Congress strengthens pet food safety regulations

Early warning system will alert public to tainted foods
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Unlabled food cans


Legislation passed by Congress in September contains food safety provisions requiring the Food and Drug Administration to set ingredient and processing standards for pet food. The new law, which applies also to human food, establishes an early warning system to alert the public about unsafe pet food.

Congress directed the FDA to improve communication with the public, companies, and professional organizations during recalls, including the posting of information and a searchable, user-friendly recall list on the agency's Web site. A reportable food registry must be set up so the FDA can issue alerts about foods that could harm people or animals. The agency is to provide more detailed reports to Congress on food inspections as well.

Under the new law, state and federal authorities must work together to improve food safety programs. Food companies are obligated to quickly report contaminations of their product after determining there is a problem and to make records available so contaminated foods can be traced without delay.

"With the passage of (this) legislation, companies will have to report food contamination within 24 hours of its discovery or be penalized," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the food safety portion of the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act, which President Bush signed into law.

The food safety provisions in the bill will result in faster recalls, alerts, and notifications through the supply chain, Durbin explained. Contaminated products will be tracked and removed from the supply chain earlier and faster; recalls will be more targeted to specific lots and batches of contaminated products. Overall, this should significantly improve FDA's ability to protect human health from foodborne illnesses, the senator said.

The legislation was Congress' response to high-profile cases of contaminated human and pet food. A massive pet food recall was initiated this past March after many pets became sick or died after eating certain brands. Subsequent testing of the suspect food found it was adulterated with melamine and cyanuric acid. Ensuing hearings in the House and Senate highlighted areas where additional food safety regulations were needed.

Following the hearings, Durbin, along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, introduced the Human and Pet Food Safety Act, which the AVMA helped draft. That legislation was amended to the FDA act that the House passed Sept. 17 and the Senate, the following day.

"This year's pet food recall crisis underscored the importance of communication and cooperation among stakeholders to ensure the safety of pet foods. This act is an important step in the right direction, but additional effort will be necessary to fully protect both animal and human food supplies," said AVMA President Gregory S. Hammer.

A critical component to achieving that goal would be the passage and full funding of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act, Dr. Hammer added. The legislation addresses the shortage of veterinarians in public health practice.

Given the new food safety mandates, it's important that Congress provides additional funding to help the FDA meet its responsibilities, noted Dr. Doug Meckes, assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

The Pet Food Institute, a trade group representing U.S. pet food manufacturers, is analyzing the law and working with the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine to understand its implications, according to Kurt Gallagher, a PFI spokesperson.

Legislation provides for:

  • more detailed reports to Congress on food inspections
  • state and federal authorities to work together to improve food safety programs
  • searchable, user-friendly online recall list