FDA’s evolving role in pet food regulations and safety

Proposed new U.S. pet food legislation, plus the return of an FDA-generated controversy, highlight the agency’s significant role, for better or worse.

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New pet food labels may not be the only regulatory change coming to the U.S. pet food market.
New pet food labels may not be the only regulatory change coming to the U.S. pet food market.
JackF | iStock.com

Pet food safety is ever evolving, as are regulations intended to ensure that safety and the well-being of pets eating the food. Case in point: new U.S. pet food labeling requirements going into effect. They’re a big change to what pet owners are used to seeing and an even more significant revision for manufacturers, considering that by 2029, they must eventually roll out the new labels to all their products.

Other, more substantial pet food regulatory changes may be afoot. In February, a bipartisan group of House of Representatives members introduced legislation, the Pet Food Regulatory Reform (PURR) Act of 2024 (H.R. 7380), that would dramatically overhaul aspects of U.S. pet food regulation. Namely, the bill would shift regulatory authority for the labeling and ingredient review process for dog and cat food and treats solely to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It does not include foods for other pets.

The proposed bill only involves pet food label reviews and codifies ingredients and marketing claims in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication, according to the Pet Food Institute (PFI), which drove the legislation. PFI said state departments of agriculture and other state officials would still engage in quality inspections and product registrations, but label and ingredient approvals would be streamlined under FDA. Not surprisingly, AAFCO is on record having concerns about the legislation.

This is putting ever more focus on FDA, which already struggles to keep up with responsibilities such as pet food facility inspections. Presumably, the legislation includes funding for the agency to hire more personnel, but even when the U.S. Congress passes new mandates, it doesn’t always appropriate the necessary funding to carry them out.

Meanwhile, FDA’s controversial investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and purported links to grain-free pet food, launched in 2018 and quietly put to rest in 2022, has come back to life. A small pet food manufacturer, KetoNatural, sued Hill’s Pet Nutrition, its affiliated research foundations and a group of veterinary researchers for spurring the investigation and allegedly hurting the business of companies in the grain-free category. (Never mind that Hill’s has grain-free pet foods, and in fact, some of its products appeared on FDA’s list of foods involved in the investigation.)

No one knows yet where the lawsuit will lead, if anywhere. Yet it’s a reminder of FDA’s significant role in the U.S. pet food industry, for better or worse.

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