatives and dismayed by the lack of professionalism I heard. Industry representatives were sarcastic and rude throughout and showed no hesitation in acting belligerent.
Furthermore, and more upsetting to me, these representatives are obviously completely disconnected from any conception whatever of the consequences of their practices. In one of her articles, Susan mentions that in his introduction of the mislabeled pet foods topic in the Enforcement committee meeting, the Missouri Department of Agriculture rep, Stan Cook, stated that, “humanization of pets results in irrational and erratic behavior.” Wanting pet foods labeled accurately is irrational and erratic? And during the Pet Food committee meeting, I heard an industry rep declare that he sees, “…minimal value” in providing consumers with the carbohydrate content of manufactured pet foods. We’re in the middle of epidemic numbers of obese pets and he doesn’t think pet owners need to know how many carbs are in the products he sells?
It gets worse. In the Ingredients Definitions meeting, another rep claimed that it would be, “unconscionable to landfill these nutrients” in reference to rotting grocery store waste pulled from store dumpsters and intended for animal feed – plastic packaging and all. When confronted with objections as to the true nutritional value of this decomposing grocery store waste and its plastic containers, industry representatives laughed and booed in derision.
It is clear to me that they have been unregulated and unaccountable to anyone for so long, they believe anything they want should be granted them. They are angry that their actions are now being watched and their decisions called into question, and instead of being big boys and girls and acknowledging their free ride is over, they’re acting like spoiled six-year-olds.
Thankfully, there were some bright points. During the Pet Food Committee’s human grade/edible discussion, Rodney Habib gave an impassioned, straight to the point plea for AAFCO and the FDA to do right by our pets. It was so exactly what needed to be said that I jumped up, clapped my hands and yelled, “Yes!” when he finished. (I was at work, so you can imagine that raised an eyebrow or two.)
And Nina Wolf’s speech emphasizing that the push for transparency in labeling is not a “value judgement” on the industry or its products was well delivered. The PFI needs to understand that consumers don’t want to hear, “Trust us, our product is what you should feed”, consumers want to make that choice for themselves, and they want the facts that will allow them to do so – the TRUE facts. What they don’t need an industry acting petulant and defensive.
There were a few positive outcomes from this meeting, as well. A discussion on poultry ingredients lead to the admission by a State Department of Agriculture representative that there were gaps in their knowledge of these ingredients that would need to be addressed, as well as the revelation that the AAFCO Ingredient Definitions committee consulted with the poultry industry in creating the definition for these ingredients and no one else. In other words, the poultry industry got to create ingredient definitions based upon their need to dispose of waste product, not upon the nutritional needs of the animals for which the final feed was intended.
With these issues now in the open, steps can be taken to address them going forward. And from the sound of things, I think they will be.
Also, despite the opposition, seeing carbohydrate statements on pet food labels moved a step nearer. All that’s needed is verification of the carb content testing protocols that were recently developed. Once that is completed, AAFCO should be able to vote a carb content labeling requirement into their guidelines.
AAFCO’s next meeting will be in January in the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Pet food consumers were better represented this year than ever before, but we have a long fight ahead of us. It’s going to take all of these advocates and many more – it’s going to take all of you, too – to make a difference. YOU are your cat’s first line of defense! I intend to be at January’s meeting and I suggest that all of you who can make it join us, and if you can’t be there in person, at least be on the call.
In the meantime, there is one sure way to get the pet food industry’s attention, and that’s with your wallet. Susan has a list of pet food manufactures who have taken a pledge to provide the grade and country of origin for all of their product ingredients, and I suggest you shop with those manufactures and no one else.
Even better – buy fresh, whole ingredients for your beloved cat. Home-preparing your cat’s diet is not difficult or complicated, and it is well worth the effort to learn. Your kitty will thank you for a healthier, happier life, and you will no longer be dependent upon the vagaries of the pet food industry and its lax regulation!
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