AAFCO Official Publication goes online
Web version provides a working alternative to print version of a vital resource
Any petfood manufacturer distributing product in the US needs to be familiar with the contents of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication (OP) to formulate and label products to be in compliance with the regulations of most states. As mentioned in my October Petfood Industry column, an online version of the OP is now available. This is great news after decades of urging for an alternative to the print version of this vital resource.Â
I am still learning how to navigate the electronic OP effectively, and I am sure improvements in the website will be made over time. At this juncture, it appears that the electronic version will augment, but not wholly replace, my use of the print version.
A key benefit Â to the electronic OP is easy searchability. A resource book is only as good as its index, and frankly, the index in the printed OP has had its share of problems. For example, in the 2010 and earlier editions, "powdered cellulose" was listed in the index under "C," but "microcrystalline cellulose" was listed under "M." Also, for at least one year, "manganous oxide" was missing from the index altogether. Â Â
While those errors have been rectified, still to this day there are issues with cross references, such as "brewers rice" listed under "chipped rice" and "cassava root" under "tapioca." Comparatively, the risk of missing an important listing using the online version is now minimized. Unfortunately, the current search engine does not autofill search words or offer alternative spellings, but perhaps these enhanced functions can be incorporated in the future.
In my limited experience, I did find browsing through the electronic OP to be a bit cumbersome, at least compared to other electronic resources I have used. Frankly, so far it is often easier for me to find the section of the OP pertinent to my needs by a quick flip of pages in the physical book than via my computer. Navigation of the website proved especially difficult when using the OP on my iPad.Â Â
However, AAFCO is also in development of an app to optimize use on mobile devices. I downloaded the app for "Knowledge Vault" on my iPad and was able to easily access the OP from there, as well. The app is not fully functional yet (no search function at the time of this writing), but hopefully it will be easier to use in the near future.
I have also been Â told that the electronic OP will be updated after each annual and mid-year meeting to reflect any changes in the model regulations and ingredient definitions. I presume any typographical errors or omissions found during the year can be quickly fixed, as well. This is a great advantage compared to the print OP, where you need to wait until the next January to see the changes for the year implemented in writing.Â
However, I am unclear as to which version, online or print, will be deemed the "official" version when there are discrepancies between the two. For example, if the newly revised AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles are accepted by AAFCO at the January meeting, does it become official as soon as it goes online, or will it not be official until it appears in the 2015 print OP?
Of course, one big Â hassle with online publications is that you must be online. For comparison, I can access my iPad app for Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (the Food and Drug Administration rules) wherever I am, whether it be in a hotel conference room, during a business meeting at a restaurant or at 35,000 feet in the air. However, unless I can be assured of uninterrupted connection to the Internet during travel, I will have to plan my use of the electronic OP accordingly or carry a copy of the print version as well.
Another inconvenience with the online OP is that it is a protected document, which means that the site does not enable you to download, print or cut and paste snippets into other programs for use offline. I understand that AAFCO generates a huge proportion of its operating income from sale of the OP, hence does not want to suffer a bite into that by unscrupulous reproduction of the OP's content. Already, much of the OP is viewable on websites that have illegally copied this material. Still, to allow for legitimate capture and use of material from the online document in accordance with applicable copyright laws would greatly enhance its functionality for most users.
In short, I plan Â on buying the online OP for 2014, but am not ready to give up the print version just yet. In fact, I may keep buying the print version just to keep track of the historical record (I have editions going back as early as 1973, and often have need to look up an old committee report or previous language in a regulation from years past). Whatever you decide to get, either version can be ordered from AAFCO's web site (www.aafco.org/Publications/PublicationListing.aspx), with a $25 discount if you order both.