The meeting of AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee (PFC) was held Wednesday afternoon, with a very busy agenda. This committee is responsible for updates to the model pet food regulations that form the de facto standards for commercial pet foods. Sure, it sounds dry and boring–and indeed the pace of change often seems to match glacier movement before global warming! But if are interested in why the food you feed your pets is the way it is, it’s important to understand this process.
But first, a little political drama: the chairman of the committee as well as a member of the Board of Directors had approved me as an “advisor” to the committee (along with Susan Thixton of TruthAboutPetFood.com); but just before the meeting we were told that someone complained (IMHO there is only one suspect, but more on that later), so we were “demoted” to “guests.” I asked why other people who work directly for pet food companies, such as Procter & Gamble (Iams, Eukanuba, Evo, etc.) and Purina, are allowed to be advisors, and here’s the trick: they aren’t serving as representatives of their actual employers, but rather under the aegis of the Pet Food Institute (Big Pet Food’s lobbying organization). Only members of “organizations” can be advisors. Nevertheless, we were seated at the table with the committee members and other advisors, and were able to comment if we wished.
The first report was on AAFCO’s recently updated website and new section, “The Business of Pet Food.” This is an extensive guide designed to help small startups that want to make and sell pet foods or treats. It’s useful to consumers, as well, to see what is actually required to legally market pet food. The feedback from manufacturers as well as consumers has been great. So it’s quite a good success story!
The other reports, however, were tales of failure. Once again, the updates of the Nutrient Profiles and Feeding Protocols are not ready. The “expert panels” have been working on this since the National Research Council published their new guidelines in 2006 (which itself was already delayed by 3 years). Even if their recommendations get to the Pet Food Committee this year, it will be at least another year before they are officially approved. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the standards by which your pet’s food is being made are based mainly on research published in the mid-1980s. Ridiculous!
The group working on carbohydrate claims is…still working. Currently, there is no objective, accurate way to measure total carbohydrates in pet food. When manufacturers do provide carbohydrate levels, they are probably way off because the laboratory procedures used are not very good. I had a nice chat with the chair of this working group, and emphasized that this is something that consumers want. It’s important for pet guardians to be able to accurately compare the carb levels in different foods, given the rising rate of diabetes in cats, and the increasing problem of obesity in both dogs and cats. But it will still take a while to make it official.
Nor will a statement of caloric content be required on labels in the near future. This was proposed seven years ago, but has been strongly resisted by the lobbyists from the Pet Food Institute. Even today, PFI’s vice president, Nancy Cook, attempted to throw up another roadblock to giving this important information to consumers, claiming that new legislation affecting the FDA should cause AAFCO to delay this even further. This notion was shredded by Dr. David Dzanis, formerly of the FDA, who (in his American College of Veterinary Nutritionists hat) noted that this issue has already languished for years. I also spoke up and reminded AAFCO that it has a consumer protection function, and that this is something wanted and needed by consumers and veterinarians to protect pet health. The upshot is that the proposed requirement for a calorie statement will be moved forward; the committee has already approved it, and it will be voted on by the Board and the membership this year. Still, it could be a year or two before it’s officially published, and manufacturers have to comply.
Note: There have been some interesting developments…stay tuned!