Pet food changes coming in first AAFCO meeting of 2020

Although some members of a pet food consumer advocacy group will be excluded, the AAFCO mid-year 2020 meeting includes four keynotes and many pet food business items.

AAFCO will debate some key issues at its mid-year 2020 meeting. (Vladimir Borovic |
AAFCO will debate some key issues at its mid-year 2020 meeting. (Vladimir Borovic |

In late January 2020 (after press time), I will attend the “mid-year” meeting of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), marking more than 60 AAFCO meetings I’ve attended in my career. In my experience, each has proven to a unique event, and this one promises the same.

The meeting took place January 21-23, 2020, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.

Who will – and won’t – be attending AAFCO mid-year meeting

One exceptional aspect of the upcoming meeting is who will not be attending. At least some individuals in association with a pet food consumer advocacy organization have been expressly prohibited by AAFCO from participation. Reportedly, this action stems from the group’s suspected assistance to a pet food company that has filed a lawsuit against AAFCO. The group denies any collaboration with the plaintiff in the case.

The organization is trying to dissuade both state and federal government officials, as well as pet food companies, from attending the meeting on the basis of AAFCO’s discriminatory practices. I’m not sure how successful the group will be in that regard. Some have surmised that absence of the group will allow for a more subdued environment during the meeting (although there has always been very animated discussions between industry and regulators even before this consumer group began attending). On the other hand, there is talk of possible protests or other planned disruptions of the meeting by the advocacy group, so anything can happen.

Another interesting aspect of the upcoming meeting is the number of keynote presentations. As mentioned in previous columns, AAFCO has deviated in recent years from its typical schedule to include talks on various agricultural topics but from speakers outside of the animal feed regulatory arena. I have always found these presentations to be insightful and a refreshing change from what can become a humdrum progression of committee meetings. Apparently, others have thought the same way, because at the next meeting, AAFCO has scheduled four of them!

The first keynote speaker – a columnist, online influencer and self-proclaimed “farm babe” – will speak about food system security on the first morning of the meeting. The next morning will be a presentation on agricultural issues from a New Mexican perspective. Later that day, an ingredient supplier will speak on sustainability and repurposing of ingredients. Finally, the last morning will be what is titled a “tech talk” on blockchain technology as it relates to food safety.

AAFCO pet food business on the agenda

As far as the actual business of AAFCO, there will be plenty to talk about, and I am sure some topics will evoke lively discussion. At the general business session, final votes by the full membership will be taken with regard to several pet food-related matters, including the establishment of definitions to differentiate “bison/North American buffalo” and “water buffalo,” and amendments to the model regulations that may impact some product names, as well as when and how some nutrients must appear in the guaranteed analysis.

The Model Bills and Regulations Committee is scheduled to discuss a number of changes to the pet food model regulations that will impact brand and product names, ingredient percentage claims and requirements for substantiation of an “all life stages” claim via passage of a feeding trial. Assuming these items survive the committee’s scrutiny, they will move forward for a final vote at the annual meeting in August.

The Pet Food Committee’s agenda appears light, but it’s likely there will be plenty of discussion to fill up the time allotted. Hopefully, the “Human Grade” Working Group will report significant progress wherein a comprehensive solution to the remaining issues can be found. Another working group charged with making recommendations on AAFCO’s role in regulation of therapeutic pet foods will give its first report. A new agenda item has been added regarding maximum moisture content of pet foods, but it is unclear at this time what the exact issue is. Finally, any remaining time is sure to be used up by discussion about the current status of pet food labeling modernization efforts.

Pet food ingredient matters

The Ingredient Definitions Committee always has a plethora of items on its agenda. Two matters of particular importance to the pet food industry include the status of development of a new table that provides common names for various vitamin sources, though it’s unclear at this time how the table would be used (i.e., whether the common names may appear in addition to, as opposed to in lieu of, the technically correct ingredient names).

Also, a working group will report on its recommendations to help resolve an issue with use of menadione sodium bisulfite complex in pet foods. Unless a solution can be found, this matter may seriously impact the ability of manufacturers to include any feasible source of vitamin K activity in pet food products.


Top 5 takeaways

  1. AAFCO has prohibited some people in association with a pet food consumer advocacy organization from attending the mid-year meeting at the end of January.
  2. The meeting will include four keynote presentations, covering food security, agricultural issues in New Mexico, ingredient sustainability and repurposing, and blockchain technology.
  3. Pet food business at the general session includes definitions for bison ingredients, model regulation amendments that may impact product names and appearance of nutrients in the guaranteed analysis.
  4. The Model Bills and Regulations Committee will cover ingredient percentage claims and requirements for substantiation of an “all life stages” claim via passage of a feeding trial.
  5. The Ingredient Definitions Committee will address recommendations to resolve an issue with use of menadione sodium bisulfite complex, a source of vitamin K in pet foods.
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