January 4 marks the first birthday of the Food Safety Modernization Act. I imagine most manufacturers that produce, market or import petfood to the US aren’t celebrating the milestone, because the new law means new regulations to comply with, along with the added costs of doing so (including myriad new fees from the Food and Drug Administration).
It might help to know, however, that a 2011 study showed US consumers would be willing to spend collectively US$4,500 to US$6,000 to prevent each case of short-term illness caused by contaminated food. The study, conducted by Kevin Haninger and James Hammitt of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and originally published in Risk Analysis International Journal, addressed human food safety, but the results would probably extend to petfood, at least on a smaller scale.
Reported in the October edition of FSMeDigest from Food Safety Magazine (www.foodsafetymagazine.com/article.asp?id=4363&sub=sub1#Article1), the study started with the seemingly simple goal of examining the “monetary value that consumers place on a safer food supply,” the authors wrote. Of course, doing so in a scientifically and statistically sound way gets pretty complex and detailed, and the article provides an overview of all that, including the two main methods or metrics for examining the valuation consumers put on safe food.
On its own, the finding that 2,858 randomly selected US adults are willing to pay more for safer human foods is important, though it should be emphasized that the amounts cited are collective. But the authors said their methods can lead to an estimate of what individuals would be willing to pay.
For the petfood industry, perhaps the critical implication in this study is the reason for conducting it in the first place. “Federal agencies are required to assess the costs and benefits of major regulations they develop to reduce the risks of foodborne illnesses,” the authors wrote. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in six Americans (or 48 million people) become ill from such an illness each year. By estimating the individual willingness to pay to reduce these risks, analysts can determine whether the benefits of regulations exceed the costs imposed on consumers, food producers and others.”
In light of FSMA and its new regulations, this cost-benefit requirement is significant. Will that apply to buyers and producers of petfood, too? Will petfood manufacturers who have to make investments to comply with new regulations be able to access evidence, ideally provided by FDA, that the benefits justify the costs? And will that evidence be available in such a way that you can communicate it to consumers and potentially reap benefits yourselves via increased petfood sales?
Because, judging by the overwhelming consumer response to the 2007 melamine-related petfood recalls—which in turn has led to a continuing explosion of websites, blogs and other Internet forums touting so-called experts and expertise on petfood and pet nutrition—pet owners would very likely welcome marketing messages and other information that includes such evidence of safer petfood. And hopefully, they would put their money where many of them say their hearts are: providing the best, safest, most wholesome nutrition for their pets.