The pet food industry wants to put FDA in charge of regulating labels and packaging for dog and cat food, replacing a patchwork of state rules that now exist. But the proposal has raised questions with others in the animal feed sector. 

After 18 months of closed-door meetings between Pet Food Institute members, PFI headed to Capitol Hill last week asking for changes, most notably a new center at FDA dedicated to dog and cat food approvals, while preserving FDA and states' role in regulating food safety. The anticipated $40 million new center at FDA would be funded by appropriations and new user fees collected from pet food companies for new ingredient submissions.

PFI now wants to transition from state registrations to one federal oversight office at FDA, which would retain its current authority to regulate the safety of livestock feed and pet food. State-overseen inspections of pet food plants, including those required by the Food Safety Modernization Act, will continue, and any FDA agreements with states will stay intact.

“We’re not talking about anything that has to do with the food safety or nutrition, but only about packaging and label reviews,” PFI President and CEO Dana Brooks told Agri-Pulse.

Brooks said the regulatory change is needed to modernize the approval process for a growing number of novel ingredients to ensure they are accepted by consumers. She called the current process “costly and frustrating and really prohibitive for innovation and modernization.”

Dana_Brooks_Pet_Food_Institute_300.jpgDana Brooks, Pet Food Institute

Since 1909, the independent Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has acted as an intermediary between state, federal and international feed regulators with ingredient definitions, label standards and laboratory standards. AAFCO's annual Official Publication creates a legal listing recognized by states and other countries for ingredient definitions allowed on commercial feed labels.

However, even if AAFCO approves a particular label, an individual state could still deny the listing. Moreover, some states are not members of AAFCO and don’t have to accept its labeling terms. For instance, one state recently denied a label because it stated “blueberries” as an ingredient instead of “dried blueberries.” Even the size of lettering and font type can be grounds for denying a label in a particular state.

Before any dog or cat food makes its way into the local pet store, it must have premarket approval in each individual state to register the product. There currently is no way to electronically file those registration requirements.

Brooks said PFI has been working with AAFCO and industry stakeholders over the last eight years to try to come up with label changes that are more consumer friendly. But she said the process made clear that even if the discussions result in a new design that offers more information for pet owners, “if not all states agree to it, we’re back to an even more disruptive system,” Brooks said.

Part of the pet industry’s proposal would codify AAFCO’s Official Publication at the federal level, requiring states to accept the AAFCO standards.

“I don’t want anybody to be confused and think that we don’t support state rights. We do. But this is disrupting interstate commerce. And that is what we’re trying to avoid,” Brooks said.

Brooks said she recognized other industry groups may have concerns, and PFI is prepared to have more dialogue to address those apprehensions. She said the transition could take two to four years once legislation is passed.

One major industry group asking questions is the American Feed Industry Association, which was founded the same year as AAFCO, because of the difficulty of doing business across state lines due to a lack of harmonization or unification in the feed ingredient and labeling process.

AFIA President and CEO Constance Cullman identified several concerns with PFI’s proposal in a recent blog post.

For one, companies that provide both livestock and dog and cat food products could be “forced to comply with a duplicative, dual registration process at the state and federal levels, doubling their costs and potentially facing differing data requirements,” Cullman wrote.

In addition, impacts may not be limited to the industry but felt by both state and federal regulators and AAFCO, Cullman said. The PFI proposal would prohibit any state government from assessing registration fees, requiring label reviews or premarket approval and any other attempts to regulate pet food sales. 

“When one part of that system is carved out in regulation, it creates an avalanche of impacts for the rest of the system,” she said.

Leah Wilkinson, AFIA vice president of public policy and education, told Agri-Pulse the group spends a lot of time understanding its members' challenges, proactively taking those issues to AAFCO, filtering those solutions down to the state level and working with AAFCO to assist in creating a smooth interstate commerce experience.

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Wilkinson said AFIA is having ongoing internal discussions with its members and trying to better understand where there are opportunities within the industry to work together and make improvements to the approval processes for ingredients. She recognized there will always be different speeds of adoption by different states, but she said the ability for industry to work with AAFCO and states to seek harmonization on issues such as how to define ingredients or establishing legal requirements should continue.

Constance_Cullman.jpgConstance Cullman, AFIA

No legislative text has been released for the PFI proposal, or co-sponsors announced, but Brooks said “there is definitely interest” from lawmakers as PFI seeks to find co-sponsors to craft a bipartisan bill that could start in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees FDA.

Dave Fairfield, senior vice president of feed at the National Grain and Feed Association, said NGFA is reviewing with its members a summary of the proposal provided by PFI. When PFI makes proposed legislative language available, Fairfield said NGFA members will be better able to gauge the proposal’s impacts.

“At this point, we believe the initiative may affect sectors of the industry beyond pet food manufacturing by impacting state feed programs, influencing feed registration and product fees, modifying the feed ingredient definition and approval process and altering inspectional oversight at facilities,” Fairfield said in an email to Agri-Pulse.

Other organizations, such as the North American Renderers Association, have not taken a formal position on the proposal, according to communications NARA shared with its members. NARA's board of directors met virtually on May 1 to discuss the development and said they've met with stakeholders and like-minded organizations. 

In addition to last week's meetings on Capitol Hill, Brooks also said PFI has had discussions with FDA on how this process may work and understands the administration would need additional funding to stand up a new center.

Ultimately, Brooks said PFI’s focus is on modernization in a way that still allows innovation but prevents the disruption and costly headaches of a state making decisions superseding what FDA already recognizes as safe.

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