2021 AAFCO Annual Meeting report: guidance, regulations

Learn about the items at AAFCO’s Annual Meeting that affect pet food, including guidance on therapeutic pet diets, various aspects of feed and pet food labeling, and human-grade guidance.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) held its Annual Meeting "virtually" on August 2–4, 2021. Last month's column (Petfood Industry magazine, September 2021) reported on the many matters pertaining to pet food ingredients that were discussed. However, a broad variety of other issues that impact pet foods were also topics of deliberation at the meeting.

New guidance: therapeutic diets

The full AAFCO membership voted to accept new guidance regarding therapeutic diets for dogs and cats. From a regulatory perspective, foods expressly intended to affect disease in animals are subject to enforcement action as "adulterated drugs," but the guidance delineates the conditions under which such a product would be less likely to cause regulatory consternation.   

In general, the AAFCO document reflects the position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as it appears in a Compliance Policy Guide published in 2016 (which memorializes what was the unwritten policy of FDA for decades earlier). Most notably, it requires that products in this category be sold only through or on the order of a veterinarian. Further, any discussion by the distributor regarding the intended effect of the food on a disease process is restricted to materials for the veterinary professional; i.e., not to appear on the label or in any consumer-based promotional materials (printed or electronic).

To be honest, despite FDA's long-standing policy, these restrictions, particularly with respect to the prohibition of making drug claims in materials intended for the consumer, have not been rigorously enforced. However, with states now more involved, stronger action against noncompliant products may be anticipated. The full guidance will appear in the 2022 AAFCO Official Publication.  

Draft regulations and guidance

New draft regulations from the Pet Food Labeling Modernization Working Group are now available for public review and comment. These proposed amendments to the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations will have a tremendous impact on the pet food industry, as many facets of labeling, including declarations regarding nutrient content, nutritional adequacy and safe handling, will be changing in coming years. Information on these amendments can be found under the "Working Groups" tab on the AAFCO Pet Food Committee web page (https://www.aafco.org/Regulatory/Committees/Pet-Food).

Written comments on the proposals will be accepted until October 22, 2021. AAFCO will also host a webinar on October 27, 2021 for interested parties to express any concerns. After that, movement on these items will likely be swift (at least by AAFCO standards). A separate working group to coordinate implementation of the new rules has already begun its deliberations.  

Although the public comment period is now closed, revised draft guidance on "human grade" claims is still available for viewing under the "Working Groups" tab on the Pet Food Committee page of the AAFCO web site. Essentially, it requires that all products whose labels bear the claim or words of similar intent to be manufactured in a facility that is licensed to produce human food, as well as be wholly comprised of ingredients deemed fit for human consumption.  The Pet Food Committee will likely vote on these revisions in October.

One aspect yet to be incorporated in the human grade guidance is AAFCO's intent to work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Voluntarily but for a fee, AMS would establish a process verification program wherein it would confirm a firm's compliance with AAFCO guidelines and issue documentation of same. While it would cost the pet food manufacturer to have this done, it should greatly streamline the state registration process for these types of products.        

Other notes: copper in dog foods and animal feed labeling

A commentary on copper levels in dog foods was published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. It associates the changes to the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles in 1997 with respect to the copper requirements (particularly the restriction from use of poorly bioavailable sources such as copper oxide) with an increase in liver disease in dogs. In response, AAFCO has convened an expert panel to review the scientific evidence for this contention. The panel will then make recommendations as to what action, if any, should be taken by AAFCO.

Working groups under the Model Bills and Regulations Committee (MBRC) are dealing with matters that pertain to animal feed labeling in general, but in doing so will impact pet food labeling as well. One group is discussing the AAFCO definition of "labeling." Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission, the former agency has primary oversight of labeling while the latter oversees advertising. However, changes to the definition for "labeling" by some states blur the line to encompass much of what would normally be advertising to come under the state feed control official's authority. Another MSBC working group is looking into how best to incorporate requirements for the labeling of flavors as stipulated by FDA regulation into AAFCO. At this last meeting, the group was also asked to consider the same for the labeling of color additives.

 

Briefly: top 5 takeaways

  1. The full AAFCO membership voted to accept new guidance regarding therapeutic diets for dogs and cats.
  2. Revised draft guidance on "human grade" claims requires that all products whose labels bear the claim or words of similar intent to be manufactured in a facility that is licensed to produce human food.
  3. AAFCO intends to work with the USDA AMS: For a fee, AMS would establish a process verification program wherein it would confirm a firm's compliance with AAFCO guidelines and issue documentation of same.
  4. AAFCO has convened an expert panel to review the scientific evidence for the claim that changes to the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles in 1997 with respect to the copper requirements are associated with an increase in liver disease in dogs.
  5. The definition of “labeling” and requirements for the labeling of flavors were two other topics discussed during the Annual Meeting.
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