Will pet food labeling studies spur further FDA action?

With FSMA regulations finally done and due to take effect this year, FDA might finally focus on pet food labeling and other regulations from a 2007 law.

Pet food mislabeling seems to be of high interest among researchers these days. First came a study last fall on US pet foods mislabeled in terms of the meat species they contained; now comes one from the UK on 17 wet pet foods that the researchers say contain unspecified animal parts not listed on the labels.

In this most recent studies, the researchers, from the University of Nottingham, said they examined the products—17 “popular” wet cat and dog food brands—for the presence and authenticity of animal sources of proteins because of the 2013 horse meat scandal in the European human food chain. The researchers in the US study, from Chapman University’s Food Science Program, cited the same scandal as one of the reasons for their research. (Yet another sign of the increasing connectedness of the human and pet food worlds.)

Both studies also reported similar findings:  mislabeling of the protein source (meat species) in a significant portion of the pet foods tested (20 of 52 in the US, 14 of 17 in the UK), plus detection of “unspecified” animal species (only one product in the US but “most products” in the US). While no horse DNA was found in any of the products in either study, what was and wasn’t found does merit concern.

Commenting on the US study last fall, David A. Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, CEO of Regulatory Discretion Inc. and Petfood Insights columnist, said the presence of animal proteins not identified on the label could cause problems for pets that are sensitive to specific proteins. That’s not the only concern he raised.

“If this finding is a representative account of the prevalence of this occurrence in the marketplace, at best there appear to be some sloppy manufacturing practices going on,” Dzanis wrote. “I understand that many ingredients may look similar upon visual inspection, so mistakes can happen, but whether deliberate or not, or whether it occurs at the manufacturer or supplier level, there's really no good excuse. Irrespective of any true safety concern or degree of enforcement priority, it's reasonable for people to expect to get what they pay for.”

The authors of the UK study called for more transparency in pet food labeling, which is certainly not the first time that’s happened. In fact, as far back as 2007, after the melamine-related pet food recalls, the US Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Amendments Act of 2007, which called for FDA to strengthen pet food labeling requirements, among other safety measures (improving regulations, establishing an early warning system for contaminated products and setting ingredient and processing standards).

While FDA did some preliminary work on regulations from that act, the passage and subsequent development of regulations for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seem to have derailed action on FDAAA. Yet not forever: the word is that, with FSMA regulations finally drafted, rewritten and due to take effect later this year, FDA will finally focus on the FDAAA regulations. It’s likely these latest studies only add to the agency’s motivation to do so.





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