You’d think that the definition of “safe to eat” would be a fairly accepted standard for everyone, right? Sadly, that isn’t the case. Where the food safety regulations in one country might say that a food is fine to eat as long as it is cheap and filling, other countries would say that it is poisonous garbage, never to be consumed under any circumstance. Some regulations are strict when it comes to labeling and advertising, where others are very lax, almost non-existent.
It’s important to know who you’re getting your food from, so let me give you a quick rundown of the big distributing and manufacturing countries’ safety standards, starting with the loosest and ending with the tightest.
It’s no surprise that the first country on this list is China. In all my research for this post, the only thing I could find regarding Chinese pet food safety regulations was that the Chinese have no pet food safety regulations. Through the years, they have received a somewhat dubious reputation in regards to food safety, so recently they have begun enforcing several new regulations regarding human food, but have yet to do so with pet food. This means that a Chinese pet food, or an ingredient that is sourced from China, could have anything at all in it, from ground up roadkill to plastic.
The regulatory system in the USA is governed by two establishments called the FDA and AAFCO, with most of the actual standards being set up by AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) and the enforcement being handled almost entirely by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) since AAFCO is not actually an official governmental body. This, as you might imagine, makes finding out exactly what the standards are an extremely arduous task.
At first glance, it would appear that that the USA has very very loose standards for pet food. Most people are under the assumption that the FDA controls everything, so when they read on the official website that there is, in fact, no requirement for foods to have FDA approval to be sold, they are taken aback. The only thing that the FDA actually does specific to pet food is review health benefit claims. Their website states that the CVM (College of Veterinary Medicine) and manufacturers themselves hold primary authority for providing safe pet food. Compared to the strict laws in place in other countries, this seems really weak.
However, the people actually making the regulations, AAFCO, have set up a dizzyingly specific set of standards and definitions that pet food suppliers are encouraged to adhere to. While they too say that the manufacturer ultimately holds responsibility for the safety of their food, they also encourage the buyer to be aware of what they are spending their money on, charging pet parents with a certain measure of responsibility. AAFCO sends all complaints, cautions, and recalls towards the FDA to deal with. A full list of requirements is on their website under the “AAFCO Talks Pet Food” column.
Ultimately, in the United States, it is up to you to know what you are feeding your pet. Both FDA law and AAFCO recommendation enforce a tight labelling policy so that you know exactly who makes your food and can easily find out exactly what is in it. In essence, the standards are only as high as you want them to be.
While their hyped-up reputation would suggest that they are some sort of pet food safety pioneers, the Canadians are actually fairly run-of-the-mill. Their enhanced animal health safeguards that were implemented in 2007 make it illegal for specified risk materials to be included in pet food, and Industry Canada developed two acts, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Competition Act, as labelling and advertising regulations, making sure that customers know exactly what they are getting for their money. All pet food packages are required to show a list of ingredients, feeding instructions, and a guaranteed analysis (which is a fancy term for the minimum and maximum nutritional quantities of the ingredients). All ingredients are required to be listed by their common name. In other words, Canada is in the same boat as the United States, where you have the opportunity to get quality food, but there really isn’t any law requiring all food to be quality.
Also similar to the US, where we have AAFCO, Canada has PFAC, the Pet Food Association of Canada, a non-governmental organization dedicated to producing quality pet food. Most Canadian manufacturers are members, which makes the process of finding a safe Canadian food that much easier. At the end of the day, however, it is up to the buyer to know what they are buying.
The Japanese aren’t playing around with your pet’s food. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of the Environment worked together with the Agricultural Material Council and the Central Environment Council to develop laws against making, selling, and importing/exporting food that is not made according to their guidelines. Governmental Ministers can prevent the sale or production of any food that might be harmful to pets, and they can also order a recall if they have to. Random inspections are conducted and the performing officials are granted the power to seize any resources that aren’t up to code. Results of these inspections are made public, and jail time and steep fines await those who are caught making subpar food or using improper ingredients. As far as actual laws go, very few are doing more than the Japanese.
The European Union (the EU) manages pet food safety in the UK, and with their Animal Feed Regulations being passed in 2010, they are doing a stellar job. Their regulations cover everything from labeling, nutritional claims, and authorized additives to the enforcement measures that are to be taken if a manufacturer does not comply. All businesses must be registered with and approved by the EU, a mandate which applies to all points in the process, from the farmers growing the ingredients to the store selling the finished product. They prohibit the distribution of “unsafe” food, which is defined as food that is contaminated by foreign objects, food that is decomposing or rotting, and food that contains unapproved additives. Traceability measures are in place, meaning that if they find an ingredient in the food that isn’t supposed to be there, they will be able to tell at exactly what stage in the process it was added in. Enforcement officials are allowed to use their discretion as well. Just because a food “technically” complies with regulations doesn’t mean that the manufacturer is untouchable. This creates a system with no loopholes that makes United Kingdom standards the highest in the world.
I hope this post provided you with a lantern to get you through the fog of laws and legal terms associated with pet food safety. Now you know where the best foods come from, and you know where to have caution. Keep in mind, though, that just because a food is based out of a country doesn’t mean that the manufacturer uses their standard. For example, a country might be based in the USA and use the United Kingdom standards in order to go above and beyond. I know this can be confusing, so if you have any questions, please call either store location, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.