by Jean Hofve, DVM

The standards by which pet food are made are set by an organization called AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). AAFCO provides model rules and standards that most states have adopted, and that pet food companies abide by. You’ve undoubtedly seen statements on pet food labels referring to either AAFCO feeding tests or AAFCO Nutrient Profiles. In order to claim that they are “complete and balanced” for a given life stage (or all life stages), pet foods must meet one of those two standards.

This is not a glamorous topic, but it’s critical for your pet’s health, so please bear with me for a little bit of history. The current Nutrient Profiles were published in 1989-1990. They were based on the 1985 National Research Council (NRC) report on dog and cat nutrient requirements, which was itself based largely on research in rats, chickens and cattle. There was very little published research on canine nutrition back then, and virtually none on cats. Even when they were brand new, the AAFCO standards were widely criticized. Nevertheless, most “holistic” pet foods are made to those standards; in general, only big companies who can afford to do feeding tests rely more on those.

In other words, today’s AAFCO standards were never great, and are now outdated by 30 years. The good news: revisions to the Nutrient Profiles and Feeding Protocols are set to be adopted at the AAFCO Annual Meeting this August!

The NRC book was updated in 2003, though not published until 2006. The delay was due to protests by pet food companies and their lobbying mouthpiece, the Pet Food Institute. NRC authors wanted to set new upper limits on certain nutrients, but having to actually measure what they were putting in pet food was considered too expensive for the pet food companies, and they didn’t want to be bothered. And they won: NRC watered down its recommendations. Subsequently, new AAFCO standards were created by Expert Committees, relying on the “new” NRC book as well as other more recent research.

After a few rounds of revisions and comments by FDA and others, the new publications are in their final form, ready to be voted on by AAFCO members at their annual meeting, which will be held in St. Petersburg, Florida, in August. Because you–the consumer–have wised up a lot since the last revision, AAFCO has decided to post the proposed revisions to the Nutrient Profiles and to the Feeding Test protocols online (I’m also including the Pet Food Committee minutes so you can see how the process works…they’ll give you a clue on why it takes AAFCO so long to do anything!):

Minutes of the January 2013 Pet Food Committee meeting
Proposed Revisions to AAFCO Nutrient Profiles
Proposed Revisions to Feeding Protocols
If these proposals are adopted, as expected, at the August meeting, they will be published in the 2014 AAFCO Official Publication.


div>Of course, these revisions will already be more than 10 years out-of-date the minute they roll off the printing press, given that the NRC finished its report in 2003. For example, there will be no adult requirements for the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, despite the reams of research and wide acknowledgment showing their importance. Most of the changes are minor. But at least something is happening!