Improving the safety of pet food

New efforts emphasize preventive measures in manufacturing
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Five years ago, many dogs and cats died after eating pet food containing ingredients from China that were contaminated with melamine. The incident focused attention on development of measures to prevent problems with pet food.

Today, trade associations and the Food and Drug Administration are in the midst of new efforts to improve safety measures in the manufacturing of pet food.

Pets eating from a steel bowl

The American Feed Industry Association recently rolled out voluntary programs to certify that facilities that manufacture pet food or pet food ingredients meet certain safety standards. The Pet Food Institute is expanding model manufacturing principles that it developed after the melamine contamination. The FDA has begun to implement provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act that will impact pet food manufacturers.

The AFIA, PFI, and FDA all participated in the Petfood Forum, April 2-4 in Schaumburg, Ill. During and after the conference, representatives of the groups spoke about their work to improve pet food safety.

American Feed Industry Association

On April 2 at AVMA headquarters, across the street from the conference, AFIA representatives gave a presentation to provide details about the new certification programs.

The AFIA had established the Safe Feed/Safe Food program in 2004 for voluntary certification of facilities that manufacture animal feed, including pet food. Leah Wilkinson, AFIA director of ingredients and state legislative affairs, said pet food manufacturers later requested a program of their own—partly in response to the melamine contamination and more recent incidents of Salmonella contamination of pet food.

Pet food is weighed after processing at a manufacturing facility. (Courtesy of AFIA)

As of late 2010, only 15 percent of veterinarians and about 25 percent of consumers believed pet food manufacturing and distribution processes were regulated effectively, according to a survey by Trone Inc.

“Their confidence level jumped greatly once you explained what a third-party certification program could do,” Wilkinson said.

Principles of risk management are the basis of the AFIA’s Pet Food Manufacturing Facility Certification Program and Pet Food Ingredient Facility Certification Program, Wilkinson said. The programs will offer audits, for a fee, to U.S. and Canadian facilities. These audits will cover hazard analysis, preventive controls, corrective actions, record retention, supplier standards, and safety specifications for ingredients and final products.

“We’re anticipating that we will meet or probably exceed what FDA is going to require the facilities to be doing here in the next two to five years,” Wilkinson said.

Microbial control is one focus of the new certification programs. They also address areas ranging from training and facility planning to recalls and consumer complaints.

Wilkinson said the AFIA developed the programs to meet benchmarks from the Global Food Safety Initiative for certification programs for human food—and in anticipation of forthcoming GFSI benchmarks for certification programs for animal feed.

Pet Food Institute

“Pet food has a strong record of safety,” said Kurt Gallagher, PFI director of communications and export development, after the Petfood Forum. He pointed to the relative rarity of pet food recalls.

Following the melamine contamination, PFI member companies compiled their best practices to create the Model Commercial Pet Food Manufacturing Principles. Last year, members started work on an expansion of the principles.

Gallagher said the PFI supports third-party certification programs, although it does not endorse individual programs.

“Pet food plants and other food manufacturing facilities already undergo numerous third-party certifications, often at the request of retail customers,” Gallagher said.

He said the PFI supports the goal of the GFSI to help establish equivalence across food certification programs and reduce the number of redundant inspections.

Food and Drug Administration

Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, spoke April 4 at the Petfood Forum on “The Role of the Food Safety Modernization Act in Ensuring the Safety of Pet Food.”

Prevention is the foundation of the FSMA, Taylor said. The FDA plans to propose new rules on preventive controls for manufacturers of pet food and other animal feed, preventive controls for manufacturers of human food, the safety of produce, and verification of foreign suppliers.

The rule on animal feed will address nutrition as well as safety.

“The proposed rule will require that pet food and animal feed are correctly labeled as to the species for which they are intended since nutritional requirements differ considerably among species,” Taylor said, according to a transcript. “In addition, nutrient content will need to be controlled for optimal health, which of course is extremely important considering animals may eat the same food their entire lives.”

The rule on foreign suppliers will call for importers of food not to rely on FDA inspectors to detect problems at the port of entry but to verify that foreign suppliers produce the food in accordance with U.S. standards. The FDA will propose another rule by which the agency will recognize accrediting bodies for third-party certification programs in the international arena.

In concluding remarks, Taylor said, “The pet food industry has customers with high expectations. We all know that by the calls we get when something goes wrong. The melamine contamination of pet food in 2007 is a good example; we received more than 14,000 reports in the first four weeks after the contamination was discovered.”

Taylor said implementation of the FSMA will improve animal health as well as consumer confidence in the global food supply.